While LGBTI-friendly leisure opportunities multiply for the wealthy, creating temporary paradises in Mykonos, Ibiza or on LGBTI cruises, is it really becoming safer to travel abroad?
As an Italian man legally married to a Spanish man, I discovered that traveling is now less safe than when I was in the closet.
While LGBTI people are globally achieving more rights in their countries and can publicly marry the person they love or officially change their gender identity, aren’t they more exposed when traveling to destinations where LGBTI-phobic laws and cultural norms exist?
Once upon a time, when it was all about deciding to express who we are or not according to the situation, it was probably easier to travel by pretending not to be who we are. Just hide yourself and your family for a few days. Lie about yourself while traveling.
But now? With official documents in our home countries tracking our gender and sexual orientation, the old strategy of going back into the closet when traveling to certain countries may not be possible anymore.
So, shouldn’t my country, the same one that gave me rights and made official my equality, be concerned about my safety when I travel abroad? Shouldn’t my country protect me and my family, either by guaranteeing me safe travel or by preventing me to travel?
I strongly believe that governments should issue official warnings for LGBTI people traveling abroad to countries where being who we are is illegal.
I recently bought a flight to Beirut and then found that being gay is illegal out there. I know there are many LGBTI people there who live very enjoyable lives, despite all the prejudices many Westerners may have regarding Arab and Islamic societies. Yet, the relative freedom they enjoy is based on the continuous negotiation of when is appropriate to open or close the doors of their closets.
Being an openly non-heterosexual man officially married to a man, I’m an easy target. Also, my face and name are on the web as a LGBTI rights activist and researcher. So when I discovered that being who I am is illegal in Lebanon, I felt very scared and contacted the Italian and the Spanish embassies in Beirut.
They told me that I would travel at my own risk and that the Lebanese police could put me in jail. It’s not about observing chastity while being there, or not traveling with my husband, or not being myself in public; it’s about being jailed for who I am on my documents and on the web.
Both embassies made very clear that they could not do anything to rescue me in case I was jailed. So why didn’t they publish an official warning that LGBTI people would go there at their own risk?
I contacted the airline, Alitalia, and asked them either to reimburse me the flight or find another settlement. I explained that although I checked all the safety and security alerts before buying the ticket, neither the airline, nor the Spanish or Italian ministries of foreign affairs, warned that being ME was illegal in Lebanon.
Unfortunately, Alitalia told me that unless a government publishes an official alert preventing LGBTI people from traveling to Lebanon, they are not authorized (read obliged) to reimburse the flight. So what should I have done?
Are Italy and Spain sending the message that it is safe for their LGBTI citizens and families to travel to Lebanon? Or are they neglecting their duty to take care of a part of their population? If it’s safe, why did they tell me that I would travel at my own risk? If it’s not safe, why don’t they step in and do something about it?
I find it very offensive, LGBTI-phobic and even life-threatening that governments and airlines still assume that we citizens and passengers are all heterosexual and cisgender. This needs to be changed.
Maybe in the past it was paradoxically easier for a LGBTI person to travel abroad, because without the internet and without civil rights – like equal marriage, gender and sex reassignment, access to adoption and reproduction techniques – we would not be necessarily identified as an LGBTI person.
But now? Should we assume that for our governments it’s OK to expose us and our families, as they don’t even bother to inform us about the existing risks for LGBTI citizens and their families?
Now we need more protection from our countries, and we need it abroad as well. For us and our families. I am not just thinking about holidays that we may unwillingly accept to do elsewhere. I am thinking about family meetings and work opportunities in countries that threaten our freedom and lives.
No, the ‘you go there at your own risk’ is not an option anymore. Nations that recognize equal rights for their LGBTI population have to change their policies about LGBTI safety abroad, and change them fast. In order to make sure that their citizens are safe everywhere they go. And when their safety cannot be guaranteed, please say it clearly and log a safety alert, a travel warning.
Roberto Solone Boccardi is a feminist and LGBTI activist and researcher, involved in several equality and diversity projects, roles and organizations. He says had he not been born gay, he would have spent his life traveling around the globe and hopes LGBTI people will one day be able to travel worldwide without the fear of being persecuted, killed or jailed.