The U.S. Department of State (“State Dept.”) recently held a roundtable discussion regarding the safety of U.S. LGBT citizens during global travel. Notably, various studies indicate that U.S. LGBT travelers have an estimated $50 to $65 billion impact on the global economy. “It is important for our LGBT citizens to travel safe and smart,” said Janice L. Jacobs, assistant secretary of state for consular affairs. As part of the State Dept.’s effort to protect its LGBT citizens abroad, it recently issued its first LGBT travel advisory that addresses such issues as what documents LGBT individuals and families should carry when traveling abroad, the State Department’s policy regarding the passport identity of transgender travelers, and the HIV entry requirements of foreign countries.
In its advisory, the State Dept. noted that the LGBT community’s safety varies widely from country to country. Some countries offer specific legal protections, some countries’ laws are silent and some criminalize such relationships as punishable by fines, prison, flogging and/or death. As a result, it is imperative that all LGBT persons educate themselves on the local laws and customs before they depart for international travel. It noted several sources from which they can gain information about international regions.
1). Current guide books specializing in advice to LGBT travelers will usually include information about laws, customs and safety;
2). LGBT activist groups often have information on their websites or at their offices;
3). LGBT groups local to the destination city often have the same;
4). The State Department offers a Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (“STEP”), a free service to U.S. citizens living or traveling abroad that allows the enrollee to enter information about an upcoming trip or foreign domicile so that the State Dept. can provide current Travel Warnings, Alerts and Country Specific Information. STEP also provides U.S. citizens abroad with emergency and security messages from the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. There is also a Smart Traveler app available for free download.;
5). On the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website, the State Dept. publishes Country Specific Information for every country, which includes a section entitled “Special Circumstances” that may contain information about attitudes, harassment or arrest of LGBT travelers, depending on the country; and
6). The State Department publishes an annual Human Rights Report that includes a section specifically regarding sexual orientation and gender identity in each country.
The State Dept. also advises that when travelling, LGBT individuals or families should carry legal/health documents that facilitate authorization for medical treatment or access in the event of a medical emergency while abroad. LGBT parents should carry documents regarding parentage and/or custody for accompanying minor children. They should carry contact information for people in the United States, both legal and familial, who also have their travel itinerary. Finally, prior to travel, they should program the contact information for the U.S. embassy or consulate in each destination country and contact that country’s embassy or consulate in the U.S. to learn about any special documentation requirements.
Additionally, the State Department also issued some general suggestions to LGBT persons to keep in mind. While traveling, they should consider they are subject to the local laws and judicial process of the country they are visiting. They should avoid any excessive public displays of affection, particularly in conservative countries or regions. They should also avoid internet chat rooms as some local authorities are known for monitoring such rooms to carry out entrapment schemes. LGBT travelers are more likely to experience problems in rural areas and some hotels won’t accept bookings from same-sex couples so they should check before travelling. If a LGBT traveler runs into problems, they can contact the American Citizens Services (ACS) section of the U.S. embassy or consulate. The current State Department ensures that the consular officers will not make generalizations, assumptions or pass judgment.
Finally, the State Dept.’s Country Specific Information page also includes HIV/AIDS entry restrictions, or lack of restrictions, in the section entitled Entry/Exit Requirements for U.S. Citizens. In some instances, it refers travelers to that country’s embassy or consulate for additional information.
For additional review of information pertaining to international travel for LGBT persons, below is a list of various sources of interest:
To read the State Dept.’s LGBT travel advisory in its entirety, go here.
The Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website contains extensive information regarding Tips for Traveling Abroad
International Lesbian and Gay Association – Provides information on gay rights around the world, and contains a map which highlights potentially dangerous regions and countries
For a review of the State Dept.’s efforts in protecting and promoting LGBT rights internationally, go here.
For a similar review of President Obama’s overall efforts to do the same, go here.