Dear Travel Community – Where’s the Outrage?

LGBT Pride Flag, Brussels

Ignoring Threats to the LGBT Community Around the World

I’m not normally one for getting high and mighty over things. I live the way I live and I don’t let what other people do impact my decisions. However, I’ve noticed a level of indifference lately about a particular issue that has really started to annoy me. It’s annoyed me because the indifference has radiated from people who really should know better, supposed experts who keep tabs on all things travel related. That’s why I’m forced to ask the question, why all the indifference towards protecting the safety and lives of the LGBT community?

I don’t want to whine, complain or be overly judgey. I’ve written about the very unique challenges the gay and lesbian community has when it comes to travel and I hope I’ve managed to educate a few people about the differences we face. I also understand and respect local laws and recognize that in many cases they are relics of a different era. Have I traveled in countries that criminalize being gay? Yup, sure have and I’m sure I will again. That’s because even though the local authorities recognize the laws are rubbish, there is significant difficulty in having them removed. Do I like it? No, would a straight person like it? But I deal and move on. No, this goes well beyond annoyances and antiquated laws, two recent world developments have moved into the realm of grotesquely ignorant and barbaric.

 Homomonument, Amsterdam

Uganda

In 2009, following a revival led by radical American evangelists, a Member of the Ugandan Parliament introduced legislation to strengthen laws against homosexuality. It was already illegal in the country, but this moved the possible punishments from imprisonment to death for people who are considered serial offenders, are suspected of “aggravated homosexuality” or are HIV-positive. In essence, gay and lesbian Ugandans would be killed for living the way they were born. The bill didn’t stop there; it went on to introduce provisions that would allow the government to charge anyone with knowledge of gays and lesbians living in Uganda. The government, had this bill passed, would have authorized a regime of hate and terror.

Luckily, the international community noticed this attempt to introduce legalized genocide and denounced the measure and the President’s statement that he would sign the bill if it passed. Attempts were made to water down the language, but it still has not passed the parliament. The effects of this attempt though have been profound. The entire debate has inflamed anti-gay sentiments and hundreds have been ‘outed’ in national newspapers, prompting fears of safety and life. If you’re gay or lesbian in Uganda, it has not been a happy time. The government has made life for them not only frightening, but positively unbearable.

While I have seen outrage in popular culture, I’ve been generally shocked at the lack of concern in the travel industry. Even while the Ugandan government was trying to pass this bill I read of travelers ‘excited’ about visiting Uganda. I could not, and still can not, believe that there hasn’t been a generally accepted intolerance for this kind of behavior. People should be actively boycotting Uganda, not planning elaborate vacations there.

The critics will say that a boycott doesn’t harm the legislators, it harms the people. But that’s the point. By taking away tourist dollars and letting them know the reason for it, it won’t take long for tourism operators to start complaining to their elected representatives. The power of the purse is ultimately the final word in government, and once Uganda realizes that it could lose whatever meager entre into the world of tourism it has managed to secure, they will change their ways.

So where is the outrage? Where is the anger? Why do I feel like I’m screaming into a wind tunnel on this issue? I realize that part of it is because in general most people don’t care that much about the health and safety of the LGBT community. It sounds jaded to say that, but it’s true. The other part is ignorance, pure and simple. Most people do not perform due diligence before planning trips or writing about destinations from a sociopolitical point of view. They become consumed with the tourist aspect of the trip without realizing that travel is a form of political speech and it’s a big stick that should be wielded with prudence and sobriety.

 LGBT Mural, Brussels

St. Petersburg, Russia

The Uganda issue had died away, and so did my furor. So what reintroduced this nauseating feeling once again? It was reading some travel articles by popular authors about St. Petersburg, published after the city’s recent move to ban gay and lesbian ‘propaganda.’

The city passed a law that makes it illegal to disseminate LGBT information to minors, what many believe to be a purposefully vague law. Just what its application means, no one knows, but many in the St. Petersburg gay and lesbian community believe that it criminalizes being ‘out’ in public, for fear that a minor might see them. There have also been rumors that Russia may attempt to make this a national law, in which case we are likely to see widely disparate interpretations of the law, few of them good I fear.

And yet, the travel community is still in a land of rainbows and unicorns, sharing stories of the Hermitage and charming river cruises, without a thought or concern to the impending troubles gays and lesbians might have in the next few years.

Once again, I don’t think this is anything malicious, I just think it’s a massive level of ignorance and apathy that we just don’t see with any other minorities. Replace gay and lesbian with any other minority group in these laws and the worldwide backlash would be massive and immediate. But because it’s just us, those silly gays, who really cares, right? I mean, so we have to hide who we are, not a big deal, right?

Such is the world we live in I guess. Even though the LGBT community has seen massive strides in equality and justice in the past twenty years, it will take much, much longer to change people’s views and opinions about us as a people. Because that’s who we are, we’re people; just like you and the people you love.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

25 Responses

  1. Jeff Dobbins

    Matt, I certainly agree about not supporting discrimination with my travel dollars. That said, I was recently pondering a return to SPB, without considering the situation. Thanks for this thought-provoking post.

    Reply
  2. Randy

    Great post Matt! While I had heard about the situation in Uganda, I didn’t know about what was going in St. Petersburg. Thanks for opening my eyes to the situation.

    Reply
  3. Chrystal McKay

    Wow – This is an excellent post. I will be honest – I am in the ignorance pile of travelers as I have never looked much into the sociopolitical situation of a country prior to arrival. I look into the safety concerns and generally know the state of woman’s rights in a country as that directly relates to me and how I will be treated there. Unless it comes up on the news in a big way, I haven’t done further digging to find this information – this Post makes me realize I am being naive and unintentionally ignoring major issues that I feel are extremely important.

    Thanks for writing this and slapping all the unicorn travellers – I hope this will help others do more research before promoting or deciding on a country – It certainly has changed mine.

    Chrystal McKay

    Reply
  4. Leyla Giray

    Thanks Matt – I’ve been boycotting Uganda precisely because of this and encouraging friends not to travel there. Russia is also off my itinerary – as are several countries in Eastern Europe. Aavaz has been following up on this with petitions and that’s helping raise a lot of awareness. And the EU’s LGBT spokesperson, Bruno Selun, has been advocating very strongly within the EU, especially vis-a-vis EE so there’s hope mixed in with the tragedy.

    Individuals have little power so I do believe in boycotts (remember apartheid? I stayed out of South Africa a lot of years until that was over…). If people explain WHY they’re avoiding a destination, it will start to hit home. Thank you for an important post.

    Reply
  5. Jessica

    Like many others its not really something I have given much thought to. However I enlightened myself and did some google searching. I am honestly rather appalled that they use so much dam pink and sparkles on a lot of the websites! I know this is pretty minor in the grand scheme of things but it does show the sterotyping people do. I did find something interesting though, this is the link if your interested. http://gaytourismnewzealand.com/
    I guess we are lucky in NZ that most people are so open minded here and it doesn’t seem to be an issue. Civil unions have been law here since 2005 and this has probably contributed a lot to our acceptance. I know even Australia still doesn’t allow this and I have had friends who have had to come to NZ to get married because of it.
    There has been several high profile gay weddings here, one of which was in all the magazines, and no one minded and just thought it was fantastic.
    I wish every country was accepting of these issues but in the mean time more awareness is needed

    Reply
  6. Kent @ No Vacation Required

    This: “Replace gay and lesbian with any other minority group in these laws and the worldwide backlash would be massive and immediate.” is EXACTLY what we always say all the time.

    Like minds… :)

    Anyhow… we’ve been working on some things that amplify our take (the same as yours) on this issue.

    Reply
  7. Simon

    Great post Matt, and thank you for opening my eyes. I admit that I rarely did a sociopolitical research and this is something towards which I’ll have to be more sensible in the future.

    Reply
  8. Someday I'll Be There - Mina

    Not to oppose you, but again I will be the critic that says Boycotting a country, specially one like Uganda will not make any difference. You are still punishing the people, and the authorities will not listen to them. I am not quite acquainted with the political status of Uganda but “The critics will say that a boycott doesn’t harm the legislators, it harms the people. But that’s the point. By taking away tourist dollars and letting them know the reason for it, it won’t take long for tourism operators to start complaining to their elected representatives. The power of the purse is ultimately the final word in government, and once Uganda realizes that it could lose whatever meager entre into the world of tourism it has managed to secure, they will change their ways.” I don’t personally think it will work that easily.

    I am still totally against those laws, but I am still in favor of the needy people (again specially in a country like Uganda)

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Yup, fully anticipated that and absolutely respect your views. My rejoinder is that there are many countries in the region in similar economic situations; it’s just as easy to spend tourist cash there and not support a government that is trying to eradicate an entire segment of society.

      Reply
    • Gary

      More importantly, writing to your government, the Ugandan government, and even corporations which work in Uganda, will help make a difference. We can choose not to visit Uganda or St Petersburg, and no one will be any the wiser. Or we write expressing our outrage. We should never underestimate the power of letter writing.

      Good on you Matt. Good column

      Reply
  9. Iain Mallory

    Thought provoking post Matt. I was unaware of either of these ridiculous pieces of legistature, is this because of a lack of coverage by the media or am i reading the wrong material?

    I certainly read a great deal of travel related news for sharing but cannot remember reading anything about this.

    I have to admit also to not considering such issues, whilst extremely interested in conservation and human persecution in other forms, persecution of the gay community in a potential travel destination has not been a consideration to date. I feel slightly ashamed of this and will try to make pay greater attention in future.

    Thank you for increasing awareness of another important topic.

    Reply
  10. RenegadePilgrim

    Excellent post Matt!! There are places in the Caribbean I won’t ever travel to because of their policies on LGBT issues…Jamaica being the main one. I wish more of the gay cruise ships would stop patronizing these places…it’s important to patronize locations that are more LGBT-friendly and to write about them.

    I always put LGBT issues into perspective for my straight married friends by asking when was the last time you had to show your marriage certificate to visit your spouse in the hospital? We in the LGBT community are invisible in so many ways. And in the travel community, even more so. This is why I love your blog, Matt. Always so honest and insightful.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      That means a lot, THANK YOU. And I’m right there with you re: Jamaica. HORRIBLE experience there. :(

      Reply
      • Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

        Isn’t Jamaica the country that just arrested a couple from a gay cruise for having gay sex in their cabin recently? Or was that another Caribbean country?

  11. Rachel

    Good post! I should add current sociopolitical situations to my destination research. You’re right, though, as travelers we need to know these things and respond to them appropriately.

    Reply
  12. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures

    You know, a couple weeks ago I got into a rather heated debate with another blogger on Twitter over whether or not LGBT folks should visit countries that aren’t so LGBT friendly. Having spent some time in some Middle Eastern countries that aren’t so hot on LGBT folks, my answer was pretty unequivocally, “yes!”

    I think most of who travel realize that travel has an ability to change minds perhaps more than anything else in the world. Not just you, the travelers, mind, but also the local people you come in contact. The more that LGBT people are visible, the more cultures will grow to be more accepting.

    Until reading this, I can’t say the thought of purposely avoiding a country due to pending or existing anti-gay legislation had ever occurred to me. Is it something I pay attention to when I travel? Absolutely. And is going to say Uganda even remotely on my to-do list? No…their anti gay legsliation pretty much knocked that one right down. But I didn’t conciensly say, “I’m not going to visit Uganda out of boycott” (like I would, say, Myanmar until recent years).

    Interesting food for thought in here Matt!

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      I agree with your point of view about traveling in countries in order to help change the attitudes. But I draw the line when they legislative (or try to) my death. I think a line needs to be drawn and we just can’t tolerate this garbage anymore. Enough is enough.

      Reply
      • adventureswithben

        I go back and forth on this issue too. But it’s tough for me to decide what the line is. Singapore and Malaysia, for example, have laws that say homosexual acts are illegal. While they may not be enforced, they exist. So should we as travelers avoid these countries?

        Yes it’s good for us to go to change perceptions, but not going speaks to your point in Uganda.

        But what if something were to happen to you in the foreign culture? You could be outed and end up in a heap of trouble. Is it worth the risk?

      • Matt Long

        Well places like Singapore and Morocco do have the laws but no, I wouldn’t avoid them. It’s a tricky question though, no doubt.

  13. Erik

    Yes, there are a lot of threats overseas, no doubt, but what is most sad is the threats here at home. I’m appalled that a guy like Rick Santorum gets so much support when what he really preaches is HATESPEAK. I live in Michigan, and the newly elected Republican Governor made it one of his first moves to strip domestic partners of benefits- two days before Christmas.

    Reply
    • Matt Long

      Well now that’s true too. One step forward, two back sometimes…

      Reply
  14. Green Global Travel

    This is an excellent post. I agree with all of the above comments.

    Reply
  15. Tash

    Whoa, I was totally unaware of both of these blights of human rights – thank you for educating me! I like to think I read widely enough to be across most issues in the generalised human rights realm, cos it’s an interest of mine, but it’s so vast – so thank you for highlighting these.

    Reply
  16. Claire Gillis

    Check out this documentary about Uganda’s first openly gay man- http://callmekuchu.co.uk/about

    Reply

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