Support for LGBTQ Travelers
Depending on destination and culture, LGBTQ travelers may encounter unique challenges abroad, including harassment, intimidation, discrimination, barriers to medical and law enforcement assistance, incarceration, and physical violence. However, support and resources are available before, during, and after your travels. Before you leave, do your research and talk with our International Safety & Security team about your specific concerns. To get you started, the criteria and resources below can help you think through potential challenges and risk mitigation strategies before traveling.
Research Laws Before Traveling
Because LGBTQ-related laws vary widely across countries, it's imperative that you research the legal protections, if any, available to the LGBTQ community. Keep in mind that laws change, and many countries have complex legal landscapes. For example, some countries have laws criminalizing homosexuality that, even if rarely enforced, can cause harm to LGBTQ persons. Other countries have decriminalized homosexuality, but their governments have yet to implement any protections against discrimination.
Equaldex is a crowd-sourced knowledge base of LGBT rights by country and region. The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex Association (ILGA) publishes an annual world report and a map on legislation that criminalizes or protects people on the basis of their sexual orientation or recognizing their relationships. iJET publishes a Periodic Risk Intelligence & Security Monitor annual report for the LGBTQ community and a quarterly newsletter, both of which provide information on international laws and societal attitudes.
Be Aware of Cultural Attitudes
Discrimination and violence remain serious issues for the LGBTQ community, even in countries that have legalized same-sex marriage or protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity.
The Global Divide on Homosexuality, a report from the Pew Research Center, highlights 39 countries' cultural attitudes toward homosexuality. Country-specific travel briefs, available through Harvard Travel Assist, include information for LGBTQ travelers and general information on culture and customs.
Human Rights Violations Occur Globally
Pervasive cultural attitudes can impact the actions of law enforcement and government officials. Review reports of official mistreatment and discrimination so that you can identify safe spaces to seek emergency assistance.
Human Rights Resources
OutRight Action International, formerly known as the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), provides reports of human rights violations specific to LGBTIQ communities. Amnesty International publishes a report on the state of the world's human rights. And the U.S. State Department publishes annual human rights reports, which include acts of violence and discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Should I Come Out Abroad?
If, how, and when you choose to come out abroad is a personal decision. A strong understanding of the legal and cultural landscape is helpful when making this decision, as is having a support network. Many international cities have active LGBTQ communities, but you may have to research organizations. Depending on local laws, some communities are more visible than others.
Out abroad Resources
Human Rights Watch maintains a list of international LGBT organizations. Alturi, an LGBTI education and advocacy organization, also maintains a list of organizations worldwide. ManAboutWorld, a digital magazine for LGBTQ travelers, has an LGBTQ Guide for Travel Safety, which provides advice on coming out while traveling.
Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health Abroad
Health care providers may not be aware of LGBTQ-specific health needs. You may also face discriminatory practices if you come out to a local health care professional. If you don't feel safe using local medical resources, we can ensure that you receive the health care you need in a safe location. If you plan on being sexually active while abroad, make sure that you’ll have access to contraception and can take preventative measures to protect against sexually-transmitted infections or diseases. Not being able to authentically express your gender or sexual identities—or facing harassment because of it—may cause stress and anxiety. Be mindful of your mental health and seek the assistance of a professional, if needed.
Counseling and Mental Health Services has affinity group-based counseling services. While abroad, you can speak to medical and mental health providers at any time through Harvard Travel Assist, our 24/7 global emergency program. If traveling with medication, review our tips for traveling with medication before you go.
Considerations for Transgender Travelers
Transgender travelers may experience difficulties entering a country if their identification documents do not match their current presentation. You can consider changing your gender designation on your identity documents, speak to a medical professional or therapist about obtaining a letter that provides explanations (translated into the local language, if necessary), or prepare a short, direct statement to provide to border officials and law enforcement officers, if asked. Again, disclosing your identity is a very personal decision and may not always be safe.
Resources for Transgender Travelers
ManAboutWorld, a digital magazine for LGBTQ travelers, has an LGBTQ Guide for Travel Safety, which provides advice for transgender travelers. If traveling with medication, review our tips for traveling with medication before you go. For U.S. nationals, the U.S. State Department Bureau of Consular Affairs provides information on passport gender designation changes and name changes.
Both of the following resources are specific to the U.S. and may not apply abroad, where procedures may vary and/or be inconsistent; however, they prepare you for departure from a U.S. airport. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) provides guidance for transgender passengers. And the National Center for Transgender Equality provides information on airport security and TSA procedures.
Harvard Resources and Support Organizations
Our International Safety & Security team is available for one-on-one pre-travel consultations. It may also be helpful to speak with others who have experience in the region that you’re planning to visit or who may be planning similar travel. There are numerous peer and ally organizations across the University.
Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
LGBTQ@GSAS is a student organization that provides a community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer graduate students.
Graduate School of Design
Queers in Design is a student group focused on the intersection of LGBTQ-identified designers’ academic/professional practices and the lived experiences of LGBTQ communities.
Harvard Business School
LGBTSA is a student organization for LGBT students, partners, and straight allies to increase awareness and understanding of LGBT issues at HBS and in the business community.
The Office of BGLTQ Student Life provides support, resources, and leadership development for bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, and questioning students.
The Office of International Education provides tips for BGLTQ students traveling abroad and maintains a BGLTQ Peer Contact List.
Queer Students and Allies is a student resource-based organization that aims to strengthen and support the visibility and initiatives of the LGBTQ community.
Harvard Divinity School
Queer Rites is a student organization that provides a safe space for queer folks and gender non-conforming individuals to engage in fellowship and dialogue.
Harvard Graduate School of Education
The Office of Student Affairs maintains a list of resources for LGBTQIA students to help make their experience at HGSE richer, safer, and more personally rewarding.
Harvard Kennedy School
The LGBTQ Caucus (HKS login required) is a student organization focusing on social and service activities in and around Harvard and LGBTQ activism. They also publish the LGBTQ Policy Journal annually, which highlights policymaking and politics that impact the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer community.
Harvard Law School
Lambda is a social and political student organization that provides programming and events to serve LGBTQ students and allies at HLS.
Harvard Medical School/Harvard School of Dental Medicine
LAHMS is a student organization that provides a forum for LGBTQ-identifying healthcare practitioners and aims to increase awareness of LGBTQ patients.
The LGBT Office maintains a terminology guide, map of gender-inclusive restrooms at Longwood, and an OutList of more than 100 LGBT faculty, trainees, and staff at HMS and HSDM who are available as mentors to medical and dental students.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion maintains a list of Harvard and community LGBTQ resources and activism.
LASA is a LGBTQ and allies organization that provides support and education for students, faculty, and staff.
The Harvard Gender and Sexuality Caucus is a group of University alumni, faculty, and staff that seeks to support and affirm the University’s BGLTQ community. This support includes advocacy for the interests of BGLTQ-identifying employees and students at Harvard, as well as access to its global network of 6,000+ BGLTQ alumni.
The Office of Work/Life maintains a list of Harvard and area resources for LGBTQIA staff.
Harvard Global Support Services does not endorse any of the external organizations or services; they are provided only to serve as aides. Contact us if you’d like to suggest a resource to be included in this list.