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LGBTQ+ Travel Guidance & Resources

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Traveling abroad provides opportunities to learn about different cultural norms, beliefs, and practices. Depending on the destination, LGBTQ+ travelers may encounter unique challenges abroad. We offer a world of resources for LGBTQ+ travelers, and we’re here to help, wherever you’re headed.

This article is part of a series on Navigating Your Identities Abroad.

Support for LGBTQ+ Travelers

Will your host country’s laws, norms, and attitudes honor and support your identity as an LGBTQ+ person? Legal protections and social norms vary from country to country. Depending on your location, you may find you can be more open about your identity than in the US. Conversely, you may find that people of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations are forced to hide aspects of their identities to avoid harassment, discrimination, and violence.

Before you leave, do your research and talk with us about your concerns. To get you started, the criteria and resources below can help you think through potential challenges and risk mitigation strategies before traveling.

“Take every opportunity to have new experiences but keep safety measures in mind always.”

– Harvard traveler

Research Laws Before Traveling

Because laws vary widely across countries, you should 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. Additionally, the age of consent for sexual behavior varies by country and even between same-sex individuals versus opposite-sex individuals.

Legal Resources:

Your Security Comes First

Your safety should be your number one priority. Not everything will be in your control, but you should understand your destination’s security considerations, the steps you can take to maintain your safety, and how to safely get help if needed.

Security Resources:

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 that protect against discrimination for sexual orientation and gender identity.

If you’re traveling to a country that may be hostile toward LGBTQ+ individuals, consider researching local LGBTQ+ or human rights-focused NGOs and setting up a meeting with them before you leave to learn more about best practices to follow while traveling in that country. Talking to someone on the ground is a helpful way to assess the situation and learn how to stay safe.

Cultural Resources:

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:

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:

Take Care of Your Physical and Mental Health Abroad

Health care providers may not be aware of specific LGBTQ+ 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 help you receive the health care you need in a safe location.

If you plan on being sexually active while abroad, make sure 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 help from a professional, if needed.

Health Resources:

Additional Considerations for Transgender Travelers

Transgender travelers may experience difficulties entering a country if their identification documents do not match their current presentation. To ease some of these challenges, you may want to 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.

Additionally, transgender individuals seeking gender-affirming medications and care may not be able to access them in every country. Again, disclosing your identity is a very personal decision and may not always be safe.

Resources for Transgender Travelers:

Both of the following resources are specific to the US and may not apply abroad, where procedures may vary and/or be inconsistent; but, they prepare you for departure from a US airport.

Harvard Resources and Support Organizations

Our International Safety & Security team is available for group and individual pre-travel consultations.

And it may 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.

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.

LGBTQ@GSAS is a student organization that provides a community for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer graduate students.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Lambda is a social and political student organization that provides programming and events to serve LGBTQ students and allies at HLS.

LAHMS is a student organization that provides a forum for LGBTQ-identifying healthcare practitioners and aims to increase awareness of LGBTQ patients.

The Office for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Partnership 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.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion maintains a list of Harvard and community LGBTQ resources and activism.

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 Gender Equity provides several LGBTQ+ support resources, and 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.