When planning to travel overseas, whether it befor vacation, studying abroad, or establishing permanent residency in a foreign country, there are many additional factors that LGBT individuals must consider. Currently in the United States,productivepolitical and social dialogue is occurring regarding hot topic issues such as same-sex marriage, trans rights, and anti-discrimination laws.
Upon making plans to travel abroad, some LGBT travelers may realize their privilege in being able to freely debate these issues. In many parts of the world, being openly LGBT can result in harassment, fines and penalizations, lifetime imprisonment, and even the death penalty. While much of the western world seems to be progressing forward in these regards, many regions remain stagnant, carrying more conservative policies.
In spite of this, the world has recently experienced a wave of human rights progression, granting many LGBT peoples equality and protection against discrimination. Most visibly, the legalization of same-sex marriage has become the forefront of this movement, beginning in the Netherlands in 2001 and spreading throughout much of the western world. Latin America too has partaken in this movement whereby Argentina universally legalized same-sex marriage in 2010, Brazil in 2013, Uruguay in 2013, and Colombia in 2016.
Mexico and the United States followed behind, slowly legalizing on a state-by-state basis, until the U.S. joined the pack following its momentous 2015 Supreme Court ruling. Meanwhile, many parts of Latin America are more conservative regarding issues of gender and sexuality, resulting in the unrecognition of same-sex marriages in many countries, virtually no rights or protections for trans individuals, and in a few cases, the complete criminalization of homosexuality.
With that being said, these stricter social interpretations typically do not apply as firmly to foreign tourists. While harassment based on gender or sexuality is possible in Latin America, similar to many parts of the U.S., rarely are foreign LGBT individuals in danger of harm or imprisonment. Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and Colombia are some of the most socially liberal in the Americas, and are ranked as some of the safest, most comfortable travel destinations for LGBT persons. Other countries, such as Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Peru, though not as socially progressive as the aforementioned, are as well typically great travel destinations for LGBT individuals.
Most of these countries, while not granting same-sex marriage themselves, often recognize it and offer instead civil unions or other types of partnerships. Most importantly, same-sex relations are not criminalized by law in any of the above countries, and tourists can in most cases live and travel freely throughout. Other countries such, as Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, and other Caribbean islands, have much stricter regulations against LGBT individuals. In spite of this, it is very unlikely that an LGBT tourist would ever be punished, let alone detained. Regardless, LGBT people should take special precaution and be respectful of local laws when traveling to these destinations.
While much of the region fails to uphold similar social liberties as seen in the western world, grassroots change is occurring and citizens of these countries are beginning to question and fight back against traditional policies regarding gender and sexuality. Take Nicaragua for example, a conventionally conservative nation with strong ties to the Catholic Church. This, in conjunction with institutionalized machismo, has resulted in a less-than-favorable scenario for the country’s LGBT community.
Recently, however, a pro-LGBTmovement called “En la Viña del Señor” has risen from the shadows of Nicaragua’s gay community demanding respect and equality in the name of God. This group aims to raise awareness about LGBT issues, claiming that all humans are created in God’s image and therefore cannot be immoral. Similar movements like these follow Pope Francis’ recent revolutionary pivot, calling for LGBT individuals to be treated with love and equality. As a result, the Latin American Catholic Church has taken great strides in the favor of gay rights and this can be seen throughout the region.
In Nicaragua, the momentum behind this movement expressed on social media will culminate with the LGBT Pride March today in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. Similar grassroots movements are taking place all throughout the region, signaling progress regarding regional LGBT policies.
While the world as a whole may seem to be advancing more towards equality, recent events such as the gay club massacre in Orlando, Florida remind us that LGBT people remain vulnerable in all parts of the globe, including the United States. With that said, progress cannot be achieved through silence or self-isolation, and LGBTpersons should not be discouraged from traveling the world and experiencing new cultures on account of fear. In fact, I believe that by traveling abroad, LGBT people serve as ambassadors and help move the world forward.
A great example is Panama, a traditionally conservative society, which has begun to open up to the LGBT community due its exposure to foreign cultures and ideals.Ultimately, a piece of advice that all travelers should follow is to maintain a constant sense of awareness when traveling abroad, taking the local customs and laws into consideration, but not letting them limit your experiences.
Thomas David Alvarez
Associate Content Editor, ECI Development
28 June 2016