How Black LGBTIQ+ travelers navigate a challenging world
From airport issues to abuse experienced while out and about, many are well acquainted with the precarity of traveling while Black.
This becomes even more tenuous for Black LGBTIQ+ travelers, considering it’s still illegal to be gay in around 70 countries. Even where it’s legal, LGBTIQ+ people have few, if any, protections. Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to Black LGBTIQ+ travel.
The lack of travel resources is a huge problem
Googling "Black LGBTIQ+ travel" tends to bring up resources primarily on Black travel or LGBTIQ+ travel, but rarely for those who are both. As a result, Black queer travelers have to undertake a lot of the legwork themselves – research is crucial to understand the precautions they may need to take abroad.
“My worry is usually how comfortably I can just exist in a space and how safe it is for me to go wandering alone, especially if I’m not presenting in a particularly feminine way,” says Garen Abel Unokan, a Black queer woman who often travels solo to countries like Morocco, Spain and Nigeria.
“I’ve always found the most interesting things just by walking around, so it’s really frustrating to have to Google “What is (X country) like for Black people” or “(X country) gay people” but it’s essential if I want to have the kind of holiday experience where I’m not constantly looking over my shoulder.”
Look up the destination’s LGBTIQ+ protections
In the face of very few robust sources of information, looking up the policies pertaining to LGBTIQ+ people in the holiday destination tends to be a useful and necessary starting place for many travelers. But it doesn’t necessarily give an indication of widely held attitudes or the important community-focused work that might be taking place.
Black South African queer traveler Tshegofatso Senne says looking up a country’s rights is always among her top priorities.
“The first thing I always do is to check the homosexuality laws in each country,” she says “The second is to do some research on safety for women in that particular country and if there are certain things I should avoid doing or places I should give a miss as a result.”
“I keep in mind the protections, or lack thereof, of LGBTIQ+ in the country, and read articles to learn more about LGBTIQ+ people (living there),” says Gloria Kimbulu, another queer Black woman. “One concern I have for the future is what it would look like to travel with a partner or friends who are visibly queer in terms of safety because as someone who is largely not read as queer, that of course changes when traveling with a partner or friends who are.”
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Visits to African or Caribbean nations are harder
Out of 72 countries where homosexuality is criminalized, 32 of them are African nations and nine are Caribbean islands. With Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni describing being LGBTIQ+ as a “western import” and former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe calling homosexuality “un-African,” it’s little wonder Black queer travelers may not feel safe in the countries their parents and grandparents refer to as home.
“I wasn’t disappointed by experiences in Nigeria and Ghana because I had no expectations of safety there,” says Maya Okonkwo, a Black lesbian. “I stayed firmly in the closet for the entire duration of my stay, silent as family friends blamed everything from Brexit to America’s teen pregnancy on ‘the gays.’ The homophobia is another dimension of intense patriarchy present in many African cultures and it was psychologically exhausting to witness.”
But there’s a lot of joy to be found within local LGBTIQ+ communities and many different ways to find them.
For many, traveling is a way of forming relationships and bonds worldwide and for Gloria, her relationship with travel centers on connecting with people from the African diaspora in countries like Puerto Rico and Cuba.
“In Cuba, I met up with an Afro-Cuban LGBTIQ+ organization – it’s helpful to look into whether or not there is a group or organization you can meet up with if meeting with local LGBTIQ+ people is a priority to you.”
How dating apps can help travelers connect
Dating apps and meet-up sites prove especially useful when trying to connect with communities within your holiday destination, plus they are more knowledgeable about where and what will be good.
“[Another priority I have] is to try and see if I can find queer people online that are in those same areas, whether it’s to meet up with them or just to get some recommendations for Black and queer-rich areas that I can make sure I go to,” says Tshegofatso.
“Remember that every single country has queer people living there – there’s room to meet and have fun with other queer people in countries you may not have assumed have a queer population.”