Least gay friendly holiday destinations

Uganda, Jamaica and Russia have made the headlines in recent years for their shockingly homophobic laws, with lengthy prison sentences on the cards for those found to be engaging in same sex sexual activity. Uganda even proposed the death sentence, although thankfully this was never carried through. Activists have been murdered, homosexuals have been publicly ‘named and shamed’, and violence towards LGBT people is rarely condemned; the perpetrators know they will get away with it.
With this in mind, it is entirely understandable that many LGBT travellers – or those of any orientation – would want to boycott these destinations. However, we don’t agree that countries should be closed to anyone as a result of their sexual orientations, and travellers who want to see mountain gorillas, or Bob Marley’s former home, or St Basil’s Cathedral, should be able to do so. We aim to provide as much information as possible to people wishing to visit countries with discriminatory laws and intolerant views, where harassment and aggression towards the LGBT community is well documented, so that they can make up their minds whether or not to visit. We want them to know the most important questions to ask their holiday companies, and to encourage these companies to research and familiarise themselves with the issues so that they can provide the most helpful answers. Above all, we want to enable LGBT travellers to travel in a way that keeps them safe, and allows them to be free to enjoy the culture, wildlife and natural attractions in these parts of the world, just as we would wish for any other responsible tourist.

Why do so many countries have discriminatory laws?

Over the course of our research we have discovered that, historically, most countries did not discriminate against LGBT people, and there are many documented cases of gay or bisexual kings and rulers, and examples of same sex relationships in literature and art. Many of the earliest anti gay laws were in fact enacted by colonial European governments in the 18th and 19th centuries. In imposing their puritanical ‘Christian’ values, they frequently banned traditional religions, many local customs, and same sex relationships.

Now, of course, Westerners are returning to these former colonies and calling for the repeal of these antiquated laws, but in many cases the local population, particularly in Latin America and Africa, is far more devoutly Christian than much of Europe, and they choose to maintain these prohibitions. In some African countries, homosexuality has been denounced as ‘un-African’, or even a ‘white’ conspiracy to introduce sinful practices and discourage sex between African men and women – thereby inhibiting population growth.

Another reason for the backlash against the LGBT community – specifically with regards to LGBT tourists – is the often mistaken association with sex tourism, which supports local sex workers and can encourage human trafficking. Worse, some people believe that LGBT tourism is synonymous with child sex tourism. Destinations such as Morocco, which was once a notorious destination for this, have misguidedly sought to discourage gay travellers in case this reputation returns.

Should we accept discriminatory attitudes?

At Responsible Travel, we strive to encourage all tourists to travel as respectfully as possible, taking into account local customs, beliefs and attitudes. Frequently this means dressing conservatively, particularly at religious or spiritual sites, and it often means avoiding public displays of affection, regardless of your orientation. PDAs are culturally inappropriate across much of Africa, Asia and the Middle East, and in these destinations our advice is the same for all couples: no kissing, cuddling or sometimes even holding hands in public. If you do see two men (and it is usually men) walking hand in hand or with their arms around each other, it is almost certainly a sign of friendship.
There is a fine line, of course, between being respectful of local customs and beliefs, and of giving in to a nation’s homophobic views. People need to make up their own minds how far they are willing to go. This guide simply aims to inform all travellers – and tour companies – about the issues, to help them decide if they are comfortable travelling to certain destinations, and whether or not they are willing to abide by each country’s laws and social constructs, in much the same way as a woman travelling to Iran must decide if she is happy to cover her hair and wear a manteau. Some tourists may not wish to ‘support’ such discriminatory beliefs; others won’t want them to get in the way of their travel experiences, and believe they have the right to travel where they choose.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about LGBTQ or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

Which are the least gay friendly countries?

Africa and the Middle East tend to have the most regressive, homophobic laws, along with a few other countries, such as Brunei, which practices Sharia law and in April 2019 introduced stoning as punishment for gay sex. Within this guide, we have focused on Uganda, Jamaica, Malaysia and Russia. These are some of our most popular holiday destinations which have also received extensive negative media coverage in recent years, thanks to their appalling human rights records when it comes to the LGBT community.

We have written about the issues facing LGBT travellers in each of these countries, you can read more here: Jamaica, Malaysia, Russia, Uganda.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: daniel james] [Top box: riekhavoc] [Men in parade: Diego Duarte Cereceda]