LGBTQ+ holidays in Morocco

Same-sex activity is illegal in Morocco, yet the country has a pull for LGBTQ+ travellers, largely due to its bohemian past.
Before gaining independence in 1956, Tangier, on Morocco’s northern tip, was declared an International Zone, overseen by nine European countries. At a time when much of Europe and North America imposed particularly conservative laws, Tangier was a liberal haven where alternative travellers could come and indulge in all the things that were taboo back home, including drugs, gay sex and prostitution. Yves Saint Laurent, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac were amongst Morocco’s artist fans in the 1950s and 1960s, along with the Rolling Stones and The Beatles. It became a haven for gay travellers.

Morocco may well have had liberal attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community in its more distant past, too. Al-Malhoun, for example, is an ancient form of sung poetry; some of the poems are believed to refer to sexual relationships between men. It has been suggested that the extreme segregation of men and women in Islamic cultures historically led to same sex relationships becoming fairly commonplace (source: Grove Encyclopedia of Islamic Art & Architecture).

Today, however, a combination of religious beliefs and patriarchal Moroccan values means that LGBTQ+ people have few rights and little recognition. There are no anti-discrimination laws referring to LGBTQ+ people, same sex couples are not recognised by law, and they may not adopt children or use IVF or surrogacy to conceive.

Sex between men is punishable with between six months and three years in prison, although this law has rarely been enforced. Even kissing between two members of the same sex is illegal. Lesbians are not believed to exist, and have therefore historically not been punished, although this is now changing. In 2016, two teenage Moroccan girls were detained after police were given a photo of them kissing in Marrakech. They stood trial in an adult court and could have faced up to three years in jail, but were thankfully acquitted. Two men had been imprisoned for kissing earlier that year.

The government crackdown on LGBTQ+ relationships, as well as behaviours such as wearing tight skirts, may partly be due to the somewhat debauched reputation the country earned in its 1950s and 1960s heyday.

Attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community

Despite the country’s homophobic laws, Moroccans are generally tolerant people. LGBTQ+ travellers are unlikely to encounter hostile reactions, and foreigners are not actively persecuted. This is helped by the country’s conservative culture; couples of any orientation do not demonstrate affection in public here.

Holding hands is a sign of friendship between men, however in recent years this has become less common in the cities as men want to avoid being considered gay. Family life and traditional gender roles are held in very high regard in Morocco, and so breaking these is frowned upon. But visitors from outside this culture are not held in the same regard.

While lesbians have fewer legal issues in Morocco, the difficulties they face are different to those of gay men. Women have fewer freedoms and are often expected to be accompanied in public by their husbands or other family members. It is therefore much harder for them to conduct relationships with other women.
Morocco’s most high profile LGBTQ+ rights organisation is Kif-kif, which means ‘same’ in the Berber language. Founded in 2005, the organisation was refused recognition by the Moroccan authorities, and is consequently based in Madrid. Kif-kif is an umbrella organisation with a monthly publication called Mithly and subgroups which aim to protect lesbian women in Morocco, as well as supporting transgender and bisexual people. Mithly means ‘like me’ in Arabic, and is also used to mean gay. The word was coined by the LGBTQ+ community as an alternative to the derogatory Arabic words impressed on them.
Western LGBTQ+ travellers are somewhat cocooned from the persecution that Moroccans face; you won’t be stopped or detained simply for being gay. Authorities are likely to turn a blind eye to tourists acting discretely, and visiting riads and bars that are known to be LGBTQ+-friendly. The exception is if tourists are seen with Moroccans. Moroccans are prohibited from accompanying Westerners to their hotels unless they are authorised to do so, as tour leaders for example.

When British man Ray Cole was seen out with a Moroccan man in 2014, he was sentenced to four months in jail as a result of private texts and photos found on their phones. The outcry at his sentence, and the desire to maintain Morocco’s image as a relaxed, tolerant holiday destination, led to the charges being dropped, and he and his partner were released after three weeks.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Morocco or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.

LGBTQ+ travel in Morocco

LGBTQ+ culture in Morocco remains fairly well hidden and is not widely acknowledged. You won’t find gay clubs and pride marches. However, despite its regressive laws, Morocco remains one of the safest countries in Africa for LGBTQ+ travellers, and indeed, one of the most tolerant in the Islamic world.

It may have had a colourful past, but Tangier no longer has any kind of gay scene. Of the cities, Marrakech is considered to be the most open minded. There are no LGBTQ+ clubs and bars per se, but certain areas are known to be LGBTQ+ hangouts, and some clubs attract a more mixed crowd. This is partly due to the number of LGBTQ+ expat couples who have moved here, particularly French. The coastal city of Agadir also has a growing reputation as an LGBTQ+-friendly holiday destination.
While all the tour operators we work with describe themselves as LGBTQ+ friendly, it is worth asking questions to learn more about how this is put into practice in their Morocco holidays. Are they able to incorporate village tours, homestays and explorations of Morocco’s more traditional cultures into an LGBTQ+-friendly holiday? Do they ask questions of riad hosts to ensure they are welcoming to same-sex couples, and that couples can share rooms? Be aware that straight, unmarried couples have at times experienced difficulties when requesting a double room, too, as sex outside of marriage is taboo here.

Good tour operators should be able to share information about customs and beliefs – not just for Morocco as a whole, but for individual cities, regions and cultures across the country.

While we always do our best to call out any discriminatory or other unethical behaviour within the tourism industry, we also recognise that there is a very fine – and at times blurred – line between expressing your identity (whether on the grounds of sexuality, religion or political beliefs, for instance), and being respectful of local customs as a responsible traveller. We would advise all our travellers to Morocco to dress very conservatively, for example, as well as to avoid public displays of affection. This advice applies for all visitors – regardless of gender or sexual orientation.
Read more in our LGBT holiday advice guide
Written by Vicki Brown
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