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The facts: what you need to know about LGBTQ+ travellers
One of the keys to allyship is understanding. Here's a little of what you need to know.
In this week’s edition we’re going to learn a little about the LGBTQ+ travel market. Before we begin, though, I (Lottie) want to explain why this matters. I’m sure lots of you are unlikely to write specifically about LGBTQ+ travel or destinations that suit such travellers, especially if you’re a cisgender (your gender identity matches your biological sex), heterosexual travel writer like me. I would never pitch an article aimed at LGBTQ+ travellers, nor would I pitch publications whose readership are predominantly LGBTQ+.
But inclusivity is incredibly important, regardless of who we’re writing for, because it shows compassion and understanding. And inclusivity for diverse sexual orientations and gender identities is essential, not least because if you don’t pay attention now, you’ll get left behind, as younger people – Gen Z-ers, specifically – are more gender diverse than any generation before them. Half of Gen Z believes binary gender is outdated, and a ground-breaking 15% of the 15,349 American adults between 18 and 23 years old polled by Gallup identify as LGBTQ+.
Right now, these young people might not be your readers or customers, but one day they will be, and if you remain in a binary world, you’ll almost certainly find yourself drifting into irrelevance. Aside from Educating yourself to understand LGBTQ+ issues and inclusivity is a future proofing tactic. So, let’s do that…
LGBTQ+ travellers: the essential facts you need to understand
Travelling as LGBTQ+ isn’t always safe
“I think it would surprise many cis/hetero folks – and indeed, many queer folks – that just being gay or trans is still enough to get one arrested, beaten or killed in a shocking number of countries around the world,” says Dan Allen, a travel, film and culture writer from LA. “For travellers with HIV, those dangers are compounded even further, though interestingly not always in the same places where anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination is rampant. I recently put together a guide for IGLTA (the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association) that helps people navigate the risks of both LGBTQ+ travel and travelling with HIV.
“Beyond those perils, anti- LGBTQ+ discrimination can still happen even in the most ‘queer-friendly’ places. For couples, an ignorant and/or insensitive hotel check-in clerk can instantly dampen the holiday mood by insisting that surely two people of the same sex sleeping in the same room must want two beds. And trans travellers face a host of issues that only now are becoming better understood outside the trans community.”
Gender diversity is unrecognised throughout much of the travel process
“When it comes to gender diverse travellers, there’s use of binary language that doesn’t allow us to feel seen or heard,” says Gabrielle Claiborne, a trans activist and co-founder of Transformation Journeys Worldwide. Many booking systems, from hotels to airlines, don’t offer options for the relevant pronouns for gender diverse individuals. Similarly, in airports, body scanners often have only two options for the person entering the scanner: male/female. This throws up all sorts of difficult situations for trans travellers, especially those who may not have had gender affirmation surgeries required to fit the machine’s binary assumptions. Ultimately, the trans and gender diverse experience is still very much fraught with anxiety.
Despite all this, millions of LGBTQ+ people still love to travel
In the US, desire to travel among LGBTQ+ people is strong, says Dan Allen: “Even at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, nearly 3/4 of respondents to an IGLTA survey said they planned to take a major vacation in 2021. This speaks to the strength and resilience of the LGBTQ+ travel market, and indicates that this sector will almost certainly be at the forefront of the travel industry’s revival in the coming months and years. LGBTQ+ Americans are also much more likely to hold a passport than their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts – the US State Department says that 42% of Americans are passport holders, while a comparatively whopping 85% of American respondents to the IGLTA survey said they have passports.”
In Europe, the story is similar, with 82% of respondents saying they intended to take a holiday before the end of 2021, and 87% in possession of a passport.
LGBTQ+ history is slowly being recognised by travel organisations
Dan is working on a project called Queered World, which aims to link location and LGBTQ+ history, and vice versa. “I believe that the desire exists within the LGBTQ+ community to be learning more about our history as we travel, but sites and destinations have been slow to fully embrace that possibility, more I think from a lack of dialogue between local queer historians and the travel industry than anything else.
“The US National Park Service has recognized a number of nationwide sites for their rich LGBTQ+ legacies, and I know English Heritage has done something similar – but I believe these are just the first steps in a developing sub-niche.”
Trans and non-binary travellers are often forgotten
“When a place says they’re LGBTQ+ friendly, they’re often forgetting the T. The T gets left out,” says Gabrielle Claiborne. At the Stockholm LGBT conference in 2021 and again over a Zoom chat we had last week, Gabrielle talked about how transgender people get missed in the clamour to be seen as an LGBTQ+ friendly place – often it’s all just talk with no action. Even in places like Key West, which is noted for being one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly place in the States, Gabrielle has faced discrimination in LGB establishments.
Being accepting of transgender and non-binary people in a space is just one part of being inclusive – places that are genuinely trans-friendly have gender neutral bathrooms and won’t welcome you with a presumptuous “Good morning, sir” when they’ve not yet established your pronouns. They’ll also fly the right flags – it’s not just about rainbows. The most inclusive flag includes the trans colours and the intersex symbol:
So what can we do with all this information?
Arming yourself with knowledge and a better understanding of LGBTQ+ issues is the first step in becoming a better ally — and what’s here is only a fraction of the available information. Next week, we’ll get the editor’s perspective from two excellent LGBTQ+ professionals, and in our final week this month we’ll provide a packed guide to being an ally, with resources and tips on how to make your writing properly inclusive.
Want to learn more? Visit transformationjourneysww.com or iglta.org. I’d like to extend a huge thanks to Linda Herzer and Gabrielle Claiborne at Transformation Journeys Worldwide for their incredible insights, patience and willingness to educate me when I have questions. Also, huge thanks to LA-based journalist Dan Allen, whose kindness, openness and honesty has also been truly wonderful.