By Lizzie Tough (They/Them)
Date: June 22, 2023
Word Count: 1449
Disclaimer: All legal information provided in this article should not be treated as legal advice nor should the author be contacted for legal representation.
On Tuesday, June 6, 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency for the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities in the United States because of critical safety concerns. In many states, 2SLGBTQIA+ communities are experiencing violence, hostilities, and erasure. Further, politically influenced hateful rhetoric that targets 2SLGBTQIA+ communities has been on the rise since 2015. Since January 2023, over 500 anti-LGBTQ bills were tabled in 41 states and more than 70 of those bills have been passed. In Canada, New Brunswick appears to be following the trend, by adopting “Policy 713- Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity”, which further marginalizes gender-diverse youth. This policy appears to infringe on the s. 15(1) Charter of Rights and Freedoms rights of gender-diverse youth.
Although anti-2SLGBTQIA+ sentiment is present in Canada, this article focuses on some of the safety concerns of 2SLGBTQIA+ Canadians when traveling abroad. During the fourth quarter of 2022, 5.2 million trips were taken by Canadians to the United States, spending $5.8 billion in the USA. In 2022, about 4% of Canadians over 15 years old identified their sexuality as anything other than heterosexual. Further, in a survey of Canadian LGBTQ+ travelers conducted by Community Marketing Insights in partnership with the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) in 2018, 86% of respondents had a valid passport and 73% had used their passport in the last year. In the fourth quarter of 2022, Canadians were traveling abroad at nearly the same rates as before the pandemic. Although the equal rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers in Canada are protected by section 15(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they may not be protected abroad. In some countries, any indication of being part of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community could result in death.
For Canadian 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers abroad, some destinations may call for more planning and research ahead of time to address personal safety concerns. This article focuses on five recommendations on what to consider when traveling abroad as a 2SLGBTQIA+ traveler or when traveling with a member of a diverse community. Before booking a trip, 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers, especially transgender and gender-diverse travelers, should do research to know their rights and whether there is a threat to their personal safety, health, and well-being while traveling. 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers ought to also consider what accommodations and excursions are inclusive, and whether they will be able to access medical care if an emergency arises. These recommendations on what to consider as a 2SLGBTQIA+ traveler are not exhaustive. They are merely examples of where to start when planning a trip abroad.
5 Safety Tips for 2SLGBTQIA+ Travelers
1. Know Your Rights
Before booking a trip abroad, the Government of Canada advises that travelers research whether their destination has laws that criminalize same-sex relationships, or more generally, 2SLGBTQIA+ rights. It should be noted that some destinations may also have laws that ban symbols or expressions which are often used in support of 2SLGBTQIA+ rights (for example, the Pride flag.) The Government of Canada provides Travel Advisories on its website, which includes information on 2SLGBTQIA+ safety in other countries. Travel experts Asher and Lydia Fergusson also created a well-researched and easily navigable guide on the laws that affect the rights and safety of 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers. Their guide is more user-friendly to view if seeking information on more than one country. However, information found on sources that may be regularly updated should be cross-referenced with the Government of Canada’s travel advisories.
Another issue to consider is whether a traveler whose passport displays the “X” gender option could face legal challenges upon arrival in countries that do not recognize the “X” gender option. To avoid any safety concerns upon entry to another country, it is advised to ensure that all identifying documentation is consistent, including name and gender option, and that any prosthetics or medications are packed separately in a carry-on for efficient security screening. In countries like the United States, laws that protect freedoms may differ significantly between states. Every year the Human Rights Campaign Foundation publishes the State Equality Index (SEI) report and State Scorecards on state legislation that affects LGBTQ+ rights and civil liberties. Be specific on location when searching for local laws and policies which may protect or infringe on 2SLGBTQIA+ rights.
2. Know The Safety Concerns
As some recent Canadian events have shown, even if the law protects 2SLGBTQIA+ rights, it is good to be aware of the social setting of a travel destination. Before selecting a travel destination abroad, it is worth considering whether 2SLGBTQIA+ folks can safely be open and authentic in public. Have there been recent attacks on the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities? If so, what has the public and police response been like? Some safety concerns may be specific to a community. Currently, there is an increase in hate crimes and attitudes against transgender and gender-diverse communities. Although jurisdictions with anti-2SLGBTQIA+ laws may have strong communities and social support, it is still best to take personal safety precautions seriously while traveling abroad.
3. Find 2SLGBTQIA+ Owned or Friendly Accommodations
Some travel destinations may have an overwhelming amount of options on where to stay but they may not feel equally welcoming for 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers. The IGLTA’s website is a valuable resource that provides information on travel businesses that are either 2SLGBTQIA+ owned and operated or welcoming. Many other websites with accommodation search engines have a filter for 2SLGBTQIA+-friendly accommodations. Hotels may also have inclusivity policies for staff to follow in the workplace. These policies may be available on the hotel company’s website. Aside from accommodation ownership or inclusive policies, there are travel companies that exclusively cater to 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers. These companies, many of which are members of IGLTA, regularly work with travelers who have unique safety concerns while traveling. It is also worth researching whether potential accommodations are in a safe or inclusive neighbourhood. Even if a neighbourhood is considered safe, it is recommended to continue to be mindful of personal safety at unfamiliar destinations.
4. Find Safe Excursions & Activities
Whether someone is traveling in a group or alone, every traveler ought to feel safe on their trip. There could be certain activities that could make someone feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Some excursions might be located in areas with a greater police presence, which could be dangerous for 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers in some countries. Racialized 2SLGBTQIA+ communities may also face racism more prevalently in one jurisdiction than another, which can affect the experience of travelers who are also members of racialized communities. Similarly, a resort that is 2SLGBTQIA+ friendly but located in a country with anti-LGBTQ laws may provide a welcoming environment on-resort that is drastically different from off-resort experiences. Caution should be used when traveling to countries with anti-LGBTQ laws that also have 2SLGBTQIA+ friendly resorts. Even if the anti-LGBTQ laws are not regularly enforced, that does not mean that they will not be enforced.
5. Health & Wellbeing
Not all countries protect the right for 2SLGBTQIA+ folks to access health care. In the United States, there are significant differences in whether LGBTQIA+ communities have legal protections for their human rights. If a gender-diverse traveler needs unexpected medical care, there could be barriers to receiving that care. It is worth knowing whether access to medical care is protected before a trip, in case. Some local 2SLGBTQIA+ community organizations provide lists of safe healthcare providers. If there are concerns about personal health and well-being in another country, consult a physician before traveling. They may make recommendations to stay well and avoid unnecessary interactions with healthcare providers while traveling.
Another critical health topic for 2SLGBTQIA+ communities is sexual health, including consent. HIV and other communicable diseases have had a historically disproportionate prevalence impact on 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. A further disturbing trend of laws that target HIV+ individuals and criminalize consensual sexual relations has increased since 2015. Because some countries criminalize same-sex relationships, there may not be consent laws between same-sex partners, which puts foreign 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers at risk of imprisonment or death.
The five recommendations in this article on personal safety for 2SLGBTQIA+ Canadians traveling abroad are not absolute and may not address all concerns. Travelers need to know their rights, the law, and should be aware of local safety concerns of their destination. Travelers ought to feel safe at their accommodations, while enjoying attractions, and while receiving unexpected medical care. This is especially important for 2SLGBTQIA+ travelers. Taking unnecessary risks of traveling to unsafe destinations could have severe consequences. If someone else is planning the trip, have a conversation with them and let the trip planner know of any personal safety concerns or direct them to inclusive travel resources. While this article was not an exhaustive list, there are recommended resources included that may assist in answering questions related to 2SLGBTQIA+ travel and safety.
 Human Rights Campaign, Press Release, “For the First Time Ever, Human Rights Campaign Officially Declares ‘State of Emergency’ for LGBTQ+ Americans; Issues National Warning and Guidebook to Ensure Safety for LGBTQ+ Residents and Travelers” (6 June 2023) online: Press Releases <https://www.hrc.org/press-releases> [https://perma.cc/BG53-TQH7]. [HRC Press Release]
 Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ+ Americans Under Attack: A Report and Reflection on the 2023 State Legislative Session (Washington, DC: Human Rights Campaign 8 June 2023) at 3, 6, online (pdf): <https://hrc-prod-requests.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/Anti-LGBTQ-Legislation-Impact-Report.pdf> [https://perma.cc/BY2B-DAZS]. [HRC Impact Report]
 New Brunswick Education and Early Childhood Development, News Release, “REVISED/Policy 713 clarified after consultations, recognizes role of parents” (8 June 2023) online: News <https://www2.gnb.ca/content/gnb/en/news.html>[https://perma.cc/RV54-YGS5]. [Policy 713]
 Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, s 7, Part I of the Constitution Act, 1982, being Schedule B to the Canada Act 1982 (UK), 1982, c 11, s 15(1). [Charter]
 Statistics Canada, National Travel Survey, fourth quarter 2022 Catalogue No 11-001-x (Ottawa: Statistics Canada 26 May 2023) at 2-3, online (pdf): The Daily <https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/dai-quo/index-eng.htm> [https://perma.cc/92EK-KFD9]. [National Travel Survey]
 Statistics Canada, LGBTQ2+ people, in Canada at a Glance, 2022, Catalogue No 12-581-X (Ottawa: Statistics Canada 1 December 2022), online: Main Page <https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/catalogue/12-581-X> [https://perma.cc/C5TC-XQNN]. Note that the survey used limited LGBTQ2+ definitions.
 Community Marketing & Insights, Overview Report, LGBTQ Tourism & Hospitality Survey: Canadian Travelers 2018 (San Francisco: CMI April 2018) online (PDF): Tourism and Hospitality <https://cmi.info/lgbtq-research-downloads/#tourism-hospitality-studies> [https://perma.cc/NMV9-2WQA] Note that the survey used limited LGBTQ definitions.
 National Travel Survey, supra note 7, at 1.
 Charter, supra note 6, s 15(1).
 Asher Fergusson & Lydia Fergusson, “The 203 Worst (& Safest) Countries for LGBTQ+ Travel in 2023” (2 March, 2023) online (blog): Asher & Lydia Fergusson <https://www.asherfergusson.com/lgbtq-travel-safety/> [https://perma.cc/G95X-GA6R]. [Fergusson LGBTQ+ Safety Index]
 Ibid;Government of Canada, Travel and your sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics (Ottawa: Government of Canada 15 February, 2023) online: Travel Health and Safety <https://travel.gc.ca/travelling/health-safety> as it appeared 19 June, 2023. [Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety]
 Equality Florida Action, Inc, News Release, “Nation’s Largest LGBTQ Advocacy Group Joins Equality Florida in Issuing Updated Florida Travel Advisory” (23 May 2023) online: Latest News <https://www.eqfl.org/blog> [https://perma.cc/94NN-2654]. [Florida Travel Advisory]
 Fergusson LGBTQ+ Safety Index, supra note 12.
 Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 13.
 International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, “Travel Tips for Transgender, Genderqueer and Non-Binary Wanderlusters” (24 September 2018), online (blog): IGLTA
<https://www.iglta.org/blog/post/travel-tips-for-transgender-genderqueer-and-non-binary-wanderlusters/ > [https://perma.cc/KP6Q-TMY3]. [Transgender, Genderqueer, Non-Binary Travel Tips]
 HRC Impact Report, supra note 3 at 9.
 Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2022 State Equality Index: A Review of State Legislation Affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer Community and a Look Ahead in 2023 (2023) online: All Reports <https://reports.hrc.org/2022-state-equality-index> as it appeared 19 June 2023; Human Rights Campaign, “State Scorecards” (2023) online: Laws & Legislation <https://www.hrc.org/resources/state-scorecards> as it appeared 19 June 2023.
 Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 11; Policy 713, supra note 5.
 HRC Press Release, supra note 1; Florida Travel Advisory, supra note 15; Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ+ Americans Fight Back: A Guidebook For Action (2023) at 5, online (pdf): < https://hrc-prod-requests.s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/LGBTQ-Guidebook-for-Action.pdf> [https://perma.cc/7FVX-Z3GF]. [HRC Guidebook]
 Florida Travel Advisory, supra note 15.
 HRC Press Release, supra note 1; HRC Impact Report, supra note 3 at 1, 5-7, 16; Florida Travel Advisory, supra note 15; HRC Guidebook, supra note 24 at 10-11,; Policy 713, supra note 5.
 Florida Travel Advisory, supra note 15.
 Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 11.
 IGLTA, supra, note 28.
 Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety , supra note 13; R v McArthur, 2019 ONSC 963 at paras 7-11ff.
 HRC Press Release, supra note 1; HRC Impact Report, supra note 3 at 1-5ff; Fergusson LGBTQ+ Safety Index, supra note 12; Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 13; Transgender, Genderqueer, Non-Binary Travel Tips, supra note 20.
Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Black LGBTQ People and Compounding Discrimination,Transgender, Genderqueer, (2020) at 2-4 online (pdf): All Reports <https://reports.hrc.org/reports> [https://perma.cc/3H4H-9YDK]; Non-Binary Travel Tips, supra note 20.
 Ibid; Fergusson LGBTQ+ Safety Index, supra note 12; see also HRC Impact Report, supra note 3 at 7-8.
 Fergusson LGBTQ+ Safety Index, supra note 12; HRC Impact Report, supra note 3 at 8, 11, 16-18; HRC Guidebook, supra note 24 at 5.
 HRC Impact Report, supra note 3 at 3.
 HRC Guidebook, supra note 24 at 5; See also Human Rights Campaign Foundation, Healthcare Equality Index 2022 Executive Summary: 15 Years of Driving Change Promoting Equitable and Inclusive Care for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer Patients and Their Families online (pdf): All Reports <https://reports.hrc.org/reports> [https://perma.cc/8ZWL-4ABD]. [HEI 2022]
 Florida Travel Advisory, supra note 15.
 Transgender, Genderqueer, Non-Binary Travel Tips, supra note 20.
 HRC Guidebook, supra note 24at 10; Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 13; Transgender, Genderqueer, Non-Binary Travel Tips, supra note 20.
 Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 13.
 Fergusson LGBTQ Safety Index, supra note 12.
 Fergusson LGBTQ Safety Index, supra note 12; Canadian LGBTQ+ Traveler Safety, supra note 13; Transgender, Genderqueer, Non-Binary Travel Tips, supra note 20.
 HRC Guidebook, supra note 24 at 5; HEI 2022, supra note 38.