LGBTQ Students Abroad
Get ready for your adventure! Studying abroad provides an excellent opportunity to learn about world cultures as well as your own. As an LGBTQ student you may have additional things to consider before departure. Preparing for what to expect in any particular country can make the difference between a wonderful experience abroad and a more challenging one.
You may already identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, or queer student, or you may still be exploring your identity. In either case, you will find that the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of other cultures will often differ from the U.S. In preparing for departure, all students should reflect on cultural ideas of gender identity/expression and sexual identity both in the U.S. and in the host country. Consider carefully how your identity as a LGBTQ person coming from the U.S. may influence your relationships with host nationals, your cultural adjustment, and your overall education abroad experience.
Learning More about Your Host Country Before You Depart
Questions to Ask
Legal Issues to Consider Before Going Abroad
**A special thanks to the study abroad programs at Northwestern University and Michigan State University for the following information. FMI please see resources listed below, or follow the links to visit these programs.
In some cultures, Western understandings of “gay” and “straight” don’t exist, or don’t carry the same importance as they do in the U.S. People involved in same-sex relationships or who don’t identify with their gender assigned at birth may not see being Queer and/or Trans as personal/cultural identity. In other cultures, understandings of LGBTQ identity may be similar to our understandings in the U.S. In preparing for your study abroad experience, it is important for you to research the LGBTQ culture and political climate of the country you will be visiting.
If you are open about your gender and/or sexual identity, consider the following as you research potential study abroad countries:
- Moving through the world as a queer person may be significantly different in your host country. How will you navigate your experience if you feel less safe than expected?
- If queer/trans people in your host country navigate being queer/trans differently than in the U.S. – how will you adjust to that shift – especially if that difference is due to safety concerns?
- Identify supportive people or places both in the U.S. and on the ground in your host country before leaving. If you need support while abroad, it can help to know who to reach out to in advance.
If you are not open about your gender and/or sexual identity, along with the above, consider the following as you research potential study abroad countries:
- In some countries you may find it easier to come out; make sure that you have a support network during this time. If you choose to come out while abroad, consider how this will affect your return to friends and family.
- If you are not public about your identity, realize that finding that community will be a bit more difficult while abroad. Finding groups or organizations before you go is essential. Check out the links in the campus and international resources sections.
Questions to Ask
As part of your pre-departure preparations, ask these questions of yourself, your study abroad adviser, and your study abroad program.
- Does your right to be LGBTQ in the United States conflict with your host country’s religious or cultural values and traditions?
- How will you reconcile your human rights with the cultural values of your host society?
- Will your (LGBT) legal rights be similar or different from the United States?
- How will you work to understand your privilege as a college student from the U.S. in your host culture?
- Are there safety considerations that you should be aware of?
- How do gender relations operate in the host culture?
- What is considered typical gendered behavior in the host culture?
- What is the social perception of members of the LGBTQ community?
- What roles do trans people play in the host culture?
- Is there a gender binary in the host culture? What do the lives of folks outside the binary look like?
- Does your study abroad program offer LGBTQ friendly housing?
- Does your study abroad program discuss LGBTQ considerations during their orientation?
- What are my safety needs and perceptions, and how can they best be met? Is the program able to make special accommodations for students who request single rooms, private baths, or certain roommates?
- Research how you may be received in your host country thinking about gender/sexuality/race/class. Is this perception something you feel comfortable with?
- Will I need access to any medications, supplies, or services due to my transgender status? Are they available in my host country? If not, will I need any additional documentation to travel with my medication or supplies?
Get to Know Your Destination
Explore LGBTQ travel guides and internet resources. Talk with other LGBTQ and allied people about their experiences in certain countries or regions to gather as much information as possible upon which to make your choices and decisions. Once in your host country, find out what local newspapers, e-magazines or online resources may be available. Some questions to ask include:
- How open will I be about my sexual orientation and gender identity with my teachers, peers, friends, host family and others?
- How important is it to me to find other sexual minority students and friends while abroad? How will I make connections with other sexual minority students, local residents, or community organizations and gathering places?
- What resources are available in my host country for sexual minority people?
- Are there any GLBT-friendly establishments nearby? How can I find them?
The laws governing LGBTQ relationships and sexual activity differ from country to country. U.S. citizens must abide by the laws of a host country; knowing these laws may help you to decide what countries you might like to visit if you will be out abroad or if you will pursue relationships while abroad. Even if you do not plan to have a sexual relationship while away, you should be informed about specific laws pertaining to sexual behavior and sexual/gender identity. When doing your research, try to ascertain:
- Are there “public decency” laws? Or “public indecency” laws?
- The legality of same-sex sexual behavior (sometimes male-male sexual behavior is illegal while female-female sexual behavior is not), including sodomy laws.
- The age of consent for sexual behavior (which may differ from the age of consent for opposite-sex sexual behavior)
- Restrictions on freedom of association or expression for LGBTQ people
- Anti-discrimination laws (these can be national laws or specific to local areas)
You may find that you can be more open about your identity than in the U.S., or that you would need to hide your sexual or gender identity completely to avoid cultural ostracism or arrest. Understanding this will help you decide where you would, or would not, want to study.
The following links are a good place to start answering some of the questions posed above. We have tips for LGBTQ travelers provided by governmental organizations, advocacy groups, and other universities. Please note that although much of the information available on the internet claims to discuss LGBTQ experiences internationally, many do not focus on the needs and concerns of gender minoritized folks. Therefore, not all of the resources listed below touch on experiences of trans* and other gender minoritized folks. However, The QRC is always improving our resources and strives to serve the LGBTQQIAA community as best we can. If you know of a good resource for LGBTQ students studying abroad, please contact The QRC Staff with your recommendations.
Resources for LGBTQ Travelers
US State Department Traveler’s Checklist: useful checklist for all travelers departing from the United States
LGBT Student Guide for Education Abroad: a 34-page resource including links to international LGBTQ organizations and a country-by-country description of LGBTQ concerns including legal and cultural climate around LGBTQ status, presence/visibility of LGBTQ communities, and national LGBTQ organizations and resources
Meaningful Travel Tips and Tales: LGBTQ traveler’s perspectives: A resource dedicated to helping LGBTQ travelers prepare to go abroad and feel more comfortable when they get there. Written by and for queer people.
Transgender and TSA: travel tips for trans* folks with an explanation of TSA policies and resources
Resources for Travelers with Disabilities
Mobility International USA: provides information for travelers from the United States, as well as visitors to the U.S such as an a-z disability resource list, tips on preparing to travel, and opportunities to learn about global disability culture
College Study Abroad Offices – LGBTQ Resources
NAFSA Association of International Educators: Rainbow Special Interest Group
Ithaca College – LGBT Students and Study Abroad
Michigan State – Information for LGBTQ Students
NYU Student to Student Guide – LGBT
University of Minnesota – (video) “Orientation for GLBT Students Studying Abroad”
William & Mary College – LGBT
Beloit College – Diversity and Identity Abroad: a useful discussion and list of resources related to intersectional navigation of an international experience.
LGBTI human rights
F&M Global Barometers measure the LGBTI human rights in 203 countries and regions.