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The safest countries to visit if you are a LGBTQ+ traveller

Sweden named the safest country in the world for LGBTQ+ travellers in a new report, which warns of ill-treatment in some countries favoured by tourists.

Depending on where you are planning your next getaway, being a LGBTQ+ traveller comes with many risks. In Jamaica, the colonial-era “buggery law” means that being gay allows for a 10-year prison sentence; in April 2019, Brunei made headlines for enacting an Islamic law making it legal to flog or stone LGBTQ+ people to death; and according to Equaldex, a range of gay activities are illegal in 71 countries and 101 have no legal protections against LGBT discrimination – and these are just a few examples of many.

“There are some places on the planet where it’s perfectly ordinary to kiss or hold hands with a same-sex partner in public, but in other places, that action could result in fines, imprisonment, hard labour, whipping or, in some cases, death,” says journalist Lyric Fergusson, who runs a blog with her husband Asher that is focused on travel safety. In an attempt to help determine the worst and best places for LGBTQ+ travellers, the duo produced a new LGBTQ+ Danger Index that lists the world’s safest countries.

The LGBTQ+ Danger Index was created by ranking the 150 most-visited countries – by the number of incoming tourists – using eight factors, such as legalised same-sex marriage, protections against discrimination and “if it is a good place to live” (based on Gallup poll findings).

According to the report, a few factors, such as adoption recognition and worker protections, may not affect travellers directly but are good indications of overall attitudes within the country’s culture: “These issues can affect everything, from your ability to show public displays of affection to being able to share a hotel room bed to the capacity at which you can use dating apps without being caught by the local police.”

Sweden was named the most LGBTQ-friendly country in the world. A 2006 European Member poll showed that 71% of Swedes supported same-sex marriage and in 2009 it was legalised, the country has more Pride festivals per capita than anywhere else in the world, and the 2019 Eurobarometer showed that 98% of Swedes believed gay and bisexual people should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual people.

Canada ranked second safest, where same-sex activities have been lawful since 1969 – when the Criminal Law Amendment Act came into force upon royal assent – and in 2020, 91.8% of those surveyed in a poll commissioned by the Privy Council Office said they would be “comfortable” if a next-door neighbour was gay, lesbian or bisexual. Norway, Portugal, Belgium and the United Kingdom followed respectively, and Australia charted at 17th.

On the other side of the spectrum, Nigeria was deemed the most unsafe of the 150 countries surveyed due to its criminalisation of homosexuality, which is punishable by up to 14 years of imprisonment or death. It is also illegal to discuss LGBT+ rights there.

Notably, the United States did not fare as well as other Western countries in the survey – coming in 24th out of 150 countries. Fergusson states that one reason for this is the variation in rights depending on the state you are in: “There are no constitutional or broad protections for LGBTQ+ rights under federal law in the US. Also, in some states, LGBTQ+ youth do not have access to helpful information, because of so-called ‘no-promo homo laws’. The US may have come far, but it has a long way to go in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, especially for young transgender people.”

The top 20 safest countries for LGBTQ+ travellers, according to the LGBTQ+ Danger Index:

  1. Sweden
  2. Canada
  3. Norway
  4. Portugal
  5. Belgium
  6. United Kingdom
  7. Finland
  8. France
  9. Iceland
  10. Spain
  1. Malta
  2. New Zealand
  3. Netherlands
  4. Denmark
  5. South Africa
  6. Ireland
  7. Australia
  8. Uruguay
  9. Colombia
  10. Austria

See the entire ranking of the 150 countries here and read some LGBTQ+ travelling safety tips.

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Lead image © Luis Carrascosa