Pondering the challenges faced by queer families traveling internationally

Guest post by Carrie Mac
Belize Barrier Reef

My partner Jack and I had been excited about planning a family trip to Belize — we found a great VRBO cottage and fabulous flights. We were all ready when Jack asked, “Do we know if they like ‘our kind’ in Belize?”

As in: are they ok with queers?

We don’t expect far-flung places around the world to lay out a rainbow-coloured welcome mat, but we do expect civility and basic human rights when we travel. While I didn’t think that was asking too much, apparently it is if you’re going to Belize.

I was horrified to learn that Belize is the only South American country where it is actually illegal to be homosexual. I’m sure that’s mostly with the boys in mind, but that’s not the point. It’s illegal to be queer there. That means that every teenager with a yearning in the bent direction lives with the fear of up to ten years imprisonment should he or she or hir decide to act on it and get caught.

I don’t want to visit a country where we might get caught. I don’t want to visit a country where my butch partner is the one who’s going to get the flack for being so queer. I don’t want to visit a country where some other queers might go because they can “pass” as straight.

I want to visit a place where we can feel safe. I don’t think that’s asking too much. I’m not expecting PDA-approval, just safety for my kids and my partner and myself. We don’t want to be limited to large liberal cities. We don’t even particularly like cities.

We’re used to the stares and intrusive questions. We’re used to the extra few moments at the border while the officials try to reconcile Jack’s mug with the lacy name that still adorns her passport. We’re used to Esmé hollering out “Baba!” at the top of her lungs and the locals trying to figure out what exactly that word means. We’re used to people puzzling at our family make-up as they try to jam each of the adults and children into their appropriate heteronormative slots, which is pretty hard to do.

We’re used to Jack being read as a guy, mostly. We’re also used to that moment when folks recalculate their assumptions and realize that she’s not.

(And a special shout out to my butch-femme-genderqueer-trans peeps, I’m so very used to being the bathroom wingman. Y’all know what I’m talking about. I’m such a pro, I should put it on my resume.)

When it was just Jack and I, we explored a lot of the off-the-beaten-path areas when we travelled. We had a few dodgey run-ins to show for it, all of which confirmed my fears. When it comes down to it, Jack is the one who will pay for being the capital Q queer. As if she’s tainted me somehow. Because I look like a straight chick with kids, I must be less queer. Right?

Pretty sure my gold-star badge is around here somewhere…

Anyway, back to the point: we value travel. And not resort-y overdeveloped travel, but real world travel. Have we lived ourselves into a corner? Is it not safe to take our family into the great yonder for adventures and exploration? Where can we go? And while there, what would happen if I was critically incapacitated and they wouldn’t recognize Jack’s parental relationship with the kids? Or vice-versa? What then?

One of our biggest dreams is to travel for a couple of years in an RV. And one of our biggest reservations about that dream? The fact that so many Families On The Road are just as blazingly Fundamentalist as we are Queer. So then we have to think about our kids not being welcome to play in their fifth-wheel because we’re going straight to hell, and the accompanying explanation to our children why they think that, and what hell is in the first place.

So now we wonder: where can our queer little family go? And if you say Gay Pride in any of the cities that host one around the world, I will smote thee.

Offbeat Bride recently ran a post about trans-friendly honeymoon spots, so we know about the Hawai’ian Islands, Key West, Thailand, and Providence — tell us about more travel spots!

Comments on Pondering the challenges faced by queer families traveling internationally

  1. Costa Rica! Gorgeous and from what I understand pretty gay friendly. The Manuel Antonio area is gorgeous with lots of activities. It’s a very left-leaning & eco-friendly country. They don’t even have an army! We’ve thought about moving there at some point too.

    • We love Costa Rica! The Nicoya Peninsula is one of our favourite spots. And Manuel Antonio. We are slightly less enamored wtih the Caribbean side, although some folks love it there. We often think about moving there too! Love it!

    • We went to Costa Rica on our honeymoon. The best place that we stayed was the Banana Azul on the Carribbean side. It is run by a gay couple from Canada. It’s also wonderful — it’s right on the ocean where you can swim, it’s very mellow and there is a travel group on site so you can organize excursions.

    • I can’t speak to how accepting Costa Rica is to gay couples, but I’ve been there twice and LOVE IT. Absolutely beautiful and so fun, and something for everyone.

  2. (North-Western) Europe? (The Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Portugal, Iceland, Denmark and France (as of last month) all have legal same sex marriage). And it’s totally possible to not spend your time in cities, that’s what I do on holidays :). Scandinavia has beautiful nature, Holland and Belgium have more small scale countryside (villages, fields, forests) and small historical cities (Delft, Brugges, Ghent, Alkmaar) you could explore. Spain, Portugal and France have sun, sea, heaps of good food, nature and culture…

    • I second Spain! As queer friendly (or more so) as the US and one of the MOST beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I suggest a top to bottom (North to South) tour. The north coast has UK like weather, beautiful hilly hikes and the very unique Basque culture. The central part of Spain is what most Americans think of as “Spanish” rocky, arid, and still beautiful. Bull fights (and bull “shows” that don’t involve any animal cruelty) flamenco dancers, castles, don Quixote style windmills, wonderful music and oh deer god the food! Then hit up Barcelona, I know its a big city but the art and Parc de Gaul are soooo very unique, not to mention the Sagrada Familia and once again really unique Catalan culture. Just as you are getting tired head to Malaga near the Straight of Gibraltar. A cute little beach town, to relax and let the kiddos play in the sand.

      Other fun Queer friendly places I have been. Northern Ireland (on par with the center of the US, so you may run into a bigot or two). Belfast is so safe now, and the hiking in the north is AWESOME. Check out Giants Causeway. The rest of the UK is also pretty queer friendly. Scotland and Wales have some good walk abouts.

      South Africa legalized gay marriage in 2006. I’m headed there next year we’re going to try and do a “Photo Safari” where you “shoot” the animals with a camera. Wonderful national park system from what all the tour books show. Not to mention some awesome beaches.

      Peru everyone was really laid back and didn’t seam to much care about anything (again fantastic hiking) tho I think it is legal to fire some one for being gay so travel with kids might be dodgy and require some research.

      That’s my two cents, based on some extensive world travel with gay friends.

    • I’d like to second Scandinavia and add to that Finland! Finland has amazing nature: beautiful lakes and hiking trails all over the country, where you can rent a lake-side cottage. The cities are small, plus the roads are very good and RV friendly.

    • We’re hoping to do a big tour of Europe when the kids are a bit older. We have an image of the Eiffel Tower in our bedroom, so that every morning I can remind myself of our goal to get there. Hopefully for my 40th!

    • Same-sex marriage is not legal in Portugal! There’s an active gay community in the biggest cities, but I’m not sure it would be as easy in the countryside. The first open-air Gay Pride parade in the second city of the country, Porto, was only in 2004 or 2006. I was there and remember the puzzled expressions of the people looking at the parade.
      Holland and Finland – go there!

  3. I had no idea most caravaners were fundamentalist! Whew! Thanks for the alert. And I wish I could help but I have in fact caught myself having to refrain from promoting my birth country as a destination…because I am not sure it is safe for gay couples or families. It’s not a good feeling. I can’t help but say this: please stay safe!

    • Certainly not all caravaners, not by a long shot. But there is a big movement called “Families on the Road” made up of folks who are living on the road or RVing long term. Whenever I browse the profiles or check out the blogs of the FOTR site, there are an *awful* lot who are definitely right-wing evangelistic types.
      We still plan to hit the road when we can, and for as long as possible … but more likely when the children are old enough to understand the dynamics.

  4. This is a great post and something I think about a lot) in fact I posted a question about it here a few months and got some really interesting responses – http://offbeatfamilies.com/2012/12/queer-families-traveling-with-kids). My (female) partner and I travel a lot at the moment and often we are quite careful when we go places where homosexuality is frowned upon and/or illegal. Most of the times it’s fine but it’s not always the relaxing holiday I sometimes crave as we can’t be as open as we’d like to be. The big unknown for us is what will happen when we have kids…

    In terms of suggestions, I’d agree with the suggestions above about Europe -we’ve travelled to France, Spain, Austria, Holland, Prague Ireland, UK, Norway, Greece (you should go to Lesvos – it’s amazing!) and other places and been fine. Australia was great when we went there too. However I’d note that all of the above are based on our experience as a childless couple so I’m not sure if that would influence things.
    Good luck!

    • It’s interesting … I wonder how much the kids affect the situation? Do they make us more visible? Or do people have more opinions about queers parenting?
      Thanks for your comment!

    • We’re planning to go to Sayulita, Mexico, next winter … but a VW van in New Zealand was a very close second and only lost out because of the airfare! We’ll be there in the next few years, though, if we can make it happen! I’m really looking forward to exploring NZ.

  5. My girlfriend and I are planning to get married next year (legally or not) and want to honeymoon in Ireland, Scotland, and/or Wales (yay, romantic castles! boo, no details set yet). Safe for us lezzers or no? Where should we hang out/avoid? Figured this is a good place to ask.

    (And, of course, I want to be able to smooch on her, appropriately, with little to no hassle, as I do here in LA. It’s our honeymoon for cryin’ out loud!)

    • The UK is pretty gay friendly, they’ve had civil unions for years and now fully equal gay marriage is allowed.
      Yes you might get some little old ladies tutting at you, or some leery guys thinking girls only kiss each other as a show for them, but generally no problems at all

    • I live in Scotland and I don’t think you’ll have any problems. We’ve travelled extensively around the UK and never had any problems in B&Bs, restaurants, pubs etc. You might get the occasional look on the street or a comment but I think generally you’ll be fine. People say that in rural areas people tend to be less accepting but this hasn’t been our experience. Enjoy!

    • I’ve been to Scotland and England several times, and have had zero trouble. That said, we adjust our PDA’s to the environment, and might rather snog joyously in London or Edinburgh, but not so much in a tiny wee town where there are more sheep than people. Congratulations on your wedding!

    • Can’t speak for Ireland or Wales but Scotland should be totally fine. As with any other country, there are going to be some more conservative people/areas, so you might get the odd funny look in the smaller villages, same as anywhere else, and the odd yob in the city who thinks it’s funny, again same as anywhere, but as a rule, shouldn’t be any hassle.

  6. ¡Buenos Aires! Although I think the outlaying parts of Argentina may get as conservative as parts of the U.S., Argentina has more progressive legislature for gay rights than the U.S. and Buenos Aires is known for its LGBTQ-friendliness. There’s even a ton of hotels that go for a primarily LGBTQ market. It’s an awesome city, like New York but waaay prettier. The culture there is also really into making childhood a delight, so there are so many cool things for kids to do. Google Neverland at the Abasto Shopping (mall), that’s just a start!

    While I understand your concern about fundamentalist families, I hope you’ll be surprised at how understanding many people are of the differing beliefs of others, even if they disagree with them. While from an extremely liberal (immediate) family, I grew up in a town with a lot of different fundamentalist groups such as Church of Latter Day Saints (better known as the Mormon church), Baptists, and so on. I learned a lot from my friends that grew up in these groups and their families, whether I was learned something positive that I’d like to add to my life, or was led to appreciate my own beliefs more. I hope I was able to do the same for my friends. I really hope this would be the case with your families experience, but know that there are lots of people on the road and I bet my hopeful future kid would be psyched to play with your kid.

    Good luck with your travels!

    • Oooh, off to look into Buenos Aires! That sounds incredible.
      And thank you for your insightful comments. It’s true that diversity builds the rainbow, but I also want to make sure that my kids feel as emotionally and spiritually safe as they do physically, so it really will come down to a family-by-family situation.
      I used to think that ‘tolerance’ was as good as ‘acceptance’ by the way right folks (think love the sinner, hate the sin), but I want more than tolerance for my kids.
      Big Thoughts. Thanks for commenting.

  7. I second Buenos Aires. My partner and I had the most romantic Valentines Day dinner there out in the open in some square with tango and live music a few years ago. We were amazed at how many queer couples we saw, and felt totally safe.

    Also, my current hometown, Bonito, Brazil! It’s great for kids and families (the focus is ecotourism activities). Google it for amazing photos. It’s a great combination of small town friendliness but with more open-mindedness thanks to the tourism. My partner and I are totally out here (there’s no other option in a town this small) and we’re not the only queer people. People here are relaxed and have a friendly live-and-let-live attitude. And truly the activities are awesome.

    I think you’d probably be fine in larger Brazilian cities like Rio, São Paulo, and Curitiba too.

    One suggestion for traveling to more adventurous places might be to hire a guide. I never would have considered that in the past but now that I work peripherally with tourism I see how common it is for people to hire a guide or translator when they come here. The right person can help bridge any cultural and communication differences and be a buffer against idiocy so you can just enjoy your trip.

    If anyone has more questions about Bonito or wants help with logistics, let me know. I’d love to meet Offbeat Empire homies and my partner actually works at a really good agency and can help with the nitty-gritty stuff (you actually HAVE to go through a local agency for the ecotourism activities, but they do hotels, flights, etc. too).

    I hope we get future posts about where you go and what you do! We’re a traveling couple too and planning for kids in the next few years, so I’m on the lookout for this sort of info too. Good luck!

  8. I feel so mad for this kind of stuff, seriously, you shouldn’t have to worry for sh*t like that. Mexico 😀 we are pretty open here and I’m pretty sure most, if not all, of the beaches here are very friendly too. May I suggest Cancun? Is beautiful and you can visit Xcaret, pure magic!!! Also try Real de Catorce, Puebla… omg, there is so much I can promote xD… just try Mexico, I’m quite sure you are gonna like it AND we are fun.

  9. Check out Bali! I spent three and a half months there as a student studying abroad. It’s the type of society where you see men with their arms draped around each other, it’s common for same-sex friends to be bed fellows, and one of my classmates had a little (homestay) brother who decided that he just didn’t want to be a girl anymore, and the family went along with it without even thinking about it. I didn’t venture outside of Bali to see the rest of Indonesia, but they may not be as accepting.

    • Yes to Bali (and perhaps the Gili islands), but sadly no to the rest of Indonesia. The rest of the archipelago is mostly Muslim, with some very conservative communities to the North (Aceh). I certainly wouldn’t travel there with children.

      I can recommend RV-ing in Australia, as most of the best places to travel are not cities.
      Whatever you do, have an awesome time.

      • Interesting to hear about Bali … we often hear conflicting reports. But it is quite near the top of our list, so we’ll be finding out for ourselves. We plan to go when the kids are a bit older (maybe 8 & 10?). There’s an annual unschoolers meet-up somewhere over there we’d like to hook up with.

      • Yes, but be careful getting to the Gilis because you have to get through Lombok, which is also fundamentalist. Bali is lovely, but I wouldn’t go to other parts of Indonesia.

  10. Thailand! My wife and I live in Thailand with our son. Neither of us are trans, but being gay is not an issue for anyone and there are plenty of “out” trans people here. The only downside is the flight from the U.S. It is brutal. Bali is wonderful as well.

  11. I have taken my many variations of family–from a pack of queer and trans folk to my two 80 something grandmothers–to Mexico. Specifically we visited Puerta Vallarta and Sayulita. I have always felt safe and welcome as a queer person. I love renting a house in Sayulita, and it is friendly for people of all ages. If you want a lower cost vacation, sit on the beach, play games, swim in the pool and kick back. If you want more adventures, go horseback riding through the forest, take a boat trip, watch whales (in the spring), take a zip line, etc. It is also very friendly for vegans, people with food allergies, etc.

    • That’s exactly what we’re going next winter! So great to hear that you’ve had good experiences there! We are renting a house, and are so looking forward to it. Any places we should check out in particular?

      • AWESOME! I really love so much about this little town. Arrange a cab through the Sayulita Life website for the easiest airport transition. I always stop in Bucerias for alcohol/groceries because there is more shopping available there. I always stop at Pie in the Sky bakery when I am there, too (vegan and gluten free options galore!). I love Don Pedros for a fancy dinner, Choco Banana for morning coffee, Captain Pablos (especially if you go fishing, they will cook your fish for you!), and Las Afortunados is great if you have kiddos in tow. If you are not veggie, there is an amazing lady that sells roasted chickens on the side of the street. So much of the food is amazing there, including the folks that go door to door or have food carts. I have also had great luck paying the person that tends to the house to cook for us. I also really love the Huichol Gallery, which is a fair trade art store benefiting the indigenous community nearby. Have a great trip! I hope you enjoy this beautiful little town as much as I do!

  12. I’d second a lot of the suggestions so far, but wanted to add: Canada! There are lots of cool places and people here and we’re pretty open and friendly. I live on the west coast and would highly recommend coming out here to check out Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands. It’s stunning and fun in the summer. Great festivals, markets, sports, hiking, etc. If you want a local’s take on some places, I’m very very happy to give some ideas.

    (This would actually be a pretty cool travel series on Offbeat Home – local offbeat travel guides written by people who live in the area).

  13. No good travel tips that haven’t already been shared. Just wanted to say thanks for writing. For a straight-looking, kid-raising farmer in a conservative rural area who is deeply happy with her “much gayer-looking” partner, it can be hard to find parenting articles that really resonate. Yours did (in every single detail!), and it made my day to have a “Hey! That’s just like us!” moment. 🙂

  14. Thanks for this post! Everyday my partner and I look at our three year and wonder how far and wide we can (enjoyably) travel with her at current age of three and a half and then we wonder where we can go as a family.
    We did an amazing trip to Cuba when she was 4 months. We spent a month travelling around the country and stayed in people’s homes (Casas). Basically we were backpackers plus a baby, stroller and diapers. This is an especially welcoming place to stay for Queer families. Their son is gay. http://casavinalescuba.com/
    We had very positive experiences in Cuba and would recommend it to other traveling families Queer or not.

  15. Are you specifically looking for non-US destinations? Because if you’re looking for local places with no big cities, Maine is rather a no-brainer. (Background: cis straight chick who dresses like a dude occasionally)
    Portland was voted one of the most gay-friendly cities in the USA, but Central Maine is pretty encompassing in my experience (via trans and gay friends).
    There are still people with “don’t redefine marriage” bumper stickers, but I have never once received a nasty comment when out carousing with my non-heteronormative friends; I think Maine is, on the whole, a very friendly place.
    If you’re into hiking, the Trail is full of different kinds of people and the beaches are full of Canadians. Baxter State Park has lots of Deaf/deaf folks (also moose!), Bangor has a huuuuge statue of Paul Bunyan that is a wicked photo location, there’s a Penobscot Nation Museum up by Old Town (…on Indian Island…Yeah.), there are lots of concerts on the Bangor Waterfront (my mother used to take me to all sorts of interactive child friendly events there when I was younger; I don’t know what the current kid-offerings are), our capitol of Augusta has Fort Western (a pretty awesome interactive history experience geared towards families), there’s a pretty fun small town festival in Lisbon Falls (hometown of Stephen King) celebrating Maine’s state soda Moxie, loads and loads of other festivals throughout the summer, and so on. Just ignore everything our current governor spews out of his mouth-hole, please. Maine is a pretty beautiful place to visit 🙂

  16. Thanks for this post. We’re a queer couple going through assisted conception at the moment and I don’t want to give up traveling. I still really want to go to Central Asia, India and Nepal. I’m (quite selfishly) worried about being confined to Western countries + South America and parts of South East Asia. I know that’s actually a huge chunk of the world, but it still concerns me. I would go and try not to be so visibly queer, but I think sometimes people can see through our attempts at passing.

  17. I second South Africa! As long as you stay in the more “tourist” areas (which is where you’ll want to be for wildlife and in Cape Town anyway), I wouldn’t think you would have a problem. My wife is very androgynous and we’ve traveled extensively in South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya with no problems – people are sometimes a little confused but no one has been hostile in any way. We are going to start the procreation event next year and I can’t wait to take our little one all over the world!

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