After four years of writing about LGBTIQ+ friendly destinations for Couple of Men, we love to travel more than ever. From the windy and isolated volcanic planes in Iceland, to the buzzing metropolis of Japan’s capital city Tokyo, to the perfect sunset over the Pacific at the Costa Rican coast – travel has opened our minds to different and colorful ways of life.
At a first glance, it seems old-fashioned and frankly quite obsolete in the year 2020 to use the acronym LGBTIQ+ and to think in boxes that label human beings regarding their sexuality, gender, gender identity, or gender expression.
And yet, if a person just does not fit into the box of hetero-normativity, problems can arise. Problems that many (especially people coming from a privileged, white, heteronormative world) simply do not and cannot understand without educating themselves. Here's why the LGBTIQ+ community still needs special treatment when traveling.
Being able to travel the world and publish content to inspire members of the LGBTIQ+ community to travel freely and safely is a dream come true for both of us. It all started about four years ago when we transformed Karl’s personal travel blog into our travel blog as a couple, with the goal of sharing our experiences while traveling as an openly gay couple coming from two different European countries.
At the beginning, it was just that. Pretty photos and cute little stories made many people follow along on our journey. But that wasn’t the end of our story. We started to attend international travel fairs like IGLTA and ITB, invest in new travel gear, and connect with other bloggers and travel professionals from all over the world. The whole world? Not quite…
"We do not travel to countries that are dangerous for us"
In 2018 one of the biggest German news platforms reached out to us to interview Couple of Men. It was an exciting experience to share our travel knowledge and insider information from a queer perspective. When we received the final published article, the headline was: “We do not travel to countries that are dangerous for us.”
It was an unexpected and interesting choice, but at the same time the perfect summary of the limitations many LGBTIQ+ travelers, including ourselves, are still experiencing. We started a survey among our community to learn more about the negative experiences others have had while traveling.
People spitting in one’s face and in front of one’s feet, getting two separate single rooms instead of the pre-booked double suite, or simply having to let go of each other's hands as a precaution to avoid physical and verbal assault. These are examples of how the LGBTIQ+ community still has to be cautious when booking a holiday. But shouldn’t vacation time be the best time of the year?
LGBTIQ+ travel businesses
Good and safe alternatives are LGBTIQ-operated travel businesses, like hotels run by LGBTIQ+ people, certified/labelled LGBTIQ+ friendly tour operators, and niche specific vacations like gay-men-only cruises or resorts. When we tested a “gaycation” like this ourselves, we understood the value added to our travel experience. We were suddenly able to be who we are, all the time, everywhere. But using the “LGBTIQ+ friendly” label as a business comes with its own challenges and responsibilities.
Every community within the LGBTIQ+ acronym has different needs and expectations. Staff members need to be trained to fully understand the nuances, and to really give lesbian, gay, trans or queer people in general the real LGBTIQ+ friendly vacation experience they are looking for. In short, is an accommodation really LGBTIQ+ friendly or did it just add some letters for marketing purposes?
When a travel business has taken the right measures to be inclusive, it still might be difficult to get noticed by the queer traveler. That’s why we started to support businesses run by members of the LGBTIQ+ community, highlighting their personal stories and services.
Even though some tourism boards claim to be LGBTIQ+ allies and supporters, some do not (yet) grasp nor understand the needs our community of lesbian, gay, trans and queer people has. We find our work is becoming more educational and advisory to avoid pinkwashing. To give you an example: during our last big trip to Sweden, Germany, and Austria, we learned about homophobia firsthand.
Although it was unintentionally homophobic, it showed the necessity of our work as LGBTIQ+ storytellers, bloggers, influencers, and educators. An employee at one destination marketing operator asked us what to answer to the CEO of the destination marketing organization when asked “why does the LGBTIQ+ community always need ‘special treatment.’” Here’s what we answered:
“Ask your CEO if he/she/they ever had to go out on the street to demonstrate for the right to get married? The right to have children? The right to define one’s own sex and gender individuality? The right to be safe on the street? The right not to be beaten up, harassed, and insulted for one’s gender expression, gender identity, and sexuality? Equal rights?”
In 2020 and even in “LGBTIQ+ friendly” cities such as Berlin or Amsterdam, there is a risk to LGBTIQ+ people. There are eleven countries in the world in 2020 where the death penalty applies to consensual same-sex activity. And in many countries, the right to choose one’s gender individuality and sex is forbidden or prohibited by law or limited to medical treatment.
A diverse community
We – the LGBTIQ+ community – are a diverse group of human beings seeking equal human rights as an accepted and respected part of our society – not second class people. Brave front-runners, activists, and allies of the LGBTIQ+ community paved the way for small achievements that have changed the acceptance and recognition of the queer community over the years.
But as long as people, politicians, even entire nations, continue to discriminate against, imprison, or even kill lesbians, gays, transgender, and queer people, it is important that we speak up for those who cannot, and that we team up with allies in our societies that actively and authentically support the LGBTIQ+ community. We will continue to be part of this loud LGBTIQ+ voice demonstrating on the street for equality during Pride events, not only for gay people but for everyone.
For us, LGBTIQ+ storytelling is also about sharing beautiful stories of LGBTIQ+ couples, like the gay couple operating a cafe in the South Swedish fjords, or the story behind our favorite gay bar here in Amsterdam, or the photos of our lovely lesbian friends who are awesome artists with their cameras.
Our world is so colorful and full of almost endless possibilities. When we travel around the world with our cameras and notepads in our hands, we want to tell the stories behind the diverse and beautiful things we see and experience.
We call ourselves gay travel bloggers, LGBTIQ+ storytellers, and queer activists, but at the same time, we are among the most privileged members of the LGBTIQ+ community, being gay white cis-men living in Western Europe. Despite our troubles during our coming out and the ongoing inequality we are experiencing even in our own countries like Germany and the Netherlands, we are able to get married, to live together as a family, to have children with a lesbian couple and we are able to travel to other countries.
These privileges are also our biggest motivation to continue to be part of the change, and to support the visibility of all the other letters of the LGBTIQ+ acronym. A big part of our community is facing way more discrimination and incomprehension than we do. That is why it is important to educate ourselves and to listen to each other's needs and wishes. We are all human. Shouldn’t that be the only fact that matters to everyone?
You might also like:
How Black LGBTIQ+ travelers navigate a challenging world
Many countries don't accept our right to exist: life as a gay traveler
The most gay-friendly places on the planet
Meet more people like Daan and Karl who are making travel possible for everyone: Best in Travel 2021