LGBTQIAP Students Abroad
So you are interested in studying abroad? This is a fantastic opportunity to learn about world cultures as well as your own. For more information about why you might want to study abroad, or about opportunities to study abroad at Cal Poly, please visit the International Center’s Study Abroad website. This page is about discussing specific issues or concerns you may wish to consider when studying abroad as an LGBTQ student.
You may already identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, queer, questioning, intersex, asexual, or pansexual student, or you may still be exploring your identity. Preparing for what to expect in a particular country can make the difference between a wonderful experience abroad and an unpleasant one. You will find that the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of other cultures and countries will often differ from the United States. While researching study abroad programs and preparing for departure, it is important to reflect on the culturally based ideas and definitions of gender identity/expression and sexual identity. Consider carefully how your identity as a LGBTQ person may influence your relationships with host nationals, your cultural adjustment, and your overall education abroad experience.
**This information has been adapted from Northwestern University, Michigan State University, and The Queer Resource Center of The Claremont Colleges. FMI please see resources listed below, or follow the links to visit these programs.
Perceptions of Gender and Sexuality
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 may not see this as an identity. In other cultures, there are active social movements for civil rights for sexual and gender minorities. In preparing for your study abroad experience, it is important for you to research the LGBTQ 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:
- The culture of a country might make you feel like you are either "sent back into the closet" or, in countries that are more progressive than the US, freer to express yourself.
- If your host country is NOT progressive or accepting of the LGBTQ community, make sure you understand the political climate and consider your personal safety before confronting this way of thinking.
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:
- Some countries will make it easier for you 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.
Legal Issues to Consider before Going Abroad
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 or romantic 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 in this country.
Spend a little time getting 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. As part of your pre-departure preparations, ask these questions of yourself, your study abroad adviser, and your study abroad program.
Ask questions that will help you understand the host culture a little better:
- Does your right to be LGBTQ in the United States conflict with your host country's religious or cultural values and traditions?
- What is considered typical male and female social 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?
- What are gender relations like in the host culture?
- Are there safety considerations that you should be aware of?
Find out what resources are available to sexual and gender minorities:
- Are there any LGBTQ-friendly establishments nearby? How can I find them?
- Does your study abroad program offer LGBTQ friendly housing?
- Does your study abroad program discuss LGBTQ considerations during their orientation?
- What local newspapers, e-magazines or online resources are available in your host country?
Last but not least, take some time to check in with yourself. You don’t have to know all the answers, but posing the questions is a good place to start. These questions may help you address your personal wellbeing, health, and safety while abroad:
- 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?
- How will you reconcile your human rights with the cultural values of your host society?
- 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?
- 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?
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.
Resources for LGBTQ Travelers
Gallup World Poll: an article about how Perceived Acceptance of Homosexuals Differs around the Globe
Mobility International USA: provides information for travelers from the United States, as well as visitors to the U.S such, providing an a-z disability resource list, tips on preparing to travel, and opportunities to learn about global disability culture
Transgender and TSA: travel tips for trans* folks with an explanation of TSA policies and resources
US State Department Page for LGBT Students Abroad: general tips and information for LGBTQ travelers
US State Department Traveler’s Checklist: useful checklist for all travelers departing from the United States
* 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 genderqueer individuals.
If you know of a good resource for LGBTQ students studying abroad and don’t see it here, please contact email@example.com with your recommendations.