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LGBTQ+ & Allies Abroad: Navigating Identity and Expression in a Global Context

While every prospective study abroad student weighs a number of factors when preparing to live in a new and unfamiliar country, LGBTQ+ individuals must ask themselves a unique set of questions when considering what external factors may impact their overall experience and safety abroad. Studying abroad for LGBTQ+ students can be not only a life-changing educational experience, it can also present an opportunity to further awareness and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community on a global scale. Students should have equal access to study abroad regardless of sex, gender identity, or sexual orientation--our goal is to provide both LGBTQ+ students and allies with the resources required to facilitate the safest and most fulfilling international education experience possible. 

Mapping LGBTQ+ Acceptance

ILGA provides a helpful map of global sexual orientation laws worldwide. The map is available in 20 languages. ILGA also compiles a Trans-Legal Mapping Report detailing the impact of laws and policies on trans persons across the globe. LGBTQ+ students can choose to study abroad in locations around the world, but should not assume that attitudes towards gender identity and sexual orientation are universal. Not every country will be equally safe, welcoming, and understanding. 

While the ILGA resources linked above offer a general overview of laws in place within a given country, attitudes in practice may be more nuanced. Pay close attention not only to laws when it comes to LGBTQ+ acceptance abroad, but also to cultural norms and practices. For example, while the U.S. has instituted laws that protect and recognize LGBTQ+ individuals, there are nearly always certain regions, cities, or even neighborhoods where this may not be the case in practice. Consider, for example, the difference between being openly LGBTQ+ in a more liberal city like New Orleans when compared to other parts of Louisiana or the rural South in general. This same concept applies in your host country.

Unfortunately, certain host countries may not be the best choice for LGBTQ+ students. Study abroad in many destinations is not the time or the place to be open about your LGBTQ+ identity. There are many among the LGBTQ+ community who are rightfully very proud of their identity and believe that challenging others to confront the reality of that identity is a means to achieving greater acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals. However, students should realize that certain cultures, communities, and legal systems abroad just aren't ready to confront that reality. For some destinations, students should be prepared to be explicitly and deliberately 'in' about their sexual orientation or identity; for their safety from members of the community but also from law enforcement. While this is an incredibly unfortunate fact to confront, it is a reality, and ultimately this is part of the international and intercultural learning experience.

Laws and attitudes surrounding LGBTQ+ acceptance and protection are constantly changing. If you were to look at the 2017 version of the same ILGA sexual orientation map you would notice that new laws and protections in some countries have been instituted by 2019 while others may have been reduced or removed entirely. Also consider how the political climate of a country can influence attitudes, even if laws and protections remain the same--consider for example the current political climate in the U.S. in the wake of the previous administration and its corresponding impact on LGBTQ+ individuals.  

Conducting Research: Do's and Don'ts

The most important step LGBTQ+ students can take before selecting a host country is to perform extensive research on laws, social norms, and customs they will encounter in daily life. While what you research and where you find answers may differ depending on your host country, here are some general rules of thumb, as well as some suggested sources to get you started.

DO:

  • Ask yourself if you want to be somewhere where you can be proudly LGBTQ+, or would the desire to study in a specific destination override the ability to be openly out? 
  • Research attitudes and laws in your host country before departure
    • Read blogs by former students 
    • Identify local community organizations on-site 
    • Talk to your program provider or host university about on-site concerns you may have (housing arrangements, local attitudes/laws)
    • Know what resources are available to you and who to contact in the event of an emergency, both through your provider/host university and through OSA
  • Think about the best way to respond in moments of crisis or conflict
    • Be aware of mental health resources through Tulane and through your provider or host university 

DON'T:

  • Assume that attitudes towards gender identity and sexual orientation as they appear in the U.S. are universal
  • Let your concerns go unspoken
    • If you are having an issue with your accommodations, host family, classes, etc. let your program know or contact OSA
  • Let a cultural clash or misunderstanding put you in a dangerous situation
    • Students should pay close attention to safety advice given by the program provider, host university, or host family
Research Resources

Whether you are looking for information on laws and attitudes in your host country or seeking to find LGBTQ+ community abroad, check out these resources:

LGBTQ+ Resource Page

The LGBTQ+ Experience Abroad

It is always a good idea to be as upfront with your program provider or host university as early as possible regarding resources you may need to access or concerns you may have about being LGBTQ+ in your host country. Students staying with host families might ask to be paired with families known to be more accepting or who have hosted an LGBTQ+ student in the past. Remember the host families and roommates are products of the social context they were raised in and while they may not share your views, you have every right to feel safe and comfortable in your accommodations abroad. 

If you are studying in a non-English speaking country, be sure to do some additional research on LGBTQ+ terms. LGBTQ+ vocabulary is constantly evolving and changing even in the U.S. and certain terms may not translate or simply be intelligible in your host culture. Having a basic grasp on the vocabulary in circulation regarding the LGBTQ+ community can help ease your transition abroad, more effectively express your identity, and allow you to make friendships with others in the community abroad. If your country uses a gendered language (ex. Romance languages like French, Spanish, Italian, etc.) think about how you will navigate that daily reality and continue to effectively express your identity when communicating in a language that imposes gender. 

How open you are about your identity as an LGBTQ+ individual will depend on a number of factors ranging from the attitudes of your host culture to your own comfort level. Students should carefully consider if they are willing to deal with the daily realities their dream destination may pose. Alternatively, some LGBTQ+ students may choose to study abroad in countries that are more LGBTQ-friendly than their own home country in order to experience a more open-minded and inclusive way of life.

Above all, remember to stay positive. You may have good days and bad days, and while it might be easy to become mentally or emotionally exhausted when living in a country that is not accepting of your gender identity or sexual orientation, keep in mind that your time abroad is finite. Witnessing or experiencing discrimination in your host country may in turn become an opportunity for learning and might even influence your chosen field of study or career choice upon return. If at any time you feel overwhelmed or need support, don't hesitate to reach out to OSA or your provider for assistance. 

FAQs

Will I be accepted? Will I be safe? Will I be able to express myself?

While laws and attitudes surrounding LGBTQ acceptance vary widely across the globe,  the Tulane Office of Study Abroad is committed to ensuring all students have equal  access to international education. Conducting independent research regarding the local  legal system and public perception of LGBTQ identity in your host country prior to  departure can help students better understand how their identity may influence their  experience abroad. ILGA’s map of LGBTQ acceptance is a good tool to use as a starting  point and is linked on our website along with many other suggested resources students  can use to conduct independent research. Still unsure? Make an appointment with one  of our advisors online—we’re happy to help!

Will my preferred pronouns be used?

This will depend on a few factors, mainly the attitudes towards LGBTQ identity in your  host country and the local language. Some cultures unfortunately may not be ready to  confront the reality of LGBTQ identity, and it may be difficult or potentially even unsafe to introduce your preferred pronouns. Make sure to research attitudes in your host  country before deciding on a program and ensure that you are mentally prepared for the  reality of conditions on the ground. Also consider that different countries will have their  own LGBTQ vocabularies that may differ from our own in the U.S.—terms like asexual, non-binary, or intersex for example may not exist in every language or country around the world. Similarly, there  may be terms or queer communities that exist in your host country you are unfamiliar  with. Also consider the implications of navigating a language which is inherently gendered (such as Spanish or French). As you are likely already used to doing at home,  often the easiest way to begin making sure that your correct pronouns are used is to  make those around you aware of them if you are comfortable doing so.  

Will I have trouble in transit? 

Thinking of traveling on the weekend but not sure if you will encounter barriers in transit  based on your identity or presentation? The State Department’s LGBTQ Travel Guide  is an excellent resource for queer travelers to reference before  departure as it provides travel tips, lists of required documents, insurance information,  and information on the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.  

Will I experience discrimination? 

This will depend on your host culture and individual experience. Unfortunately, even in the most accepting of places LGBTQ individuals can still be subjected to individual acts of discrimination or harassment. If you do experience any of these situations abroad and feel unsafe or in  need of support, our office is here for you. You can call us at 504‐865‐5339 or email us at  osa@tulane.edu. Your host university or program provider will also have staff on site that  you can reach out to for immediate assistance, help finding support resources on the ground, or in resolving interculutral conflicts if the issue persists. 

Will I have support from my host university? 

It is always a good idea to disclose any concerns you may have regarding how your identity will be perceived in context abroad to your host university or program provider  early on in the application process so that you can get a better idea of the range and type  of support and resources you will have access to as an LGBTQ student. Resources  available to LGBTQ students vary by program but may include counseling, student  support services, housing placement assistance and more.    

Will I disclose my gender identity or sexual orientation to my host family or friends I  may meet abroad?  This will be a personal decision and may vary depending on a student’s individual  comfort level and relationship with their host family or local friends. In the case of a host  family, LGBTQ students may request that their provider or host university place them with a family who is known to have been accepting of LGBTQ students in the past.  Remember that your host family and new friends abroad are products of their own lived experience within a unique cultural context. 

Global Queer Identities

One of the most exciting opportunities study abroad students have is to learn about and immerse themselves in their host culture. For LGBTQ+ students, this may also include learning about unique ways in which gender and identity are expressed within your host country. Check out GoAbroad's guide for more information on unique queer identities across the globe. 

As you prepare to depart, consider the following: 

How can you use your time abroad to learn not just about your host culture, but about the iterations of the LGBTQ+ community which occur within that culture?

How might your experience abroad impact your perceptions of LGBTQ+ culture in your home country?

This is What LGBTQ Life Looks Like Around the World: TED Talk

How to Be an Effective Ally

Tenets of an Effective Ally *Adapted from Dr. Red Tremmel's "Trans 101 Workshop":

Awareness: Be aware of norms or bias that give certain people advantage or visibility while marginalizing others. The first step towards being an effective ally is recognizing inherent privilege derived from intersecting points of identity. Consider the questions that every prospective study abroad student must ask themselves when going through the application process--questions regarding housing, culture shock, language and academic differences, finding friends or community abroad, etc. Now reflect on what additional questions an LGBTQ+ individual must pose when deciding to study abroad.   

Knowledge/Education: Begin to understand vocabulary, concepts, policies, laws and practices and how they affect LGBTQ+ people. Learn proper vocabulary and use preferred pronouns. Pay close attention to terminology and pronouns if you are studying abroad in a non-English speaking country.

Skills: Acquire skills by attending workshops and conferences, consulting people in advisory capacities and role-playing with friends or peers. 

Action: Show camaraderie and solidarity on a regular basis.