8 Challenges LGBT Face While Traveling for Business

8 Challenges LGBT Face While Traveling for Business

What happens when a business trip requires an LGBT traveler to visit a country where they suffer discrimination? Could they be in danger of harassment or persecution based on their sexual orientation? What are the risks companies take when putting their LGBT employees in potentially uncomfortable or dangerous situations?

While traveling in most Western countries is relatively safe for LGBT travelers, this is not the case around the world. There are 75 countries that still enforce anti-gay laws and 8 countries that still punish homosexuals with a death sentence. Some countries, such as Singapore, have laws that they don’t enforce.

However, in other places such as Egypt these laws are still actively used to persecute gay people.This is a significant issue, as more than one third of LGBT people in the USA make at least one business trip per year. It’s a sad, scary world – but it’s better to know the risks and be prepared than to go in blind.

Let’s take a look at some of the challenges that make business travel much more difficult and complicated for LGBT travelers.

1. Danger of Attack or Harassment

This is one of the scariest risks of traveling as an LGBT individual. There is a real fear of being a victim of a hate crime, protest or harassment while traveling for work.

It happens in many destinations around the world. A British man was jailed for four months in Morocco for being gay. A Swedish man was sentenced to two years in prison in Tunisia for committing “homosexual acts.” These stories of harassment, aggression and humiliation do not end there. There are also stories from an increasing population of transgender travelers, such as this one from TheTranstraveller.com or this one reported by the LA Times.

In order to help your employees (or yourself) feel safe while going on a business trip, you should hear valid concerns as they pertain to well-being or safety and take steps to avoid unnecessary risks at all costs.

2. The Need to Carry Out Additional Research

Speaking of doing your due diligence, LGBT travelers need to go the extra mile when it comes to trip preparation, unfortunately.

We get it. Travel planning and research is an arduous task already. When non-LGBT business travelers prepare for a trip, they need to do research into the climate, current events, things to do in the destination, transport options or other details.

LGBT travelers must consider even more factors before heading to a destination. They will need to look into the legal standpoint on homosexuality, potential dangers they face, and much more. They may also want to know which accommodations and establishments are gay-friendly.  

There are so many aspects of a destination that LGBT travelers will need to know before they go, which straight travelers rarely consider. This additional research makes planning a business trip much more of a burden.

3. Lack of Support From Local Authorities

If LGBT travelers get in trouble while on the road, they can’t always count on the help of the local authorities. The reality is, sometimes authority figures won’t help if they share these biased views. In some situations, LGBT travelers are even at risk of arrest and harassment by local authorities.

If there is ever lack of support from local authorities, there are are steps you can take. There are even hotlines for LGBT travelers, such as oSTEM support and crisis hotline.

4. Lack of Protection From Employer

When LGBT employees travel for business – it is crucial for them to receive support from their employer. This is especially the case when venturing into countries where their sexuality may be discriminated against.

Charlie Rounds, Managing Director of OutThink Partners, recommends in the LGBT Guide to Business Travel. He also says that LGBT travelers should have a conversation with their employer before they leave the country. They should ask what safety precautions are in place for them and who they can contact if they feel unsafe.

Employers who support their LGBT staff in this way while abroad will improve job satisfaction. Those who don’t may find that their best talent seek opportunities elsewhere.

5. The Need to Censor Personal Information

One of the main aims of business travel is networking. It can be a great way to meet other people in the same industry. You can also establish a rapport that might lead to a beneficial connection or professional collaboration.

However, it’s difficult to do this successfully when you aren’t able to share who you are out of fear of discrimination. Many gay business travelers cannot mention their partner or their personal life. They feel as though they have to present a carefully censored version of themselves in professional settings. Many even tend to limit what they share on social media.

Having to constantly hide who you really are can be stressful and exhausting. As a result, it’s bad for productivity. People perform better when they can be themselves. If you have employees or are an employee who is gay, try to surround yourself with colleagues who do not discriminate against the LGBT community. It’s not all about making money, happiness is worth it’s weight in gold more often than not.

6. The Moral Conflict of Visiting Anti-LGBT Countries

Imagine you are an LGBT business traveler attending a conference, event or meeting in a country where your sexuality is considered wrong. Not only is this stressful, but it can also can be frightening and upsetting.

There is some debate over whether or not LGBT travelers should boycott destinations that don’t recognize the rights of their LGBT citizens. After all, by spending travel dollars you are supporting that destination – which is a moral struggle for some.

What are your thoughts on this? We’d love to hear them in the comments!

7. Issues With Travel Documents

According to LGBT travel information from the US Department of State, some travelers have had issues entering a country on a passport that does not correspond to their gender presentation. It is possible to apply for a Gender Designation Change on your US passport, but this could still lead to confusion and unfair treatment in other countries abroad.

While the only genders available for a passport in the USA are male or female, Canada recently announced the option to have a gender-unspecified designation on a passport – an “X” rather than an “M” or “F”. Australia also offers the same option, yet cautions travelers about using it.

The issue is that travelers may experience issues when crossing international borders with this type of passport. It cannot be guaranteed that a passport that states “X” in the sex field will be accepted for transit or entry by any other country.

8. Limitations to Career Development

What happens if an LGBT traveler decides that the risk of visiting a strongly anti-LGBT destination is too high? What if they decline to participate in a business trip due to bias or discrimination?

This can carry a lot of negative consequences. Even if the company does not directly punish the employee for not attending the conference, event or meeting, it may certainly have an effect on their career. They could miss out on opportunities for networking, learning new skills or professional improvement, all because the risks of travel are too much.

It is very important for companies to have policies that ensure LGBT employees will not suffer a career detriment if they decline a business trip. You should feel free to be who you are and always feel safe at work, regardless of your gender or personal preferences.

Resources for LGBT Business Travelers

There are a number of helpful resources that have been developed for LGBT business travelers to help make their travels safer. This is also the case for employers who are sending their LGBT employees on business trips.

For example, the LGBT Guide to Business Travel, published by ManAboutWorld, was developed to offer valuable information on safety concerns, social engagements and much more. It also covers current developments in advancing the cause of human rights globally. The creation of this guidebook was sponsored by IBM, Marriott International and the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce.  

Another valuable resource is OutRight Action International, a human rights organization that is dedicated to improving the lives of those who suffer discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

There’s also this helpful guide, Safe Travels: Global Mobility for LGBT Staff. It is produced by Stonewall, a charity that supports LGBT rights around the world. The document offers valuable information for understanding the challenges LGBT business travelers face and guidance for providing support while they are on the road.

It’s important to remember that a company also suffers when their employees cannot travel freely. When LGBT travelers can feel safe working internationally, the organization benefits from having the best person for the job and being able to send them where they are needed.

If you need help planning an LGBT-safe business trip, or simply would like to learn more about safe LGBT travel and friendly destinations, contact Traveler’s Q today!

Subscribe to our mailing list and get more content like this in your inbox!