There are many different factors for all students to think about when choosing a study abroad program, and LGBT students may have unique questions and concerns. Living abroad will open up opportunities to think about LGBT identity in a whole new context. It can represent a second “coming out” and you will need to make decisions about how and when to express your LGBT identity. It is helpful to think about what kind of support may be available to you in your new environment.
Read about Gabriel Javier, Assistant Dean of Students and Director of the Multicultural Student Center at UW-Madison, and his experience studying abroad
Is Study Abroad for You?
We think there is a study abroad program for all students, but this is a question we ask all students to consider. Study abroad can satisfy degree requirements and students often say that their time abroad was the most exciting time in college. While study abroad can be challenging, the experience can help you learn more about yourself.
Not sure where to begin? Contact Andy Quackenbush, Study Abroad Advisor. Andy is International Academic Program’s liaison to the Gender and Sexuality Campus Center (GSCC) and is glad to discuss any questions you might have.
LGBT Issues and Concerns
Countries view gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in many different ways. Some host cultures may be more welcoming and tolerant of LGBT identities than in the United States, but others may have laws that criminalize homosexuality.
Gender norms vary from country to country as well, and it is important to do research on those prior to departure. Learn the laws of your host country regarding LGBT issues, same-sex sexual behavior and expressions of LGBT identity and community. It is important to remember that United States laws will no longer protect you once you leave to go abroad. If same-sex acts are illegal in your host country and you are reported for engaging in them, you could be arrested and imprisoned in that country. There are maps that include information on LGBT rights around the world to explore. Regardless of the laws of your host country, it is always important to research whether an environment is affirming to LGBT people.
Things to Consider
It is helpful to think carefully about your goals for study abroad. Are you only willing to go somewhere that is very tolerant and affirming of LGBT identity? What if the perfect program for you is in a place that openly discriminates against LGBT individuals? Some LGBT students may find that their ideal program is in a less welcoming place. This could lead to a very eye-opening and valuable experience.
Get to know your destination before you leave. Explore LGBT travel guides and internet resources to get a better idea of social norms and customs of your host country.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, the GSCC, and/or your Study Abroad Advisor when choosing a study abroad program:
- What are the cultural and local attitudes towards Americans, tourists and sexual orientation and gender identity in my host country?
- What is the attitude of the police towards LGBT visitors?
- What is the social perception of lesbian, gay, and bisexual people in my host country?
- How open will I be about my sexual orientation and gender identity with my teachers, peers, friends, host family and others?
- The LGBT population is often misunderstood by other, to what degree am I comfortable with educating others and dispelling myths?
- Are there situations in which I would not disclose my sexual orientation?
- How will my social media usage, including past posts, be perceived by people in my host country?
- How important is it to me to find other students and friends who share my identity while abroad? How will I make connections with other sexual minority students, local residents, or community organizations?
- Are there LGBT friendly establishments nearby? How can I find them?
- Will I need access to any medications, supplies, or services to properly care for my medical needs, including those related to physical transition, like hormones? Are they available in my host country? If not, will I need any additional documentation to travel with any medications or supplies? Will it be possible to travel legally with these supplies?
Please contact the GSCC or your Study Abroad Advisor to see if there are past participants who have agreed to speak about their experiences abroad.
Gender and Sexuality Campus Center
UW Madison International Safety and Security Director’s Information on LGBTIQ Travel Abroad
NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Rainbow Special Interest Group
A website maintained by the University of Indiana and international educators who specialize in GLBT issues
Department of State LGBT Travel Information
International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Intersex Association
A world-wide network of national and local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for GLBT people everywhere
Amnesty International Human Rights
An online journal documenting the travels of LGBT individuals around the world
International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
A worldwide directory to help gay locals and tourists find places to stay and to go
National Center for Transgender Equality
Social justice organization dedicated to advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment.
Spartacus World’s Gay Travel Index
This website ranks all of the countries in the world in terms of LGBT travel friendliness.