Many places that YPT travel to aren’t exactly the friendliest of places to members of the LGBTI community. Eastern Europe and Russia, in particular, tend to get a bad rep from the media and independent sources because of their treatment towards LGBTI peoples. This by no means should hinder your travel to this region. The culture, the food, the history are just some of the aspects that have been drawing in tourists for decades, and there’s no reason why anyone should be excluded or afraid of experiencing this because of homophobia or transphobia.
Unsurprisingly, the media’s representation of LGBTI life in this region is not exactly true. They do have awesome gay clubs in Russia, many young people are fairly open-minded and there aren’t groups of skinheads constantly patrolling looking for unsuspecting queer peoples to bash. However, it should be noted that many people do hold very religious and traditional views, which will impact how open you can act in public.
Here are some useful tips to make sure you can explore this wonderful region with limited fear or hassle!
- Be wary of who you tell about your sexuality or gender.
- Though someone may seem generally liberal they may still be homophobic or transphobic. A Russian may hate Putin, but not because he is anti-LGBTI. Judge the situation carefully and don’t start conversations with it.
- If you are traveling with a partner, don’t display affection publicly. This will get you some unwanted attention.
- Don’t mistake body language. In places where being openly gay is not common, friendships among people can be more touchy than we are used to in the west. This may be misconstrued as the wrong signal and so never forget where you are and what types of values many of these people might have. Most people will not have any inclination you are a member of the LGBTI community as it is often not an aspect of life that even crosses their mind.
- Hostels are awesome! I have never come to a hostel that isn’t accepting of LGBTI members. Many of these places will even have LGBTI-friendly notes on their website or stickers in the hostel. For trans folks, most hostels do have gender-neutral bathrooms and mixed-gender dorms making it easier to navigate if your legal gender doesn’t match your gender presentation.
- Travel in a group or pairs. Numbers means safety isn’t just a good rule for LGBTI travelers, but is a good rule in general for travelers to more off the beaten path locations.
- Use apps! There are plenty of apps for LGBTI people out there, some of them which are used as “hook up” apps in the west have an alternative use as an underground networking system in more conservative countries. You will, of course, come across the usual solicitations, but they tend to not be as bad when used in Eastern Europe.
- While border crossings are a bit more challenging in Eastern Europe than in many western countries for transgender people, they are definitely manageable. A smile can go a long way, and always be prepared with some kind of explanation if a security guard at an airport or a border control agent asks you about your gender so that way you aren’t caught off guard. You don’t have to out yourself as trans – I often just make a joke about a bad hair stylist making me look like a boy – but it’s good to be prepared if the topic does come up.
- Like with all countries, if you are medically transitioning it is wise to look up the laws regarding hormones and transgender people before you go. That said, many countries in Eastern Europe don’t have explicit laws either way, meaning that if a border guard finds your hormones (and bag searches at border crossings are common in Eastern Europe), it will be at the discretion of the officer whether or not to confiscate it. Consider what you’re willing to risk and sacrifice so you can decide if taking the hormones is worth the potential risk, or if playing it safe and leaving them at home is the way to go.
Regardless of how intimidating the media may make these countries appear, don’t let it put you off travel because of who you are! Get out an explore! If you’re looking to explore some of the more extreme destinations then come with YPT who are 100% LGBTI-friendly!