Travel Advice for LGBT tourists in Europe
Europe is a large continent with many different countries and customs.Â LGBT travellers need to be aware of how homosexuality is treated in each country, both legally and socially.
West vs East
Western Europe has a more welcoming attitude with a range of anti-discrimination laws and, in many countries, legal recognition of same-sex marriage.Â Social views on homosexuality are also positive, particularly in big cities. But travelling through central Europe and east towards Russia and former Soviet Union states the picture changes.
The gap between laws and attitudes
Those central European countries that have joined the European Union have introduced anti-discrimination laws as a condition of joining the EU.Â In some cases, therefore, the legal situation is ahead of social views.Â This is particularly the case in countries such as Poland that has a high catholic population.Â In contrast, Prague, in the Czech Republic, has a thriving gay community.
In Croatia, a popular tourist destination, the people recently voted in a referendum to enshrine in their constitution that marriage should only be between a man and a woman.Â The Croatian government has subsequently passed a same-sex partnership law, falling short of marriage but demonstrating the gap between the legal position and their society’s view on homosexuality.Â
In Russia the government has initiated laws banning the 'positive promotion' of homosexuality.Â This has given licence to vigilante attacks on gay people.Â During the Sochi Winter Olympics the Russian government said that tourists would not be affected by the laws but certain MPs and Ministers seemed to contradict this.
It is for individual LGBT travellers to decide what countries they wish to visit but as a rule, the further east you travel in Europe, the more careful you need to be about public displays of your sexuality.
Those LGBT travellers who are part of a rainbow family, either married or with children, may wish to check in advance whether their legal status will be recognised in those countries that currently do not have same-sex family legislation.Â If you are travelling with children you may wish to establish contact with your country’s embassy or consulate in advance so that you have a name and a number to hand if there is a problem.
The European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA) produces a very helpful “Rainbow Europe” guide to the legal positions of Europe’s states.Â This gives you an indication of how welcoming they are likely to be to LGBT travellers.
GETA’s five top tips for LGBT travellers in Europe are:
- Check the legal position of the countries you are planning to visit using ILGA’s Rainbow Europe guide.
- Remember that legal recognition and social acceptance may not be at the same level, particularly as you move east.
- Be particularly careful in the former Soviet Union states where actions that could be construed as being overtly homosexual (e.g. holding hands, kissing in public, and insisting on double beds in a hotel) may bring you to the attention of the authorities and anti-gay vigilantes.
- Be careful when using social media hook-up sites which may be used for entrapment.
- Cities tend to be more friendly than the countryside so adapt your behaviour accordingly.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s “Know Before You Go” travel advice campaign is a helpful guide and has a specific page of advice for LGBT travellers.Â You can see it HERE.