Creepy Cat Calling And Single Beds: The Realities Of Travelling The World In A Lesbian Couple

No wonder The Foreign Office have warned gay couples to do their research before booking a holiday


by Sophie Griffiths |
Published on

It’s not easy to travel as a gay couple. The big things are simple to remember – the not kissing in public or being overfamiliar with each other. It’s the smaller things that are more difficult – having to catch yourself before taking your partner’s hand; having to stand and explain to the hotel porter why you would prefer a double rather than two twin beds; holding yourself back when men leer and gritting your teeth because you can’t just throw your arm around your girlfriend and tell the world she’s yours, like the straight couple next to you. It’s not always dangerous travelling as a gay couple, but it can be frustrating.

Last month the Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued guidance for the British LGBT community, urging them to take care when choosing honeymoon destinations. The ‘Know Before You Go’ campaign followed a survey conducted by OnePoll, which found that less than half – 46% - of LGBT people take time to research whether an area is LGBT friendly when planning their honeymoon.

The FCO’s warning was timely. Last week it emerged that a 69-year-old British man had been jailed for four months in Morocco, just for being gay. Ray Cole, who is understood to have only come out ‘a few years ago’, was arrested while on holiday - police searched his phone and found photographs which they used to prosecute him in court. While held, Ray’s son explained that he was being held alongside murderers and rapists, reports The Guardian: ‘My father has a spot on the floor… But that’s quite reasonable, after all he is a gay and had the temerity to visit Morocco as a tourist for a holiday.’

He has since been released, but not without this warning from the Morroccan Embassy, who gave a statement to PinkNews saying Cole was arrested because he had been involved in: ‘lewd or unnatural acts with an individual of the same sex.’

But it can’t be like this everywhere, can it? How dangerous is it really to be a gay traveller? Should LGBT people be doing as the FCO suggests and spending more time researching our holiday destinations?

My partner and I recently returned from a seven-month sabbatical of backpacking around the world, and I confess we spent very little time assessing the risks of travelling as a gay couple. This was more because we preferred to think of ourselves as travellers, rather than than ‘gay travellers’. We were also reluctant to allow homophobic attitudes around the world dictate where we could or couldn’t visit.

Perhaps this was why our first stop was in Moscow - empire of Vladimir Putin, and at the time, home to a deluge of homophobic bile being spouted from all sides of its government ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics. It was October 2013, and Putin had just announced Article 6.13.1, banning the ‘propaganda’ of homosexuality in a bid to prevent the young being ‘unduly influenced’.

We loved the city and its history, and never felt threatened or in danger. At points, we even found ourselves unconsciously holding hands, once in Red Square, as we stood alongside the Kremlin. We also managed to scout out a gay club, and met a pair of local lesbians, although when I mentioned Putin, they quickly shook their heads and closed up.

In India, we were more careful, trying to act as close friends, clenching our fists when men made inappropriate comments that we noticed never happened to the straight couples we met. One night, we were able to enjoy the luxury of a boutique three-star hotel in Delhi, where we made the mistake of requesting a double bed. When we were given a twin room instead, we quickly stopped our protestations as the receptionist’s smile turned to a frown.

For fellow backpacker Emma Sampson, who was travelling with her fiancée, it was a similar story. ‘We were deliberately not affectionate in dorms in order not to offend anyone, but it did get frustrating. On a trek to Machu Picchu, we informed the guide that we were a couple, but we were put into a shared room, despite all the other straight couples being given private doubles.’

It got creepier, though. We were approached on a beach in Sri Lanka (where homosexuality is illegal) by this pervy guy who guessed that we were together. He said 'I've always wanted to meet lesbians' and asked us to go back to his house so he could 'make a film'. He wouldn't take no for an answer but luckily it was busy enough for us to walk away.

We also stayed with a host family in Siberia, where the man - who also asked to take pictures of us – had sussed us out, and when we were about to leave a the end of our stay, he waited for my girlfriend to leave before whispering in my ear: 'Are you two in love?' I said 'yes', and he said it wasn't usually accepted in Russia, but that he was fine with it. He then tried to kiss my ear, but luckily he didn't stop me from leaving the room. It seems like it was more to do with men being gross rather than us necessarily being gay…but it's impossible to tell why they felt they could act like that. The sad part is, half way around the world, we'd just got used to that behaviour.

However, we enjoyed an incredible year backpacking the world, as did Emma and her partner. Our own odd experiences, though and the case of Ray Cole however, is a tragic inevitability of some countries' attitudes, and the government is right to warn LGBT people to research their holiday destinations.

Travelling with your gay partner will never be easy, but if you’re careful with your affections, it doesn’t have to be dangerous. That you have to be so careful, and that you end up getting used to other people's creepiness, remains the real frustration.

Like this? Then you might also be interested in:

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Follow Sophie on Twitter @TTGTravelQueen

Picture: Ada Hamza

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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