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What’s it really like to travel in countries where homosexuality is illegal?

James Banham from The-F blog

Guest post by by James Banham, founder of The-F, food fanatic, opera lover and social butterfly.

Not all of us are lucky enough to live in countries where homosexuality is accepted as the social norm, and some of us are further disadvantaged by living in a country where it’s illegal. But what happens when you put yourself in the way of that?

Lifestyle writer James Banham, has travelled to several countries where homosexuality is not allowed by law. Something of a globetrotter, James confesses that every time he sees an airline sale, he’s on it. In fact, his first time out of Australia at 18 was to India, where homosexuality is illegal. Since then he’s also holidayed to other countries, such as Indonesia, where LGBT laws still have a way to go.

We wanted to know if he felt unwelcome as a gay man. “The truth was no one actually knew I was gay. After all, in a country where no one is out, how could they. I found that there were many parts of India that were happy to turn a blind eye, if they even recognise it at all to begin with,” he explained.

However he was sensitive to the need to not be seen as a couple in public: “You very much wouldn’t want to be seen canoodling with a partner or special friend in public. Such a state of being offends their beliefs so much it’s not even worth trying.”

The punishment for homosexuality in India is up to 10 years in prison. We asked if James knew this at the time and he said while he didn’t know the exact penalty, he was aware he would be considered as an ‘other’, so makes sure he is wary and alert when he travels. “Knowing that you might be considered a different way in a foreign land is that much more disconcerting because you’re away from home and unsure of the local laws that can, and sometimes do, slam people in a lot of trouble,” James says.

Did this shadow of danger ruin his trip though? Not at all! In fact, he still loves India today. “India and the people there are gorgeous. Be smart: don’t drink the water and don’t pat the stray dogs, but otherwise, it’s a stunning part of the world with so much to offer.”

As for Indonesia, like any Australian, James is a big Bali fan. However, in the country homosexuality is only legal in certain parts and there are no laws in the nation concerning hate crimes or discrimination against those of non-heterosexual orientation. We wondered, is it challenging being the ‘other’ there, too?

Again James stressed, “You wouldn’t want to wave the fact you’re a homosexual in the face of anyone. Don’t do that and you’ll stay in everyone’s good books.” He also added that part of being a traveller is a desire to experience other cultures and that while he shouldn’t have to hide the fact he’s gay, he doesn’t holiday there to promote it. “It’s pretty vital you’re respectful to the locals’ preferences and religious beliefs. Keep it low key while still enjoying yourself and come home with a tan. Like, did you even go to Bali if you don’t get a killer tan?”

Seeing as he is aware of these countries negative stance on homosexuality, has this perception of ‘otherness’ changed where James is willing to go when that airline sale hits? Sadly, a little. He says, “the fact that I am same sex attracted doesn’t necessarily dictate where I choose to holiday, but as a blanket rule (and as most people do) I tend to avoid those places with cultural values that alienate something as menial as sexuality.”

His advice for homosexuals when choosing a destination is simple: be informed. “Don’t be arrogant. Know where you’re going and brush up on the laws. It’s all well and good to think we’re accepted at home in the safety of our cities, protected by the many great laws that permit us to live as freely as we do, but that’s not the case in majority of the world. It can be a volatile place out there and knowing the laws of the land as well as having an idea of the people you’ll be around and living amongst is the best thing to do before you even book a ticket. Laws change fast in many countries and they can change often” he warns.

Like most people inside and outside of the LGBT community, James hopes global attitudes around homosexuality will progress to the point where there is no more alienation. “In a world where there is so much hate, multiplied by the increasingly burgeoning number of people that inhabit this planet, the more acceptance there is, the better. The more happier and carefree the people, the better the world to live in, too”.

What are your experiences of travelling in countries where homosexuality is still illegal? Perhaps you have a story to share or some great advice? Let us know in the comments below.