Why it’s important to open the world to LGBT travellers — even in places where it’s illegal to be gay
— from The Huffington Post by Darren Burn
Years ago when I travelled to Egypt, I checked into a resort in Sharm El-Sheikh with my boyfriend at the time and we had such an awful experience that we were forced to take our bags and find another place to stay. We weren’t welcome and they didn’t want to give us a double bed despite straight couples being offered them without incidence. Yes, it’s Egypt. Yes it’s not necessarily the most gay-friendly country on earth, but did I deserve to be treated that way? Absolutely not. We were spending our hard earned money and a result helping a local economy that relies on tourism. An economy now decimated and looking for new revenue streams to help it following a string of terror attacks.
As an ITV journalist, I was fortunate enough to travel to some incredible places on the job and see everything from desperation and poverty to glitz, glamour and gluttony. Travel broadens the mind, there’s no doubt about that and as a gay man I want to be able to travel to the four corners of the globe, without feeling limited, restricted or shameful of who I am.
It was with this in mind that I set up my company. I wanted to enable the LGBT community to travel to wherever they want, whenever they want in the safest possible way. We’re not stupid, we know there are cultural sensitivities that mean holding hands or public displays of affection aren’t always going to be welcomed, but that certainly doesn’t mean I should feel that I can’t visit a country because of who I am.
A recent survey we conducted with Attitude Magazine showed that 61% of LGBT travellers wouldn’t visit a destination where it’s illegal to be gay, but that 60% wanted to be able to do so safely.
I’m aware of the argument many make that supporting countries where it’s illegal to be gay is foolish. The argument goes that we shouldn’t be pumping money into their economies when they are treating their citizens abhorrently. I agree with the sentiment. But unfortunately the world isn’t that black and white. I am not singlehandedly going to change the world, but I definitely want to see as much of it as possible to not only broaden my mind, but broaden the minds of others. We all have a responsibility to support, educate and learn from each other. Now I’m not suggesting that we all start visiting Zimbabwe or Syria, but I’m not ashamed to say that I would happily travel to places like the Maldives or the Caribbean if it meant I was broadening my mind.
I even know of a hotel in Jamaica that is run by a gay man which I wouldn’t hesitate to visit. The point is, there are gems out there. There are gems that I’m determined to uncover and enable LGBT people to travel to.
I’ve had vitriolic emails from some who suggest I’m endangering the lives of people by enabling them to travel to places where it’s illegal to be gay. When I say vitriolic, I mean direct threats. That’s fine. I can handle an email, but if I were to sit down with the person in question I would answer and defend what I’m trying to achieve wholeheartedly and would hope to convince them that where we’re trying to get to is freedom for the LGBT community to be able to travel to almost anywhere on earth armed with the knowledge they need to have the safest and most enjoyable time possible. I bet you if we were to talk it out, we’d realise we’re both singing from the same hymn sheet and what we are both striving for is equality worldwide.
I’m already planning my honeymoon to the Maldives – I just need to find a better half first….