As a heterosexual Black woman, the identities I often use to examine a culture and its history as I travel are based on race, gender, and occasionally class. One lens I’m privileged to not have to consider as deeply is sexual orientation and presentation.
In general, traveling abroad opens your eyes in all the expected ways. You try new food. You test new languages. You explore new geographies. But after nine months of non-stop international travel (I could have had a whole baby in this time!), I have found that one particular aspect of travel rattles me the most. That is when you find out how the people of your temporary home treated those that look like you. And those that don’t.
It isn’t always harrowing. In international discussions about LGBTQ+ rights, when they are discussed at all, the conversation can be progressive and celebratory. Thailand, for instance, is far more accepting of the transgender community compared to other countries in the region. The cabarets in Chiang Mai featuring transgender performers were popular and joyful events. But LGBTQ+ individuals still face significant challenges internationally and if you’re someone who travels frequently, but doesn’t identify in this way, I think it’s worth considering what role you should play as an “ally.”
Being in Santiago, Chile during Pride month is what really made me reflect on this responsibility. I joined a handful of others for a tour of gay rights in the city and country, which included a stop at a memorial for Daniel Zamudio. The story of his horrific end, at the hands of four men who encountered him walking by himself to a party, spurred the country to action and led to a wave of new legislation for the LGBTQ+ population.
Unfortunately, the rates of violence against LGBTQ+ individuals are consistently higher than those faced by their heterosexual peers so Daniel is not alone in the trauma he experienced. But hearing about the violence exacted on his body in such vivid detail was a real reminder of my privilege. I will only know this type of trauma as a stat and not as a lived experience.
So what should you do as someone who agrees that LGBTQ+ individuals should not be denied any civil rights as a result of living their truth? As someone who has participated in conversations about allyship as it regards to race and gender, one thing that always stuck with me is that allyship is not an adjective, it’s a verb.
Allyship is not an adjective, it’s a verb.
Agreeing with a sentiment alone is not enough. Real change happens when conversations shift, when cultures shift, when policies shift. But none of that can happen if you aren’t aware of how real the problem is in the first place. Maybe you don’t know exactly which laws to vote for or which organizations to support. But if you have an internet connection (and you’re reading this, so I expect you do), there’s nothing stopping you from taking the very first step. This month especially, take the time to learn something about the people you profess to care so much about.
Has the human rights record of a country ever affected your desire to visit it?