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The international Black travel movement that has exploded over the past few years was sparked by the lack of representation of Black voices in the mainstream travel industry. African Americans spend more than $63 billion each year on travel. You don’t have to scroll too far on your social media timeline before spotting one of your favorite Black travel pages posting breathtaking views of architecture or someone petting exotic animals in Southeast Asia.
Although I am inspired by all the beautiful imagery, as a Black queer femme of color, I have learned there are a few more things I must consider when traveling abroad than flight costs, accommodations, and excursions. Researching if the country is LGBTQ+ friendly is vital, as is deciding if my partner and I feel like being less affectionate in public, for fear of the reaction it may cause. Should we pose as best friends instead of lovers when asked, or do we take the chance and hold hands anyway on a white-sand beach? These decisions are not to be taken lightly and could potentially be a life-or-death situation.
As a Black queer femme of color, I have learned there are a few more things I must consider when traveling abroad than flight costs, accommodations, and excursions.
I recently vacationed in the Bahamas with my girlfriend to celebrate my 31st birthday. The flight deal was extremely affordable, and instead of doing any background research, I immediately booked. It wasn’t until after I received my confirmation that I Googled LGBTQ+ rights in the Bahamas, only to find that the Canadian government issued a travel advisory last year for queer tourists who are planning to visit the island. According to Gay City News, Erin Greene and Alex D’Marco, local gay activists from the Bahamas, agreed with this advisory and noted that many LGBTQ+ Bahamians still face discrimination and harassment.
It’s widely known that homosexuality is frowned upon on most Caribbean islands, but after reading about the travel advisory, I felt mixed emotions about my trip. I contacted an openly bisexual entrepreneur I’d met on Instagram who currently lives in the Bahamas to ask about her experience and what I should prepare for. She reassured me that I would be fine in the heavily populated tourist areas and added that her experience as a bisexual could be different from lesbians or masculine-presenting women, because men there find it attractive and make inappropriate innuendos about having a threesome. Heterosexual cis men often view bisexual women as a prize sexual fantasy, whereas lesbian, gay, and trans members of the community are, in many cases, physically attacked and publicly humiliated.
I did have an overall great experience in the Bahamas. We received a few stares, and a cab driver randomly told my girlfriend she resembled her gay cousin, who was confused about her sexuality. It wasn’t my first time hearing this type of ignorant disposition. In an effort to get to our next destination safely, we both just nodded politely without giving any specific confirmation about our sexual orientation. We spotted a few local lesbians at a bar in downtown Nassau called Xscape Lounge. They seemed to be in their mid-twentiess to early thirties, and we felt more relaxed in that space after seeing them. Similar to the United States, there is a vast generational gap in the Bahamas when it comes to accepting queer relationships. This discourse is often excluded within the mainstream Black travel movement and as a result causes a larger issue.
Before going to the Bahamas, I was able to reach out to a personal connection in order to get firsthand advice before visiting. But what about other queer travelers who don’t have such connections? Some of the major Black travel pages occasionally sprinkle in LGBTQ+ content, but having a permanent section on those sites with travel guidelines and tips could immensely help a queer tourist decide where to book their next vacation.
Homosexuality is still illegal in 71 countries, and other countries, like Trinidad and Tobago (as of 2018), are just coming around to overturning laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy. Port of Spain, the capital city of Trinidad, held its first Pride parade last year. These are huge accomplishments for the island and will encourage more LGBTQ+ tourists to visit in the near future. Black and Abroad, a multiplatform travel and lifestyle company, recently launched its Go Back to Africa project, a digital campaign set to reframe the narrative around the continent and showcase its diversity. South Africais the only country on the continent that has prohibited discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. It would benefit the company’s mission to include images of Black queer travelers showing pride in South Africa. Something as small as that could help encourage more Black gay tourists to visit the motherland.
As a Black queer millennial with wanderlust, I aspire to explore the world without limitations, to see images of people who not only look like me traveling abroad but are also being the truest version of themselves while doing it. Black LGBTQ+ couples, friends, and families are traveling more than ever. According to Out Traveler, 85% of gay males and 77% of lesbians own a passport, compared with roughly 30% of all Americans. Although these statistics do not mention queer Black travelers specifically, they prove that tourism is a priority in our community.
It’s discouraging that this isn’t reflected more in the mainstream Black travel movement. Evita Turquoise Robinson, founder of the Nomadness Travel Tribe, describes her 22,000-person community of Black travelers as the African American Green Book for the digital age. The Negro Motorist Green Book was a curated list of hotels, restaurants, and businesses open to serving African Africans road-trippers during the Jim Crow era. This list saved the lives of many Black travelers during that time; having a similar resource for LGBTQ+ travelers could do the same today. Furthermore, telling the stories of Black queer travelers who are pushing the envelope by visiting destinations where they are not always welcomed is crucial and beneficial to the initial goal of the Black travel movement.