Study Abroad Resources for LGBTQ Students

If you are part of the LGBTQ community, studying abroad can seem especially daunting. While many study-abroad students worry about acclimating to an unfamiliar culture, LGBTQ students may also fear that their identity could impact their safety and security abroad. This post aims to provide information on LGBTQ rights and support available in various countries and study abroad programs. With this post, we hope to help members of the LGBTQ community here at Elizabethtown College have a safe and enjoyable study-abroad experience.

One concern is that being part of the LGBTQ community in itself is illegal in many countries throughout the world. Of the countries in which Etown has affiliated programs, there are two countries where homosexuality—defined as consensual sex between same-sex individuals—is illegal: Morocco and Ghana. Countries that recently decriminalized “homosexual acts” include Trinidad and Tobago (removed an anti-sodomy measure in 2018) and India (removed British colonial law criminalizing homosexuality in 2018). Amnesty International warns that decriminalization does not necessarily confer tolerance or acceptance, and LGBTQ people in countries that have recently decriminalized homosexuality may still face considerable discrimination.

There are many complications to anti-LGBTQ legislation throughout the world. Some countries institute certain restrictions on paper but only enforce those laws when individuals are convicted of more serious crimes. Students are therefore unlikely to be impacted by these measures, though they still exist. Still, harsher anti-LGBTQ laws can indicate a less accepting and more hostile society. In Indonesia, for example, homosexuality is not criminalized throughout most of the country (including in Denpasar, the location of Etown’s affiliated program). Despite this, being LGBTQ is not widely accepted in the country, and most LGBTQ Indonesians face discrimination and harassment, or else choose to stay closeted. “Coming out,” as many LGBTQ Americans choose to do, is not always possible in less accepting societies. It is each student’s decision whether potentially living closeted for several months is a reasonable price to pay to study in a particular country.

Like Indonesia, some countries do not criminalize homosexuality but still do not support protections for and rights of the LGBTQ community. Countries that actively promote and protect the rights of their LGBTQ citizens may be a better choice for LGBTQ students. Among Etown’s affiliated countries, those that provide at least partial legal protection for LGBTQ citizens—i.e., laws against discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexuality—include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, India, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. However, these protections are not always consistent; some of these countries only apply these protections in certain contexts. Additionally, the existence of these protections does not always guarantee their being upheld. The image below, from Equaldex, shows the countries with universal vs. partial protections as of 2018.

Equaldex graph showing the countries with universal vs partial protection of LGBTQ citizens as of 2018.

Transgender students may face different challenges. Many countries have legal recognition of transgender people, such as the ability to change one’s legal gender; this could indicate a more accepting society. Of the countries in which Etown has affiliated programs, those with at least some legal recognition of trans people are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, China, Costa Rica, the Czech Republic, Ecuador, Estonia, Fiji, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Vietnam. However, the list of countries that don’t require an extensive and often prohibitive process (including gender-affirming surgery) before a legal gender change is much smaller. For a full view of this, including which countries require surgery prior to a legal gender change, see the map below (via Equaldex).

Equaldex graph showing where it is legal to change gender around the world.

However, like all other situations, acceptance of trans people is more complicated than legal recognition. Transgender students may have particular difficulty traveling and handling Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screening, which rely on “body contours” to determine whether any “anomalies” exist on a person. This can clearly cause some problems, as the scanners are based upon a cisgender, binary view of gender. TSA agents must select “male” or “female” when screening each person, determined by a person’s outward gender presentation; transgender travelers may be inappropriately flagged and required to undergo additional screening. For tips on traveling while trans, please see the resources at the end of this post.

Another consideration is the overall acceptance of trans people throughout the world. Certain countries accept culturally recognized trans and nonbinary identities—for example, the hijras of India, who have fought for and won legal recognition of a third gender. For trans and nonbinary students, a country that legally and/or culturally recognizes genders beyond the binary may be a good choice. These countries include Argentina, Australia, Austria, Germany, Iceland, India, New Zealand, Thailand and the United Kingdom.

Another indicator of worldwide LGBTQ rights is the legality of same-sex marriage, which shows a more accepting government and, often, a more accepting overall population. From Etown’s affiliation list, the countries where same-sex marriage is legal are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Ecuador, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Mexico (only sometimes), New Zealand, Portugal, Sweden, South Africa, Spain and the United Kingdom. As of the writing of this post in January 2020, Costa Rica is also set to legalize same-sex marriage in May 2020.

Experiences can also greatly vary based on each student’s living situation. Some Etown-affiliated programs house students in dormitories or apartments with other study abroad students. This group of students, often from the U.S. and other Western countries, may be more accepting and open than the society of one’s host country. Living on a college campus among native students of a host country may be a different experience, as the young, college-educated population of a country may be overall more accepting—or not. Living with a host family, too, may vary, as individual families’ opinions and views could lay anywhere from complete acceptance to condemnation. This is all highly dependent on the student’s host country and the specific individuals a student encounters—even countries with generally accepting views are home to less accepting individuals. Additionally, cities are generally more accepting than rural areas, but this is far from an absolute rule.

Though disheartening, it is important to remember that discrimination and acceptance dually exist in all places in the world. While some societies may offer overall acceptance and support, and those may be the best choices for LGBTQ students, LGBTQ people have existed and fought for their rights in all countries in the world for years. Even those countries that are recognized as “anti-LGBTQ” are home to LGBTQ communities, activists, and organizations. Conversely, even those countries that are generally considered free and accepting have their share of discrimination and potential for harm. It is up to each student to decide what will be best for their life and safety.

It is also important to note that many anti-LGBTQ laws throughout the world are remnants from the European colonial era. While it can be easy to condemn certain countries as unsafe and discriminatory—for example, some African countries—many of their discriminatory laws were forcibly instated by European colonizers. For example, the law criminalizing homosexuality in Ghana was created by the British Empire when they colonized Ghana in the 1860s. Therefore, while it is important to consider your personal safety, it is also important to have a nuanced view of history and global human rights.

With all of this in mind, here is a list of Etown-affiliated programs that may be good options for LGBTQ students. It is by no means exhaustive, as many students have had positive experiences in other programs. This list is compiled from countries’ records on LGBTQ rights, housing and accommodation options, and the programs’ own marketing as LGBTQ-friendly sites.

Some study abroad programs also offer scholarships that LGBTQ students are eligible to receive. For more information on CIS Abroad’s “Rainbow Scholarship,” visit their website here. For an extensive list of study abroad scholarships, please visit the Study Abroad Office’s website.

One of the best actions students can take, if they feel comfortable doing so, is talking specifically with leaders in their intended study abroad program. Study abroad program coordinators and resident directors can give insights into the state of LGBTQ rights in their country, especially because many of them are natives to that country and are familiar with cultural attitudes there.

However, students are not required to share their personal life and information with their study abroad coordinators, including their membership in the LGBTQ community. If students would prefer to conduct their own research, there are many resources available on LGBTQ rights in Etown’s affiliated countries and programs:

General resources:

CIS Abroad: LGBTQ resource masterpost

BCA Abroad: Studying abroad as a member of the LGBTQ+ community

Traveling while transgender: General tips; more in-depth tips; advice from TSA

Argentina: Equaldex report; UN report; background on LGBTQ rights/activism

Australia: Equaldex report; Australian LGBTQ community quick facts; legal history

Austria: Equaldex report; rights overview (note: since publication, Austria has legalized same-sex marriage); Rainbow Europe report

Belgium: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; general overview

Bulgaria: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; Single Step Foundation

China: Equaldex report; brief overview; more extensive report

Costa Rica: Equaldex report; Dec. 2018 news article

Czech Republic: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; Aug. 2018 news article

England: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; LGBTQ history overview; opinion article

Estonia: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; survey on Estonian attitudes towards LGBTQ rights

Fiji: Equaldex report; personal stories; April 2019 news article

France: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; general overview/resources; Human Rights Watch report

Germany: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; LBGT Germany (site on German gay culture for an American audience); history

Ghana: Equaldex report; Human Rights Watch report; personal stories

Greece: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; personal story; Sept. 2019 news article

Hungary: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; general overview; Feb. 2019 news article

Iceland: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; in-depth overview (history, community, etc.)

India: Equaldex report; 2019 news article; Oct. 2019 overview; history/personal stories

Indonesia: Equaldex report; Human Rights Watch article; 2015 article with personal stories

Ireland: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; history/overview

Italy: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; 2017 news article; OECD report

Japan: Equaldex report; 2019 news article; public opinions survey

Mexico: Equaldex report; comparison with US; personal story

Morocco: Equaldex report; 2019 news article with personal stories; 2018 news article with personal stories

New Zealand: Equaldex report; public opinion survey; LGBTQ history; UN report

Peru: Equaldex report; 2017 news article; 2016 news article; personal story

Poland: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; overview article; Amnesty International report (Poland – pp. 8-15)

Portugal: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; personal story/history

Scotland: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; legal protections; LGBTQ culture in Scotland (travel-oriented)

South Africa: Equaldex report; extensive survey; GALA – South African LGBTQ organization

South Korea: Equaldex report; history/public opinions; 2017 news article

Spain: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; history/overview; 2017 news article; 2019 news article

Sweden: Equaldex report; Rainbow Europe report; history/legal overview

Thailand: Equaldex report; 2019 news article; 2015 news article; extensive report

Trinidad and Tobago: Equaldex report; 2018 news article; CAISO – LGBTQ rights organization; 2017 article with personal stories

Vietnam: Equaldex report; brief history; extensive report; personal stories

If you have further questions and concerns that you wish to discuss, please contact or your chosen program.

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