There are many different factors for all students to consider when deciding whether to study abroad and choosing a program, and there may be additional factors and unique questions and concerns for LGBTQIA+ students.* For some students, living abroad may cause them to make decisions regarding how and when to express their identity. For others, it may present an opportunity to explore identity and expression in another country and make meaningful cross-cultural connections and alliances. It is helpful to think proactively about how the decision to study abroad could raise many questions regarding identity and what kind of support may or may not be available.
Is Study Abroad for You?
We think there is a study abroad program for all students, but this question is one we ask everyone to consider. Study abroad can satisfy degree requirements, provide unique career advantages, and allow students to achieve personal goals. Students often say that their time abroad was their most exciting time in college. That being said, studying abroad can be, and is often, challenging in many regards.
Countries view gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation in many ways. Some host cultures may be more welcoming and tolerant of LGBTQIA+ identities than in the United States, while others may have laws that criminalize homosexuality and/or gender expression.
Gender and sexuality norms vary from country to country, and it is important to conduct research prior to departure. Learn the laws of the host country regarding LGBTQIA+ issues, same-sex sexual behavior, and expressions of LGBTQIA+ identity and community. It is important to remember that United States laws will no longer protect you once you leave to go abroad. For instance, if same-sex acts are illegal in the host country and you are reported for engaging in them, you could be arrested and imprisoned in that country. And, not all countries accept or lawfully allow citizens to formally change their gender. There are maps that include information on LGBTQIA+ rights around the world, which you can consult. Regardless of the laws of the host country, it is always important to research whether an environment is affirming to LGBTQIA+ people. Consult the extensive list of resources at the bottom of this page.
Things to Consider
Get to know your destination before you leave. Explore LGBTQIA+ travel guides and internet resources to get a better idea of social norms and customs of the host country. And, make a safety plan to prepare for all situations that could occur.
Here are some questions to ask yourself, The Qube, and/or your Study Abroad Advisor when choosing a study-abroad program:
- What are the laws related to LGBTQIA+ rights in the host country?
- What are the social perceptions of LGBTQIA+ people in the host country?
- What are the attitudes of the police towards gender expression, trans individuals, and LGBTQIA+ visitors overall?
- How open will I be about my sexual orientation and/or gender identity with my teachers, peers, friends, host family members, and others?
- The LGBTQIA+ population is often misunderstood by others, so to what degree am I comfortable with educating others and dispelling myths?
- Are there situations in which I would not disclose my sexual orientation or gender identity?
- How will my social media usage, including past posts, be perceived by people in the host country?
- How important is it to me to find other students and friends who share my identity while abroad? How will I make connections with other students, locals, or community organizations that share my identity?
- Are there LGBTQIA+ friendly establishments nearby? How can I find them?
- What about the host institution - what are the available housing options? are there all-gender restrooms? what support structures are there for students? how will the program assist me in being open with other students, faculty, host family members, etc. if I choose to share my identity?
Please contact The Qube or the Office of International Education to see if there are past participants who have agreed to speak about their experiences abroad. Or, watch the video below, in which Stout study abroad alumni share their experience, insights, and recommendations.
Additional Issues to Consider for Transgender and Non-Binary Students
- Travel documents: Airline reservations require the full name, date of birth, and gender to match the information on the passport. Transgender students should consider whether their identification is updated to reflect their gender.
- Airport security: In airports throughout the United States, travelers have the right to waive the Advanced Imaging Technology security screen and can opt for a pat down by an officer whose gender presentation most aligns with theirs. Screening can be conducted in a private screening area with a witness or companion of the traveler’s choosing. If travelers have any medical equipment or prostheses in a carry-on bag, the items will be allowed through the checkpoint after they complete the screening process. If a bag must be opened by an officer to resolve an alarm, they may ask that bags be screened in private. If travelers experience harassment or inappropriate behavior, they may file a complaint through the Office of Civil Liberties.
- Medication: Students should consider whether they require access to any medications, supplies, or services to properly care for their medical needs while abroad, including those related to physical transition (e.g., hormones). They should research whether they are available in the host country. If not, they will need to determine if it is legal to travel with them. If so, students should ensure they have the documentation necessary to travel with them (e.g., prescriptions) and carry them in their original packaging.
- Prosthetics: Travelers are not required to remove articles of clothing, including prosthetics, in airport screenings in the United States. Keep in mind, however, that prosthetics or bounded chests could be flagged by security, leading to additional screenings.
- The Qube at UW-Stout
- Amnesty International - Human rights
- Department of State - LGBT travel information, Country information, and Human Rights country reports
- Education Abroad LGBT Student Guide - 34-page guide providing numerous resources, tips, and safety information as well as country-specific information on local laws, attitudes, and culture surrounding gender identity and sexual orientation
- Equaldex – Collaborative knowledge base of LGBT rights around the world
- GayGuide - A worldwide directory to help gay locals and tourists find places to stay and to go
- Global Gayz - An online journal documenting the travels of LGBTQIA+ individuals around the world
- IES Abroad and other blog posts: A trans* guide for staying safe while traveling, Air Travel Tips for Transgender Students Studying Abroad, Ni él, ni ella: Being Nonbinary in Spain, Our Alumni’s Advice for Studying Abroad as a Transgender Student in Japan, Q&A with Gabriel Javier
- International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission
- International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association - A worldwide network of national and local groups dedicated to achieving equal rights for LGBTI people everywhere
- NAFSA: Association of International Educators, Rainbow Special Interest Group - A website maintained by the University of Indiana and international educators who specialize in LGBT issues
- National Center for Transgender Equality main page and Travel page - Social justice organization dedicated to advancing the equality of transgender people through advocacy, collaboration and empowerment
- Ohio University Coming Out as Trans Guide - Suggestions and situation-specific guidance for coming out as trans to professors, parents, etc.
- Outright Action - Country-specific information on the situation faced by LGBTQ people, both from a legal and societal perspective
- Spartacus World’s Gay Travel Index – Ranking of all countries in terms of LGBT travel friendliness
- Transportation Security Association (TSA) Transgender Passengers - Guidance and information prior to arrival at the airport and at the airport
- Trans Respect - Comparative transgender research data on 190 countries
*This page was prepared in collaboration with The Qube, UW-Stout's headquarters for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning/Queer, Intersex, Asexual/Aromantic, and more (LGBTQIA+) students and allies. The Study Abroad Team wishes to express its gratitude for the collaboration, input, and support.