You may already identify as a lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans*, or queer student, or you may still be exploring your identity. In either case, you will find that the social climate, laws, and personal interactions of other cultures will often differ from the U.S. While researching study abroad programs and preparing for departure, it is important to reflect on the culturally based ideas and definitions of gender and sexual identity. Consider carefully how your identity as a LGBTQA person may influence your relationships with host nationals, your cultural adjustment, and your overall education abroad experience.
LEARN ABOUT YOUR HOST COUNTRY BEFORE YOU GO
In some cultures, Western understandings of "gay" and "straight" do not exist, or do not carry the same importance as they do in the U.S. People involved in same-sex relationships may not see this as an identity. In other cultures, there are active social movements for civil rights for sexual and gender minorities. In preparing for your study abroad experience, it is important for you to research the LGBTQA climate of the country you will be visiting.
If you are open about your gender and/or sexual identity, consider the following as you research potential study abroad countries:
The culture of a country might make you feel like you are either "sent back into the closet" or, in countries that are more progressive than the US, freer to express yourself.
If your host country is NOT progressive or accepting of the LGBTQA community, make sure you understand the political climate and consider your personal safety before confronting this way of thinking.
If you are not open about your gender and/or sexual identity, along with the above, consider the following as you research potential study abroad countries:
Some countries will make it easier for you to come out; make sure that you have a support network during this time.
If you are not public about your identity, realize that finding that community will be a bit more difficult while abroad. Finding groups or organizations before you go is essential. Check out the links in the campus and international resources sections.
QUESTIONS TO ASK
As part of your pre-departure preparations, ask these questions of yourself, your study abroad adviser, and your study abroad program.
Does your right to be LGBTQA in the United States conflict with your host country's religious or cultural values and traditions?
How will you reconcile your human rights with the cultural values of your host society?
Are there safety considerations that you should be aware of?
What are gender relations in the host culture?
What is considered typical male and female social behavior in the host culture?
What is the social perception of members of the LGBTQA community?
What roles do trans* people play in the host culture?
Does your study abroad program offer LGBTQA friendly housing?
Does your study abroad program discuss LGBTQA considerations during their orientation?
LEGAL ISSUES TO CONSIDER BEFORE GOING ABROAD
The laws governing LGBTQA relationships and sexual activity differ from country to country. U.S. citizens must abide by the laws of a host country; knowing these laws may help you to decide what countries you might like to visit if you will be out abroad or if you will pursue relationships while abroad. Even if you do not plan to have a sexual relationship while away, you should be informed about specific laws pertaining to sexual behavior and sexual/gender identity. When doing your research, try to ascertain:
The legality of same-sex sexual behavior (sometimes male-male sexual behavior is illegal while female-female sexual behavior is not), including sodomy laws
The age of consent for sexual behavior (which may differ from the age of consent for opposite-sex sexual behavior)
Restrictions on freedom of association or expression for LGBTQA people
Anti-discrimination laws (these can be national laws or specific to local areas)
You may find that you can be more open about your identity than in the U.S., or that you would need to hide your sexual or gender identity completely to avoid cultural ostracism or arrest. Understanding this will help you decide where you would, or would not, want to study.