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 LGBTQIA person may influence your relationships with host nationals, your cultural adjustment, and your overall education abroad experience.
LGBTQIA Study Abroad Considerations
Learn About Your Host Country
In some cultures, understandings of "gay" and "straight" don't exist or don't 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 LGBTQIA 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 U.S., freer to express yourself.
- If your host country is not progressive or accepting of the LGBTQIA 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:
- 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.
Legal Considerations Abroad
The laws governing LGBTQIA relationships and sexual activity differ from country to country. Regardless of your country of citizenship, you must abide by the laws of the host country. Knowing these laws can help you decide which countries you will visit 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 local laws pertaining to sexual behavior and sexual/gender identity. You should research:
- 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 same-sex sexual behavior (which may differ from the age of consent for opposite-sex sexual behavior)
- Restrictions on freedom of association or expression for LGBTQIA 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.
For information on laws in countries you may be visiting, please review LGBTQIA rights around the world.
- Gender and Sexuality Resource Center: The Gender and Sexuality Resource Center works to provide a safe and affirming space for all members of the Northwestern University campus and acts as a hub for organizations, resources, services, and programs of interest to the Queer, Trans*, and Ally community.
- Rainbow Alliance: Rainbow Alliance provides a safe space for students of all genders and sexualities by supporting an active and social LGBTQIA community.
- Northwestern Greek Allies: This longstanding fraternity/sorority organization promotes educational programming and diversity with regard to to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning students and their allies.
WCAS 2019 | GESI Dominican Republic; European Union Studies
"Not all political climates are favorable for LGBTQ-identifying people. This is especially true in the Dominican Republic. One of the first conversations I had with my host family was about the gay U.S. ambassador living with his husband in the Dominican, and how they did not like that. I had to spend the next three months navigating my own identity as being gay, while not putting myself into a situation where I was unsafe."
"The following year I went abroad in Paris. Paris is very LGBTQ-friendly and I was able to be fully 'out' my entire time there. While it contrasted with the Dominican Republic in that sense, I absolutely do not regret either experience."
"Being LGBTQ should not prohibit you from living your study abroad dream. The GLO staff and your individual program staff have the resources available to help you in any capacity, but it is up to you to get that help."
"Being abroad challenged me to become truly comfortable with my identity, so much so that I gained the courage to come out to my family and friends at home. I truly hope that any LGBTQ-identifying person considering going abroad makes that choice–because studying abroad changed my life."