Is It Wrong To Travel To Countries Where Being Gay Is Illegal?

Here’s something interesting I’ve noticed. I certainly respect if others feel differently about this topic, though I figured I’d write this post so that people can hopefully at least see my perspective.

As is well documented, I spend a fair amount of time in countries where being gay is frowned upon/illegal/punishable by law. Almost every time I write about traveling to one of these places, I get comments about it. They typically fall into one of the following two general categories:

  • “How dare you travel to a country where being gay is illegal… don’t you have any self respect?”
  • “Aren’t you scared you’re going to be jailed and killed?”

The second question typically comes out of a place of genuine curiosity/concern. And the first typically comes from someone who has put a lot of thought into formulating their opinion, though doesn’t really look at the other side of the equation.

This is a topic I’ve put a lot of thought into. Generally I’m one who will vote with my wallet and not support businesses which have policies I disagree with. But when it comes to travel I take a different approach. I don’t feel great spending money in countries where being gay is illegal, but I actually see several positive aspects to it as well. I don’t think anything will ever change without some interaction and dialogue.

So, why do I not mind going to countries where being gay is illegal?

It allows me to formulate my own opinion

At least once a week I get an email from someone asking “is it okay for me to share a bed with my same sex partner in the UAE?” I actually had similar concerns before I visited the UAE for the first time. Heck, one of my most read posts of the year is entitled “Is It Safe To Travel To The UAE?” The post covers “gay rights” there, as well as sharing a bed with someone you’re not married to/a same sex partner. Clearly it’s something many people wonder about.

Park-Hyatt-Dubai-25

But once you visit some Arab countries for the first time, you realize things are vastly different than you’d expect.

Never have I gotten a weird look or even a question for wanting to share a bed with someone in an Arab country.

Heck, during a recent trip to the Middle East a hotel associate said “I just need your husband’s passport as well, please.” It’s a bit backwards, since in the US I often get asked if I want my “friend’s” name added to the reservation, even when only booking one king bed. But for someone to just assume I’m married? Wow, that’s sort of progressive/presumptuous.

I was recently talking to a friend who works in management at a Gulf carrier, and I talked about the perception so many people have of Gulf countries. He relayed a story of a friend telling him “well I’d love to work for [airline], but I’m a gay jew, so I don’t see working in an Arab country ending well.” He responded with “you’d be surprised how many gay jews we have working for us.”

My point is simply that there’s a huge difference between the perception and reality in many of these countries. And you’ll never fully understand that until you visit them. Traveling widens your horizons, and that includes traveling to places you might otherwise assume you’re not welcome in.

Dubai-4

It allows others to formulate their own opinions

Someone left the following comment on a recent post in which I mentioned I was going to the Maldives:

Lucky, how come that you spend time and money in a country which has Sharia-Law and homosexuality is actually under death-penalty?

The Maldives relies very heavily on tourism. What makes the Maldives unique is that many of the people working in hotels are actually Maldivian (as opposed to the UAE or Qatar, for example, where you’ll rarely see a “local” working a customer-facing job).

Maldives

If it weren’t for tourism, what impression do you think the locals would have of gays? Given that they probably would have never met an openly gay person, I’m guessing not a very favorable one. Perhaps similar to this 1976 CBS documentary entitled “The Homosexuals:”

But when they interact with guests of different backgrounds on a daily basis, I’d be willing to bet it changes their minds pretty quickly, when they realize they’re just like everyone else.

My point is that change doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a while for a society to make a fundamental shift, especially when the reasons behind laws are largely based on religion.

Abu-Dhabi-1

But the more exposure people get to others who are different, the more quickly minds are changed.

The practical implications of laws impacting gays

Let me be clear — the above applies to places like the Maldives, the UAE, etc. Would I feel as comfortable in Brunei, for example? Probably not.

I think the important thing to understand is that with social media and the 24-hour news cycle, most places realize they have to be a bit more accepting. The Maldives has tons of gay tourists. Are they going to do anything which reverses that trend? No way. They can’t afford to.

The same is true for the UAE. They’re trying to build a sustainable future beyond oil, and make themselves the “center of the world.” Could you in theory be jailed or deported for being gay? Sure. But you can also be jailed for “writing bad words on social media.”

Lastly, I think it’s important to keep in mind that you have added layers of protection if you’re staying at a western hotel chain. They support LGBT rights, and staff are trained to be accommodating, even in countries which theoretically aren’t.

Bottom line

I do put a lot of thought into this. Sometimes I don’t feel right traveling to places where being myself is illegal. At the same time, I also know that nothing will ever change if people from different backgrounds refuse to interact.

I’ve long said that the biggest lesson I’ve learned from travel is that everyone is more similar than we assume on the surface, and there’s no topic where that’s more evident.

I completely respect people who say “I refuse to spend a dime in a country which has such outdated laws.” And I think that’s great. It’s not how I feel, not because I feel any less disgust towards the policy as such, but rather because I think the way to create change is through interaction and dialogue.

The only perspective I take issue with is those who shame others for having different views.

I guess to sum it up in one sentence, I view my approach to be the wrong thing to do short term (why support a country which doesn’t support me?), but the right thing to do long term (I do think minds will change more quickly if we visit these places rather than boycott them).

Where do you stand? Am I completely off base?

Comments

  1. Lucky, I agree with most of your points, but remember as tourists we generally stay in areas where tourists normally are…I have heard some people tell me stories about going into non-tourist areas of countries and having some problems…no violence, but definitely not something you would call a ‘vacation’. My general rule is that I wont travel anywhere where I am being actively ‘hunted’. I consider Russia to be of great danger, as well as some other countries, but places like UAE and Singapore I think are pretty safe.

  2. Ben, it depends on where you’re going I think. Some countries realized that even if they are officially not endorsing gay lifestyle, they’re more accepting due to the economic and financial impacts. I dare to say that UAE falls under this category. Some are just places that you don’t want to venture to since they are so extreme in their opposition. Case in point: the Aceh province in Indonesia.

  3. Is it just a coincidence that the best first class products, first class award availability, and luxury hotel chains with award suites involve these Muslim countries? It would certainly be inconvenient to your travel lifestyle to feel different about anti-gay laws of Muslim countries.

  4. Great post. I am also gay and just visited my 47th country, the UAE. I also went into it with an extreme amount of apprehension that turned out to be grossly out founded: Should I delete gay-related apps or pics form my phone? Might lube or anything sexually related be confiscated at Customs? Do they target people who use an app like Grindr for arrest? I was therefore shocked to learn how accepting the society is of gay men (although apparently not lesbian women) as long as the “gayness” remains out of view.

    I’m fortunate to have about a dozen friends in Dubai, all of whom are straight, but they introduced me to their gay friends. People live with their boyfriends. There are “gay nights” at certain bars on Thursdays and Fridays. And, what became evident to me is that, even among the small minority of Emirati citizens, many of the young gay men are out to their families, who are begrudgingly accepting of it. When it comes to “catching people” in the act of homosexuality, which is technically punishable by death, what it seems actually happens is that people are either deported or imprisoned briefly – but in practice the written law is not applied.

    I had similar attitudes (although less fearful) the first time I went to Singapore, which technically bans homosexual acts. I met a nice guy there, and remember thinking after the encounter, “well, I’ve committed my first felony!”

  5. I think you need to do what you feel is right for you, and I agree with you here on all points.

    There are parts of Manhattan where I feel great about walking hand in hand with my partner. And there are parts where I don’t. I believe there are also still states in the US that have some sexual acts illegal.

    Point is, none of us can really judge anyone else’s actions. Though the Internet would wither and die if we stopped.

  6. For me it’s not the gay thing but the stories you read about draconian laws and policies that apply to everyone that would make me think two or three times before visiting the UAE and some other Gulf states.

    This was an argument that came up for a long time regarding travel to Myanmar. Could anyone in good conscience travel there knowing that it would support the junta and their cronies? For many years I subscribed to that train of thought. But after reading some things it became clear to me that there were some things you could do to minimize the amount you enrich the generals while supporting the general population.

    So, now I generally agree that travel opens horizons and can open minds on both sides of the equation. But frankly there are so many places in the world I want to visit that don’t have these policies and laws that I am happy to go there first.

  7. I happen to agree with this philosophy. I think the only thing that has changed the US landscape for gays and lesbians is the fact that people were brave enough to come out and become normal, accepted parts of society. Once that happens it is very had to “other” them and discriminate. The only thing that will help change things in those countries is awareness and time.

  8. I’ve traveled to the Middle East a couple of times, and to places in Africa and elsewhere where homosexuality is illegal, and understand the internal dilemma.

    Lucky, how do you feel about the boycott against the Dorchester Group hotels owned by the Sultan of Brunei? Would you draw the line by refusing to stay at one of those properties (assuming loyalty program was comparable to other chains)?

  9. I lived in AUH for a year and never had a problem with homosexuality there. Heck, there was a very open very visible gay club that was there, and the majority of the customers were locals. It was only shut down because the whole complex it was in was torn down to make way for a new bridge they are building. AUH was very gay in general – you just couldn’t be engaged in any PDAs. Never had a problem in hotels or anywhere else behind closed doors. In my work, an office environment, there were tons of gays who were pretty open about who they were, and the locals there all knew and didnt care.
    It was an interesting environment. Overall, the mix of people and cultures in AUH was stimulating for expats and locals alike, and fostered an open-mindedness about backgrounds/religions/ethnicities/orientations that I haven’t seen anywhere else in the world. While the official laws exist, they belie what is is one of the most cosmopolitan places I’ve ever visited/ lived.

  10. I’m actually glad you wrote about this. I’m Jewish. My family and I have had this discussion at family dinners recently. There are several of us who have “planned” (half jokingly because it’s such a random cross-section of relatives) a trip to the UAE. Others refuse to even consider it (of course, one of the most adamant also won’t fly Lufthansa or drive a Mercedes). I recently brought up wanting to fly Etihad and was met with “why would you want to do that?” It’s tough, right? I mean, at the end of the day, I don’t think we’d have much of a problem visiting the UAE and flying Etihad or Emirates, but if others in my group are uncomfortable, it’s not going to happen.

    I get where your commenters are coming from, especially the ones who are genuinely concerned. And I get where the boycotters are coming from. But if you’re comfortable and you consider your travels a step towards changing perceptions, more power to you.

  11. It is probably safer traveling there than some of the 9-10 states that still consider it illegal here in the US.

  12. Outstanding and well written post.

    Ben, awhile ago you wrote of possibly visiting Fiji, which has a distinctly–though not entirely deserved–reputation for rampant homophobia. What did you decide?

  13. Moreover, to the extent it’s safe, why should you be denied access to whole swaths of the world because of who you are — and impose that on yourself?

    I’ve struggled with this question myself and come down in a similar place. Because it’s not just about how they treat you, but how a country treats its OWN people.

    Should you travel to countries with awful human rights policies?

    http://viewfromthewing.boardingarea.com/2015/03/01/should-you-travel-to-countries-with-awful-human-rights-records/

    The relevant questions I think are whether:
    1. Your travel is likely to support or prop up the regime. That would be a reason to stay away.
    2. Travel and broader exposure to the outside world is likely to to open up that society. That would be an argument for going.
    3. Bringing back an understanding of the country that you get from being there rather than just reading about it influences your own opinions and makes you a better informed citizen and speak out about what you’ve seen.

    Separately there’s the question of who in a country your patronage helps. Sometimes your tourist dollars benefit the regime, other times the people who are often less fortunate than you are, and sometimes both to varying degrees.

    Should you travel to North Korea? to Laos? to Cuba? These all raise complicated moral questions. Outrage over how one answer’s the question — provided the answer is thought through — seems bizarrely misplaced.

  14. For me, personally, there are too many places left for me to go that openly welcome me through not only individual actions but by the policies set forth by their government for me to actively spend my money visiting other places where both are not the case.

    I completely respect you for wondering about this and asking this question, but for me it comes down to practicality. Not enough points/miles/time for me to visit everywhere so I need to get the best bang for my buck and where I will feel most welcomed.

  15. Thanks for raising this subject, Lucky, I respect your position and though my fear has always been that supporting tourism in countries that actively discriminate against me would only make the dialogue one in which their behavior is acceptable as long as tourists are excepted, the article and comments are causing me to question whether there are more important points to be made by traveling (wisely) than by not traveling at all.

  16. @Joelfreak

    Through the years gay people have adapted and thrived to whatever straight society has thrown at them. Gay Russians are no different. I can personally attest to the vibrancy and determination of the gay scenes in both St. Petersburg and Moscow.

    @Jason

    I very much appreciated and enjoyed your comment. I travel several times a year to Jeddah, which has got to be one of the most cruisy cities I have ever experienced. I have been delightfully amused by the creative (and sometimes touchingly sweet) ways Saudi men have used to try to proposition me.

  17. Every time Brian over at TPG writes anything that even hints at being gay, (Traveling with your same sex parner, great locations for Pride festivals, etc.) the haters come out in droves. I was expecting that here but other than David’s catty “TL;DR” comment, everyone was well behaved. Kudos to your readers! The times, they are a-changin’.

    As a gay man, I don’t eat at Chick-Fil-A because I don’t believe in what that company stands for. I have no illusions that my lack of buying their product in any way hurts them. I don’t do it to hurt them. I do it because I just don’t want to give them my money. My money, my choice.

    Travel is different. If I choose not to travel somewhere because of their policies, that choice hurts ME more than it hurts them. I’M the one who misses out on the experience. I’M the one who doesn’t get to see part of the world. I’m still in the stage of my lifetime travel where I am hitting major urban centers: Amsetrdam, Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Sydney. These places are all gay friendly so I haven’t had to deal with this issue yet. But when I get to the stage where I am hitting smaller places, you can bet that me and my partner of 15 years will travel there if we want to and soak up every bit of the local experience.

    I’ve been reading for a couple of years now and this is probably your best post.

  18. Total agreement, you only need to fire up grindr/scruff and the like in the UAE to know how many other gay guys live/work/travel there.

  19. As another commenter hinted at, this list contains a glaring omission, namely: these countries offer a high concentration of the ultra-luxury experiences that you love to pursue. That’s not a moral failing, but it seems like your primary motivation for visiting these countries over and over again. If Etihad- and Emirates-level first class products were based out of Amsterdam and Brussels instead of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, we’d be reading a lot more about the luxury lounges and hotels of the Netherlands and Belgium. In this alternate world, I suspect you’d find it much easier to “vote with your wallet” and avoid the UAE et al, because they would have fewer shiny baubles to catch your eye.

    At the end of the day, you’re someone who spends his life chasing high-end travel experiences. Right now, those are clustered in anti-gay countries.

  20. For the record, it’s not true that gay acts are still illegal anywhere in the US. The Supreme Court overturned these laws over a decade ago. Given that decision and the several that have followed, up to and including same sex marriage, any laws in the US intended to prohibit same sex acts are unconstitutional. If people want to make the point that there are several places in the US less hospitable than world capitals like AUH, that’s certainly true. But to say it’s illegal here is not.

  21. First, I appreciate you finally addressing this subject after several years of being criticized and ignoring it.
    Now onto why I think this is, respectfully, garbage — a post which essentially argues life isn’t that bad for gay people in these countries, and that you are actually the ambassador of homosexuality to the Muslim world.:
    1) There are gay people in the Maldives. You are not the hotel staff’s first exposure to gay people. They will gladly accept the money of rich gay Westerners and then treat their own differently. The same goes for the UAE, where Westerners are allowed to do a lot that would lead to the death penalty for residents.
    2) To the extent you think the Maldives won’t let anything happen to gay people to protect its tourism reputation, you are correct- — with respect to gay *tourists*. A quick google search shows terrible violence happening to gay people there this year. Bloggers like you ignoring that is what allows that violence to continue.
    3) Your biggest platform is your blog. The criticism of you is not about *going* to these places, but rather going to them, blogging about them, and passing up the opportunity to educate your readers. If this is something you really do think about every time you travel, considering we know what you think about room service egg orders, you’d think it would come up more than in a passing reference in a blog post about the UAE.
    4) As for perception v. reality, you’re suggesting life is ACTUALLY great for gay people in these countries. No, life is great for gay tourists who can afford to live the way you do. That’s not reality.
    5) The reality is that how these countries treat the LGBT people who *live there* doesn’t impact your ability to enjoy your vacation — which rarely takes you off resort anyway. If that’s your position, own it. But don’t think it’s wrong for people to have views as to your morality because of that position.

  22. I often struggle with this in my travels as well. I work for an organization which sends me to places of the world which are often not very “friendly” to gay people. I have a hard time allowing myself to be in a country where I can be arrested simply for being myself—however I also understand the value (for both sides) of interaction and dialogue with others with differing viewpoints. I also understand that many of these antiquated laws have been on the books for a long long time, so they may not be representative of the countries citizens *today*. Many countries in Africa have laws which penalize same-sex behavior, but those were put in place by the British. So should I blame the entire population of Kenya, Namibia, or Tanzania for a Victorian-era law made by colonial governments? In short, no. I hold out hope that change will come over time. But getting back to the question of whether it’s “right” to travel to a place with such laws, I think each person has to determine their own policy on the matter. I have personally implemented travel restrictions for countries where anti-gay laws are NEWLY enacted. I think it’s understandable to have outdated laws on the books already—but it’s not ok to add them in the 21st century. My main concern is that newly enacted laws are more likely to incite witch hunts than those which have existed for decades. For me this means not traveling to Nigeria, Gambia, Russia, and any other country whose laws are regressing.

  23. @Neil S.
    “I believe there are also still states in the US that have some sexual acts illegal.”

    Between consenting adults? Shouldn’t still be the case since Lawrence v. Texas.

    [Broadly; obviously there are still carve outs like sex for money, incest, etc.]

  24. Also worth noting that there are legal distinctions between the resorts and the rest of the country. It’s a dry country. Your bags get x-rayed on the way out of the airport. But alcohol is permitted (and heavily taxed) at the resorts. Plenty of spas at resorts. Because they make a distinction between inhabited and uninhabited parts of the country. The resorts are build on ‘uninhabited’ atolls.

  25. I think you are breaking your own rules at your convenience…”I won’t do any business with people that
    I disagree with their policies”…but travel is different….and I want to change the world (and also don’t want to give up first class at Emirates)….why would you want to go to a country because at their $$ convenience look at the other side to their own law?…Death penalty my friend….thanks for ignoring their own law….but no thanks.

  26. Ben you’re ignoring the side of some countries that you don’t see. In many places obvious tourists, particularly at the higher-end Western chain hotels you frequent, are left alone. Often because of the tourist cash that you bring.

    But what about the things that happen to the actual citizens of those countries who are held to more strict compliance? And go beyond just homosexuals, but the oppression of women, people of other faiths, apostates from Islam, political dissidents, etc. that is also found in many of these locales.

    My perspective is to consider whether my dollars and interaction would actually help to change the government and/or the prevailing culture…or would simply further line the pockets of a repressive regime or society. This requires some extensive research with reputable sources to try and make that determination. You’ve made a lot of assumptions about the Maldives and other countries without showing that you’ve really researched the flow of money, the nature and degree of influence between the government and society, etc.

  27. Ben, you are entitled to travel to whatever destinations you choose for whatever reasons you deem worthwhile. As a fellow gay man who similarly travels to widely variable and no always gay-friendly destinations, I respect your choices…and urge you to never stop traveling where you want to travel.

    No one questions black foreign travelers visiting the USA–our own country that has plenty of issues with police brutality and victimization of black American citizens. No one questions gay foreign travelers visiting the USA–our own country that has plenty of issues with homophobia and gay bashing, even in our largest and otherwise supposedly gay-friendly cities. Yet someone dares to question how you could spend your money or be inclined to visit other countries where gays are not accorded the respect they deserve? Puh-lease.

    In 2001, we visited Egypt despite the fact that Egyptian authorities were cracking down on gay Egyptian citizens. Our Egyptian tour guides asked us questions NON-STOP about our “lifestyle” and our lives. Several later admitted that we had opened their eyes that we aren’t so different. The fact that I am Jewish only added to their surprise–both that I was so kind and respectful of and interested in their culture and that we weren’t all that different from them and their friends and families.

    In Oct 2013, we went to Moscow for the start of a previously planned European trip that came after Russia passed its anti-gay propaganda laws. We considered changing our plans, but ultimately decided to stick with the trip. Brazen as I am, we asked our Russian tour guide to take a photo of us kissing right in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral–as the city was awash with federal police and military for the arrival of the Sochi Olympic flame the very next day. Dozens of police and military personnel watched as we kissed and didn’t do a thing. Our Russian tour guide clapped when we kissed. It was a risk…but I am proud to have demonstrated my own civil disobedience. That photo means the world to us even today.

    One year ago, my husband and I went to Rwanda, a country that has considered but has not yet passed anti-gay laws. We chose Rwanda over Uganda due to the passage of anti-gay laws in Uganda. We had conversations with many guides, trackers, and porters on our gorilla treks about being gay…and I am certain that we opened the eyes of many to the fact that we aren’t a threat and that we are all the same.

    We make the choices that matter to us for ourselves. Others may not agree, but it isn’t their lives that are being impacted or enriched by such travel. They are entitled to their opinions, of course…and we are entitled to ignore those and go where we want to go. After all, as is evidenced by the number of “dangerous” destinations you and we have visited, we are far better for the journey–as are the numerous people we met along the way. Some people are afraid of their own shadow and will never leave their comfort zone. But those are never the people who advance the thinking and increasing the tolerance and understanding of difference in this world.

  28. Great post/discussion. This is a major factor in my own travel planning, but it’s not a simple one.

    You can’t just go by laws on the books, because as others have pointed out, that would mean automatically favoring Russia over Singapore (for example). To some extent when I’m deciding where I want to spend my money I think about whether a country or locale is moving in the right direction or the wrong direction – historical and regional context is important. Amsterdam wasn’t built in a day.

    You also don’t necessarily want to paint entire countries with a broad brush – even generally-hostile countries have communities and businesses that are worth supporting. I haven’t figured out any bright-line rule that works, but I think about the issue a lot, and it’s well worth discussing. Thanks!

  29. As for those who are interpreting Ben’s blog posts as being what they are not, you are out of your minds. Ben has in no way endorsed or insinuated that any of these “not gay friendly” or even “anti-gay” destinations are safe havens for gay people who actually live there. You are creating that false impression on your own; you’re putting words in Ben’s mouth to suit your own rationale. That Ben and people like us visit these “not gay friendly” destinations in no way precludes the difficulties of the gay residents in those countries.

  30. Thanks for this post. I think its really important to talk about. My husband and I are world travelers and we love to visit places like China, Turkey, and so on. There are definitely some countries I would not visit our of concern for our personal safety (middle east, central Asia), but in most places we find that a little caution and a lot of common sense goes a long way. Staying in western chain hotels usually makes the one bed/two beds conversation easier, although even in more remote places like the buddhist monastery we lodged at in Cheng Du, its never really been a problem (once in Uruguay a woman at the check-in made an unkind remark…what can you do but laugh it of?).

    Overall I think that gay people who travel to countries with oppressive anti-gay laws (and cultures) are making a contribution to opening things up. The more they see as normal families traveling together, the less the horrible stereotypes resonate with them.

    Still, I think all gay travelers should be cautious, use judgement, and probably stay out of some countries where there is just too much risk, but I think those places are fewer than before.

  31. Lucky, thanks for bringing this up.

    I agree with @Eric. It’s not just an LGBT issue rather a human rights issue. I have a lot of female friends that refuse to travel to the Middle East because of the terrible treatment of women in those countries. I also remember reading an article about how EK or EY does not have Israel on their maps in the magazine or flight map.

    As a gay man myself, I personally would not want to visit any place that I would feel unsafe or uncomfortable anywhere in the world, even if the destination markets themselves as luxury and glamorous along.

    Also knowing my money would go to an organization or government that shuns homosexuality would not sit well with me. Earlier this year, The Out Hotel owners donated money to Ted Cruz, very anti-gay, and upset the gay community. I knew a lot of loyal guests who stayed at the hotel moved someplace else since their money was going to Ted Cruz.

  32. Bottom line: As long as I can stay in a suite at a major chain hotel and fly there in a quality premium class that serves Krug or Dom, then fcuk yeah I’ll go there.

    I mean, that’s what the bottom line should have been for this post.

    Checking into a western hotel or the random picture in front of a tourist attraction doesn’t really make you an ambassador. I know people think you are changing people’s minds, but it could just be they want your money? In Egypt last year, 3 men were sentenced to 8 years in prison for engaging in “homosexual acts” after they were arrested at a private party. Hell, in Beirut, which is supposedly more tolerant than most of the other countries in the region, a Turkish style bathhouse which caters to a gay clientele was raided by the police.

    But whatever, we’re flying there in Eithad or Emirates first class and instatweeting about it and getting upgraded to a suite at a 5-star hotel/resort.

  33. Bottom line: As long as I can stay in a suite at a major chain hotel and fly there in a quality premium class that serves Krug or Dom, then fcuk yeah I’ll go there.

    I mean, that’s what the bottom line should have been for this post.

    Checking into a western hotel or the random picture in front of a tourist attraction doesn’t really make you an ambassador. I know people think you are changing people’s minds, but it could just be they want your money? In Egypt last year, 3 men were sentenced to 8 years in prison for engaging in “homosexual acts” after they were arrested at a private party. Hell, in Beirut, which is supposedly more tolerant than most of the other countries in the region, a Turkish style bathhouse which caters to a gay clientele was raided by the police.

    But whatever, we’re flying there in Eithad or Emirates first class and instatweeting about it and getting upgraded to a suite at a 5-star hotel/resort.

  34. Ben I applaud you for taking to the blog and writing about this issue and question. But first I am impressed with the courage you have to be open and honest as you have been recently with your personal life. It takes a strong person to step out and lay out their story about being out. Please keep doing this to educate people about our lives.

    All of us take risks everyday when we leave a comfort zone or place where something just either doesn’t feel right or deep down we know the risks.

    But how are people going to change if they don’t get to know who we are the last article I read estimated our “gay” travel wallet is worth several hundred million dollars. And written within the same article it speaks to how many of us want to be part of the mainstream tourist population.

    We are people who need to educate the world that things are changing. And until we don’t come out in places all over the world the world will not change.

    Thank you again for sharing personal aspects with your readers. I know I have enjoyed it. And note right here in my Northwest PA small town there are places I don’t feel good about the vibe I get when my husband and I show up on the scene. But it will not stop me from going there. The perceptions are not going to change if we don’t take our place at the table. Because if we don’t we will be on the menu.

  35. Good post. One quibble. I recently visited Brunei (only BSB). A friend (half-jokingly) asked in advance if I was comfortable traveling to a country under sharia law. I didn’t even know that at the time I booked the trio. All I had really heard about the country were stories of the hedonistic parties of the sultan (talk about hypocrisy). Since my outlook is the same as yours (and the money was already spent), I went ahead and thoroughly enjoyed it. Safe and walkable city surrounded by lush vegetation, several interesting sights (especially the floating city), good food, very nice people, and most women were not even wearing headscarves. I’m not gay, but I think those who are would have a good time there or at least find it interesting and feel comfortable.

  36. @ATLJason

    I’m a hater for sure, but not a homophobe. If I were I’d probably have written “TG;DR” or something more spiteful for maximum effect. I just can’t stand this dude’s long-winded writing style where he uses 400 words to express what can be said in 40. But of course, somebody was bound to use his sexuality to shield him from legitimate criticism. You really stepped up for him, didn’t ya?

    Goodness, the hypersensitivity is firing on all cylinders today.

  37. Ben’s hypocrisy is nearly boundless. Based on his “tolerance,” he would have complained about the stingy upgrades at the Auschwitz Hyatt, circa 1943.

  38. “No one questions black foreign travelers visiting the USA–our own country that has plenty of issues with police brutality and victimization of black American citizens. No one questions gay foreign travelers visiting the USA–our own country that has plenty of issues with homophobia and gay bashing, even in our largest and otherwise supposedly gay-friendly cities. Yet someone dares to question how you could spend your money or be inclined to visit other countries where gays are not accorded the respect they deserve? Puh-lease.” (@Bill)

    This is right on! Americans want to sit around and condemn places like the UAE for their laws regarding homosexual behavior, but do not want to even recognize the oppression of Muslims, African-Americans or women in the U.S. Oppression that may not represent the law but is so integrated in society that it is systemic. Give me a break.

  39. Most people make decisions based on what they want to do and then give a favorable spin. Lucky appears to be doing that here. He wants to travel to these anti-gay counties and fly their luxury airlines but it supports these countries financially. So we get this rationale. Typical human rationalization to basically do what ever the person wants to do and feel good about it. Go for it Lucky! It is human nature! Just do what you want to do. You should feel free enough to not even rationalize it. Take another step forward and free yourself to just do want you want and not feel any need to explain or rationalize it to your blogger world. You are almost there.

  40. I am sure you interact a lot with the people that have different opinions in those wester resorts – not – lets face it the luxury of what these countries offer to the elite is interesting

  41. Traveling places where you can open peoples’ eyes and provide perspective on issues and orientations where they have no insight is great. It’s true that this is how horizons broaden and tolerance is built.

    However, it doesn’t hold true for the UAE. The UAE is a wealthy society, and Emirates and Etihad are two of the largest airlines in the world. People there are aware of the outside world – including LGBT communities. What’s more, the likelihood of political change coming to the UAE is about as likely as Ben switching his loyalty to Delta and Skyteam 😉 It’s a federation of absolute monarchies where only 10% of the population are actual citizens. Not exactly the sort of place that is sensitive to public pressure.

    There are plenty of other ways for me to do my mileage runs in luxury – Lufthansa, ANA, Qantas, etc. I don’t need to do it in Dubai. But whatever floats your boat, I suppose.

  42. Great post. I am also gay and actually did my undergrad in the UAE – and am often asked why I would go somewhere with no gay rights. I agree with your perspective completely, part of normalizing homosexuality is just by exposing people from all walks of life to more queer people. Granted, staying at a western hotel is maybe not the best outreach to the local community (but it’s certainly a start).

  43. You should travel wherever you want to travel, and since I am not gay I don’t think I can judge whether you are making the right choices. However I do think that if you believe that traveling there makes you an ambassador you are kidding yourself or kidding your readers. Going to Abu Dhabi, Dubai and the Maldives staying at the St. Regis for the Hyatt and openly asking to share a bed with a person of the same sex, flying back and forth to Doha so you can be the first passenger in the Apartment or whatever, that’s not ambassadorship – I think you know that. I hope you know that. The places you are going and staying in the muslim world are made specifically to attract westerners. Saying that you are an ambassador because you went to the Burj Khalifa and had high tea is like saying I am a conserving wildlife because I walked my kid through the zoo.

    Second, while I don’t know whether traveling there is the right decision for you, I do think that when you promote Etihad, Emirates, Qatar you are supporting organizations and regimes whose perspective on human rights, democracy and terrorism are completely opposed to my own. And you promote those airlines…A LOT. If what matters to you is sitting in the most luxurious airline seat for 12 hours and telling the world how exclusive that feels, then flying the gulf airlines like you do makes complete sense. On the other hand, if you care about democracy and human rights, you could use the platform you have to highlight the rather unpleasant realities that make places like the UAE and Qatar possible, for example how many hours of slave labor were required to build the Al Safwa lounge in Doha.

  44. Yes i admit im a homolulu.
    However my sexuality never dictates where im going what im doing.
    The simple rule of thumb is you dont need to flaunt your sexual tastes.

    I have sat with imans in countries like tunisia algeria and even syria and iran during my travels and had very interesting conversations about all kind of subjects that may be regarded as taboo in these countries.
    For me if it feels right i do pursue questions on human rights and other related subject matter and its never back fired.
    Im not sitting there rubbing my groin and talking religion.
    Im sitting there and listening and respecting their view point.
    The vaste majority of people in the world are respectlful souls.
    A recent trip to iran i met a human rights lawyer who was very keen to show me the naughty side to iran, you just very repsectfully detour away from this line of engagement as it may land you in trouble.
    While on iran i meet many same sex couples in tehran going about their day to day activities.

    I realize alot of people are out to harm minorities however im also very aware that your respectful presence in the countries we are talking about can also bring about subtle yet long lasting change.
    Anyway very interesting topic lets do it again

    Happy new year and safe travels and a word of advice leave the chaps at home when travelling.
    X

  45. @anothersteve yours is a moot argument not going to these countries or not flying their carriers. It didnt work here and wont work overseas. I agree with Ben but I don’t trust them,not in todays world.If something were to happen where it got into the media I cringe to think what the Govt might do and you will get 0 help from US state dept.

  46. @Andre – That’s a new spin on the old argument, “no one is perfect, so who are they to judge?” Here some other fun versions of that:

    1949 – “Americans want to sit around and condemn the Nazi’s, but do not want to even recognize the anti-semitism that is so integrated in society that it is systemic. Give me a break.”

    1979 – “Americans want to sit around and condemn Idi Amin, meanwhile the murder rate in the US has risen to it’s highest level in the past 6 years. Give me a break.”

    1979 – “Americans want to sit around and condemn the Iranian students for taking those hostage, meanwhile they didn’t do anything about those Dutch students taken hostage last year in Bovensmilde . Give me a break.”

    2013 – “Americans want to sit around and complain about coal pollution in China, meanwhile there are a whole bunch of coal mines in West Virginia. Give me a break.”

  47. @Joelfreak: Your fear of Russia is misguided. It is not illegal to be gay here. It is illegal to indoctrinate kids that it is an acceptable behavior. That’s the difference. As an American expat who lives in Russia, I have several openly gay friends. They rarely have problems, and never with authorities. Usually it’s drunk guys trying to act big and bad that give them problems occasionally, but it’s rare. In Vladivostok, where I live, there are several gay bars and clubs, actually. But, the reality is, that attitudes in Russia towards homosexuals is very much akin to the Deep South (where I am from), where it is seen as morally wrong. But, at Pride events I have witnessed in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, the police protected their rights and kept the anti-gay demonstrators separated, and arrested several who decided to use violence against the gay demonstrators.

  48. There are tons of gays in the Muslim world, just like in the Western world. As long as you don’t engage in PDA (man/man or man/woman, doesn’t matter) you’ll be fine.

    Also, I think most gay people would feel far, far, far safer in Dubai than say Alabama.

  49. To those who are trying to claim that Ben’s luxury preferences and frequent flights on Gulf carriers (and concomitant stays in Gulf luxury hotels/resorts) somehow bias him to ignore the human rights issues in those countries, I say you’re being completely ridiculous. Ben also lauds Lufthansa and Cathay and Singapore airlines, and lauds luxury properties around the world. Ben lauds luxury wherever it is. You’re fishing for an excuse to chastise. It sounds like you’re just bitter than Ben gets to enjoy such luxury. Please stop.

    To those who ridiculously believe that the Gulf somehow has a monopoly on luxury, your ignorance astounds me–especially if you read blogs such as these. The Gulf has luxury…but so does Europe, Asia, South America, Australia, and even Africa. The Gulf has more opulent and excessive luxury by American/Western standards, but try telling that to someone from India. The Gulf is not the epicenter of luxury, much as it tries to be.

    I’m astounded by the people who sit in judgment in these comments. If you are gay and don’t want to visit countries with anti-gay laws, then don’t. If you are gay and don’t want to visit countries with anti-gay sentiment, then you will have a tough time–since that anti-gay sentiment exists in every country in the world.

    Before we slam the Muslim world for its anti-gay sentiment (and other human rights issues), let’s all take some time to remember that it wasn’t 40 years ago that the entire Christian world largely felt the same way about gay people. It wasn’t 20 years ago that much of the USA largely felt the same about gay people. It wasn’t a few years ago that the USA allowed gays to marry legally…something that was legal in South Africa and Spain and Mexico City well before. Yet South Africa has more anti-gay sentiment today than the USA if I had to guess (and for the record, I was gay married in South Africa in 2010 and love that country). Ignorance of the facts helps create a false sense of superiority on one’s own culture while slamming others. Travel helps reduce that ignorance…both for the traveler and for those with whom the traveler interacts.

  50. I have always wondered about this question, I would love to visit Russia but I am scared. Then again I am sure many gay people visit every year with no problems. I really want to go to Dubai but I have the question of whether I could share a room/bed with my husband, I suppose thanks to your posts Ben I know now the answer. I don’t flaunt it I just am who I am.

  51. So my opinion has been MOTERATED.
    Ah! The beauty of liberal media!! Yet controling the comments and “world opinion”. Convince yourselves and don’t allow anything contrary to be heard, if that is the only way you can find quality in life.

    I don’t expect this post to pass either but ask yourself: why I am not entitled to my opinion of facts just as you are??

  52. @Bill – So Bill, anyone who questions Ben is bitter and jealous that he gets to enjoy luxury travel, and we are ignorant that luxury exists outside the gulf region. But since you’ve now enlightened all of us to the fact that Ben is in fact enjoying luxury all over the world (even from Germany!?!?!) you would logically expect that us bitter ignorant haters will start to complain about some aspect of Germany whenever Ben flies Lufthansa First – you know, just to hide the fact that we are really just jealous of Ben.

    And when do you think it will be OK for anyone to have an opinion about human rights issues in the middle east? You’ve pointed out that waiting 40 years after the entire Christian world largely felt the same way about gay people is too soon to have a judgement or opinion, is 60 years enough or do we go 100? Until then it’s just c’est la vie I guess, because to formulate an opinion would be ignorant. I feel really bad that I was opposed to the Rwandan genocide, I didn’t go there to see it for myself so how could I say that it was a bad thing? Maybe it was great, without going there and talking to the people doing it there’s no way to know. And even today, I am sitting here on my high horse thinking, “ISIL is evil” – and I don’t even know anyone in ISIL. So ignorant!

  53. @ Ben,I appreciate the fact that, unlike another blog the content of which is biased by its relentlessly promoted Koch Brothers libertarian political philosophy, your blog focuses on miles, points and travel product reviews. That said, I do think, on your highly popular personal Facebook account, you might help promote human rights and give exposure to those organizations to are fighting for justice, particularly in some of the countries you visit (and indirectly promote) where such rights are under attack or where human trafficking is the norm and the press is censored and reporters jailed. On the other hand, there are many countries that are under represented on OMAAT and the duplicative content relating to the UAE and gulf airlines has gotten pretty boring is is at risk of losing long time readers.

    Wishing you and your associates a very happy New Year and let’s hope UAL reinstates your flying privileges in 2016.

  54. Women have a similar issue with Muslim countries. UAE seems to be most progressive. As for the rest, I wouldn’t go if someone paid me. I was reading a flyer talk thread about women travelling to Saudi Arabia for business. They are urged to wear loose-fitting dresses down to the ankles with long sleeves and high necklines. Even below the knee midi length isn’t good enough, nor are pants. Women can’t drive there or go out on their own without a male guardian’s permission. It’s really crazy. I think gays would feel uneasy if they were forced to wear special clothing and if they were treated like second class citizens or slaves. Again, UAE being an exception, not sure how they have managed to be more progressive but I applaud them for it.

  55. 1. Great post.
    2. Its amazing how many people have responded.
    3. For some reason, I still have zero desire to visit Cuba (as its the trendy thing to do…… to visit the Caymans since they barred gay cruise ships from their ports….. Russia which is anti-gay in press and was always against us and now Miami is filled with Russians with more money than god.
    4. Asia is amazingly superior. The rest of the world is still caught up in their religious barriers.

  56. “It sounds like you’re just bitter than Ben gets to enjoy such luxury.”

    Jealous! Bitter! Haters! No Bill, you stop. Please. That counter argument got stale in 2011.

    @Tara

    Its more Dubai than the UAE as a whole. The other more liberal place in the GCC is Bahrain. By coincidence, Dubai and Bahrain have almost no natural resources, so they’ve diversified their economies the most, and also tend to be the most liberal and tolerant places in the GCC (they were the first to allow non-Muslims to buy pork, for example).

  57. I think this is not an issue at all for 99.5% of all humans. I am a straight conservative living in Texas. If you want to be gay, go ahead. It does not work for me, but if it does for you, yay for you. But, it is not an issue most of the world thinks (or cares) about.
    It is about as relevant to most of us as how accepting are Israeli Jews of Germans between the age of 70 and 99? Who really cares? other than 0.5% of the German population…
    To me, the whole gay thing is overexposed and totally irrelevant. Whether you are gay or straight or autosexual, I don’t give a shit. Be a good human being is more relevant to me than who you have sex with. So whether or not gays should visit UAE, is not really anything I spend much time thinking about.

  58. Its not wrong to travel to those countries, but I doubt that you are changing any opinions by doing so. So I would not cast your trips in a change-the-world light as some of the comments do. If opinions were really being changed, the laws would be changed too not just ignored by the authorities out of convenience. How long before these countries change their official stance on homosexuality? I would not hold my breath. If the religious right in America had its way, homosexuality would be illegal here. The Islamic world, unfortunately, will be a victim of religion for a long, long time to come. Even though the odds of being prosecuted and convicted are very, very slim, you are brave to flaunt any law that imposes the death penalty.

  59. @ Another Steve: Putting words in my mouth isn’t any better than doing it to Ben.

    First, no, not anyone who questions Ben is bitter and jealous. That isn’t what I said. To a particular THOSE who were commenting on Ben’s luxury travel, even as Ben was commenting about his choice as a gay man to visit countries that aren’t particularly hospitable towards gay people, was ridiculous. I called out THOSE people for being bitter and jealous–since they weren’t even commenting on the topic but finding an excuse to comment on something else entirely.

    Second, I think it’s GREAT for people to have opinions about human rights issues in the Middle East–and everywhere else, to boot. That ISN’T THE SAME as judging the people who visit those countries as tourists, much as you ignore the central tenet of the blog post and my response. But calling out Ben or anyone else for traveling to countries with human rights abuses/poor human rights records is the height of hypocrisy unless you live under a rock in a vacuum, and particularly if you live in or travel to the USA or too many other countries to count–all with plenty of human rights abuses against people of color or gay people or women on a daily basis. THAT is the hypocrisy which few who judge Ben would ever stop to consider. And that isn’t the same thing as what you’re blowing on about.

    Perhaps you might read more carefully before commenting–and drawing conclusions about things not stated.

    Try again. I’m still waiting for you to go blowhard against the millions who visit China…or who visited Burma before it was considered P.C.to do so…or who visit Malaysia or North Korea or Turkey or Eastern Europe or India, all of which have massive issues of human rights abuses against their own citizens. Just because YOU don’t feel comfortable or have the desire to visit a country because of circumstances that matter to YOU doesn’t give you the right to sit in judgment on the travel choices of anyone else.

    Blogs are wonderful things…but they also permit blowhards like you and so many others to sit in judgment while being completely ignorant of the hypocrisy you spout. I’m more than happy to showcase it for you.

  60. The main reason why Americans feel apprehensive about the possibility that they may be “ill-treated” or arrested in other countries for being gay etc is simple: Americans are nosy parkers who like to impose their “superior” culture on the rest of the world who are still “suffering” under some “primitive” cultures; AND they wrongly thought others are as much of a busybody as they are!

    But, thankfully, that’s not how the rest of the world behaves. In most other culture, people impose their societal norm only on their own people, where “own people” is defined not just by nationality, but more often by religion, or ethnicity. So, for example, Muslim countries such as Malaysia, Brunei etc define “own people” by religion – they have laws that they expect Muslims to follow, but such laws explicitly state that they do not apply to non-muslims. So, a non-muslim (especially if you seem, on a matter of probability, most likely a non-muslim i.e. you are white, black, yellow, etc) can publicly drink alcohol to your heart’s content, and kiss your same-sex partner, and wear bikinis, and none of the locals will bat an eyelid. The Chinese, meanwhile, define “own people” by ethnicity – they do not look upon too kindly at an ethnic Chinese who speaks the Chinese Language with a wierd tone, or worse, cannot speak a single word in Chinese. So if you are a 2nd-generation Chinese American who know nuts about your own heritage, be prepared to get some sniggering behind your back. But hey, if you look “foreign” (as defined by ethnicity, as opposed to nationality), you can merely attempt to speak Chinese with some strange accent and you will be applauded! (think Mark Zukerberg).

    So, no worries, Americans! While you love to “influence” (or should we say, impose?) your cultural norms on the rest of the world, be it through war, or through toppling of some “dictators”, or through spending or not spending money (as some of you here actively advocate), please don’t put yourself in other people’s shoes and assume the rest of the world are as much of a busybody as you are. Lucky for you, the rest of the world believe that minding one’s own business is a virtue, not a sin, and that’s why you need not worry about visiting other countries who have anti-gay laws, or Islamic laws, that are applicable only to their own people, in practice or in many cases, even written into the laws themselves.

    And that’s why Ben should feel free to visit Brunei, with no fear whatsoever. Just remember, Bruneians are not Americans 🙂

  61. I’m very pleased that you have finally chosen to wade into this argument and post about what I think it is very important subject-and one you may have noticed I’ve (and it seems others) have been asking for-for months. Readers have articulated quite well a lot of my concerns. They continue to be:

    1. Supporting government associated carriers like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar DIRECTLY supports the oppression of the staff of the airlines as well as many gay brothers and sisters in their home countries. There is no escaping the reality that your promotion and financial support of these airlines allows them to continue to do what they are doing.

    2. You are taking a calculated risk by bringing your spouse with you to certain areas of the world where homosexual conduct is illegal. You should not forget that despite your belief that this is tolerated, are you willing to risk it? And should we be giving these countries financial support if they keep this crap up?

    I appreciate that you are willing to talk about this and I would (as I always have) urge you to consider NOT supporting the airlines and the governments that continue to perpetuate these human rights violations. Money always talks loudest.

    I salute you for your boldness. TPG would not in a million years take this one on.

  62. You may do as you please with your time and money and let others that criticize you roll off your back. I personally choose to make a different decision after weighing the same data. That doesn’t mean your decision is wrong and mine right, or vice-versa. As a female atheist I would not opt to participate in willingly funding the governments that have laws that oppress humans for who they are and what they believe. However as a U.S citizen I cannot ignore our own laws that are just as bigoted and hateful and I am forced to financially support this government. In many US States it is still illegal for atheists to hold public office. Yes, it’s an ‘on paper only’ law like many of those in the Muslim countries you mentioned. The latter gets outrage, the former gets a shoulder shrug. Even non-governmental organizations in the US support bias (gay men trying to donate blood have very strict rules since clearly only gay men have HIV, right?). Before anyone judges you let them look to their own countries hate filled laws, even those not used but still in existence, and then they will be quick to be silent. Or even better, try to clean their own home before judging.

  63. I already posted but I wonder how many people urging others to stop doing what they want also went to Ireland before 1980 when it was still ILLEGAL to have birth control? Which human rights are you in favor of; your own preferences or all rights? Do you travel to countries where girls are forbidden from going to school and learning to read? What about those that say that a woman who was raped committed adultery and therefore must be punished (usually death). Please look around your glass house before you start throwing stones. Ben is making his decision using the same data you have and if he comes to a different conclusion than you or I then so be it.

  64. @deltahater . . . YEP. I was not attracted to this blog to read about anything other than the hobby of “points and miles.” I quit reading TPG due to his personal agenda, along with the fact that I’m not really concerned about his comfort animal (dog . . . which I happen to have and love but do not subject my Golden Retriever to airline travels) his selfies or his 6’4″ frame traveling in J or F Class.(BTW, less than 4% of American males are over 6′ 2″, a percentage that is probably just a little less than the overall gay population.) In other words, I read the blogs to better inform myself about comfort and cash when traveling on points and/or miles and exercising my hobby.
    It’s certainly your website, Ben, and yours to do with what you desire. I for one would like to read a website that is devoted to the points and miles hobby and not a personal social lifestyles agenda . . . otherwise perhaps you should change the name from OMAAT to JATPG (Just Another The Points Guy).
    Perhaps your readers can suggest a website that is more devoted to just the hobby of points and miles.

  65. Hi Ben –

    I am thrilled that you posted this. I do add the human rights and environmental policies of governments to my internal discussion of whether I am going to visit various countries. I sometimes think it is good for me to show up, to be an ambassador for more liberal ideals; I sometimes think I am a hypocrite, by giving economic benefit to countries that would want to cause harm to myself (I am Jewish) or my fellow human beings, especially women and homosexuals, just because I want to experience a place.

    Sometimes, it’s an easy decision (Brunei is off my list, but there is little I want to see there) sometimes it’s harder (after some internal debate, I went to Egypt) and sometimes I ask for guidance from people I respect before I make my decision.

    Which leads me to Uganda: I’ve been gorilla trekking in Rwanda (the single most profound experience of my traveling life. Looking into gorilla eyes, I found the essence of humanity, and I was changed) and I would like to go in Uganda, where some accommodations are apparently more luxurious and immersed in nature, and where the gorillas have been known to come right into the camps.

    The Ugandan government would imprison or even kill my gay friends and family members for being themselves, so of course I shouldn’t go. But, as a straight man, I can more safely make the case to average people that gay people are just people, neither a threat nor deserving of cruel enmity. Maybe I can open a heart, or two. Of course, I see my rationalization: I’m just trying to justify a trip I REALLY want to make.

    I am interested in your take: what would you advise?

  66. Ben,
    Thanks for posting this. Some of my bucket list destinations are ones that tend to be anti-gay rights. I’ve often wondered if it is really safe for me to go there. Even more concerning are the countries that ban people with HIV and other diseases. UAE as an example has this ban, and the recommendations that I’ve heard from many folks is to forgo medication, since they could either deport you for being positive, or arrest you for having illegal drugs in the country.

    Very scary, especially considering their status now as a major airline hub!

  67. Yes , you should definitely travel to another country that outlaws gays. Just be mindful not to display affection out in public. Do whatever you want behind closed doors .
    Me personally, I would travel to a country that is anti-Israel or anti-semitic despite being Jewish. I don’t care what others think. At the end of the day I am proud of who I am .

  68. The United States has laws, policies and practices that I find deeply offensive. There are plenty of people here who would outlaw homosexuality if they had the chance. I’m sure I support businesses whose leadership has political and social views that would offend me. If I were to endeavor to ensure that none of my money went to anyone who had views I found harmful to me, I wouldn’t be able to spend it anywhere.

    I wouldn’t intentionally support white supremacists, ISIS, Kim Kardashian, or other horrible causes. But should gay people stay at home and avoid all but the most progressive urban areas? If people in some places are taught that gays are less than human, the best way to dispel that myth is for us to go out into the world and show them that we are people just like they are. Their minds will never change if their misconceptions are never challenged.

  69. The distinction needs to be made between the person and the practice. Gays aren’t illegal, gay sex is. (And out-of-wedlock hetero sex is too, right?) So it’s not really offensive when you think about it, it’s no different than laws banning other types of activity you might engage in, including some as benign as drinking alcohol. I don’t have a problem with it. I can forego sex, drinking, or other activities while I’m in a country that prohibits them. The countries I will not set foot in are the ones that treat ME as a person as illegal, second-class, or subservient regardless of my activities.

  70. Lucky – I am in Dubai now and had/have the same concerns – but all good so far. I am openly gay and just proposed to my boyfriend of 7 years last night while on Etihad NYC to AUH in the first apartment. I was cautious but so caught up in the moment that I told two of our flight attendants in first and they were joyous, even made a dessert with “Congratulations” on it. Helps that she was from Holland. Let me know if you want more details, it was months in the making and your blog helped enable it by spotting A380 first apartment availability earlier in May. Cheers.

  71. For all of you criticizing Ben’s travel choices, how many of you or your parents travelled to South Africa? And yes, I’m Black. Should I be furious with you or your parents?

  72. @ Tom–

    I think you should make your own call regarding whether or not to go to Uganda for gorilla trekking. Having also done gorilla trekking in Rwanda this past December–having opted for Rwanda over Uganda because of our anti-gay concern–I understand your caution and uncertainty.

    That being said, you probably will be fine in Uganda if staying in Western-friendly lodges. THOSE are not likely to have the anti-gay people about whom we need to be worried. You can also contact the lodge managers in advance as to your concerns–and judge their responses based on your own priorities.

    There is no right answer here…but I do know other gay travelers who have been to Uganda for gorilla trekking with no issues. You can also consider trekking instead for lowland gorillas in Congo (much safer than DRC) and Central African Republic. But if you want to see mountain gorillas in a new environment, it’s really only a choice between Uganda and DRC–and DRC is FAR more dangerous FOR ANYONE compared to the relative fear for a gay traveler in Uganda IMO.

    For us, seeing the mountain gorillas in Rwanda was a once in a lifetime experience that we’ll never forget. We most likely would return to Rwanda to trek a different set of families (there are 10 families that you can visit there, after all, and we saw only 2). But we’d be open to consider Uganda in the future if the circumstances ever abated…or if the accommodation quality in Uganda improved to Rwandan luxury lodge standards.

  73. @ Justin Horowitz:

    Well said. As a fellow Jew (but now really atheist) and gay man, I really could care less about the fears and prejudices of other people when I select where I want to travel.

    People are so wildly different when evaluating “danger” that it’s easy to lose perspective for the relative degree of “danger” involved. People are quite accustomed to handling the many dangers that are more prevalent in their daily lives without recognizing that those are far more likely and actually more dangerous than the supposed dangers they face in environments in which they are less familiar. The media often helps to perpetuate these fears and exacerbate the risk of such dangers, since there is little perspective on most media reports of anti-anything laws or sentiments in foreign lands.

    There are blogs where Jewish people talk about their abject fear of traveling to any Muslim nation, even as I am Jewish raised and gay and have been to 6, including Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the UAE in the Middle East, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. I’ve never had ANY problem…nor have I have ever been fearful or concerned in any of them once there. I’ve tried to avoid PDA in most, but I’ve still slipped and kissed my husband a few times here and there in all of them–with no issue nor reaction in any of them that I noticed. The same has been true with us being gay in non-gay friendly destinations. Like Arkansas or rural Texas or a large portion of South Africa (my favorite foreign country on the planet) or many places in Eastern Europe or Russia. I’ve heard worse from my black friends when they visit Australia and Asia, to be honest. Yet they still visit…and deal with it. (I’m sure being American and experiencing racism here in the USA makes it far less problematic and “dangerous” when they experience the same in Asia or Australia, sadly.)

    Way too many people in these comments are showcasing their own paranoia and prejudice about ALL people in a non-Western society instead of recognizing that laws and social mores are not consistent and ubiquitous throughout everyone in all of those societies–just as is true in the USA and Canada and Western Europe. I’ve watched numerous Muslims in Egypt drinking alcohol, I’ve been offered a male prostitute in Lebanon and Egypt while walking around town with my husband (girls, girls, girls?….ok boys, boys, boys? LOL), I’ve had engaging discussions about being gay and Jewish with Muslims in Indonesia, Lebanon, Egypt, and Jordan, and I’ve always come away enjoying those countries.

    Let the fearful fear…and let the rest of us explore and learn and educate at the same time.

  74. Stuart Falk says:
    December 30, 2015 at 8:09 pm

    … let’s hope UAL reinstates your flying privileges in 2016.

    Easily — EASILY one of the funniest posts of 2015… Just brilliant!!

  75. @tara

    what are you talking about, there are countries where being gay is illegal, has nothing to do with conduct (sex)

    @lucky

    you are free to be delusional and wrong, thinking your little waves you are making in the ocean is making a difference is sad really. I just honestly hope you are not one of the people who visit these countries every year where the music stops and get arrested for something outrageous. Complaining about how it shouldnt be illegal to be gay or drink or like a facebook post critical of the dictatorship isnt going to help.

  76. When you think about the number of people here who have consumed alcohol before turning 21, it’s rather hypocritical to criticize people of going to places where the law doesn’t agree with their actions.

  77. I couldn’t disagree more. To quote a great line from a great film, “Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they’re inconvenient.” Would this debate be happening at all if ultra-high-end luxury travel experiences were not involved?

  78. I think I’m write, check it out. Gay sex is illegal in those countries, but just being a man who is sexually attracted to other men is not illegal. Likewise sex outside of marriage, it’s illegal, but two unmarried people who are sexually attracted to each other are not illegal.

  79. @ JeffSF–you posted “I couldn’t disagree more. To quote a great line from a great film, “Principles only mean something if you stick by them when they’re inconvenient.” Would this debate be happening at all if ultra-high-end luxury travel experiences were not involved?”

    I’m not certain with exactly what you’re disagreeing or to which post. But the debate would and does still happen with traveling to countries with authoritarian regimes and/or those with substantial human rights abuse issues. Budget travelers endured this debate up until 4-5 years ago when Burma was concerned. Burmese Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi famously didn’t support foreign tourism to Burma because of her belief that it supported the regime–until she changed her mind a few years ago. Not a year or two later, democratic reforms and international recognition followed–as well as the tourist hordes. Was it right or wrong to travel to Burma before? Even a celebrated Burmese leader changed her mind. The answer is there is no absolute right or wrong–it’s dependent on who you are, what your priorities are, and how you feel about various issues.

    Was it wrong for Americans to visit Cuba all these years illegally through Canada or Mexico, in obvious disregard for American law? To me–nope. The law was stupid. But many others believe it was wrong. But that doesn’t make it wrong.

    The same issues frame this discussion/debate. Some who fear being gay and going to an unfriendly or “anti-gay” destination are trying to make the case that it’s wrong for anyone to go there. Others who are not gay but are politically correct and are practicing holier-than-thou attitudes have decided that because other places are not gay friendly, the rest of us should not visit them. Of course, the hypocrisy of anyone saying what is right or wrong for anyone to visit any place is tantamount to arrogance and hubris–which is the same problem in the countries using religion to justify the bad treatment and alienation of gays in the first place.

    Luxury is incidental to this issue. The only people who are bringing up the luxury issue are simply people who are trying to slam Lucky for reasons having NOTHING to do with the actual issues being discussed. That’s always a good hint that those people are envious, bitter, or simply passive-aggressive.

  80. Interesting blog.

    Even more interesting are those people who wish to denigrate you and your lifestyle (your personal choice) rather than discuss the subject matter of the blog.

    Personally my partner and I travel to places we want to see and cultures we want to experience regardless of their laws, airlines, points plans or other frivolous matters. And no we don’t always stay in western hotels, actually try to avoid them as much as possible as the experience becomes very ho-hum, predictable and sanitised.

    So far we have visited nearly 60 countries (including such less enlightened places such as UAE, Malaysia, Namibia, Zambia and Russia).

    The only “off putting” experiences we have had in all our extensive travels over 2 decades travelling as an MM couple and staying in hotels from 2* to 5* were in Singapore and the USA.

    In Singapore, the hotel would not give us the room we were booked into because there was only one bed in it, so we got a free upgrade to another adjacent hotel into a suite with 2 x kingsize beds in it. Not so bad after all LOL.

    In the US at LAX we were rudely and abruptly informed in no uncertain terms by a home land female security guard that we were in no way related besides the fact we have been together 18years, arrived together and travelling together. We were not permitted to queue in the same line for the same immigration officer and had to queue separately in separate queues to be processed by separate officers. So much for the enlightened “wannabe leader of the western world”.

    In the US, the coach driver of the tour bus (hailing from Montana) refused to assist ingress and egress on the stairs to the coach afforded to all other passengers for a period of over two weeks as soon as he learnt of the nature of our relationship.

  81. Nice rationalization, but completely lacking in any sort of intellectual or moral consistency.

    Personally i faced this issue when traveling to some of the worst Communist countries in the 80s. I decided that the personal educational value > the rather puny amounts I spent for lodging and meals. And in those days my budget was $10/nt which meant I often ended up renting a room from one of the locals who met the inbound train, so my money directly benefited a subjugated person rather than the regime itself.

    Frankly I find the continuous glamorization of the state-subsidized airlines from these countries to be disgusting. No doubt it’s quite nice to fly ME airlines in F and to stay in luxurious suites but you completely ignore the oppression of women, LGBT and others, the horrendous treatment of imported workers, etc. not to mention the airlines own personnel. And of course if you carry this religious-based nonsense to its logical conclusion you end up with ISIS pushing people off building roofs, decapitations, etc.

    This would be excusable or even commendable if you used your blogger podium for educational purposes to spread the truth about the oppression that people face on a daily basis, instead of simply narrowing your gaze to describing the lounge food and bonus points.

    Now to be fair I realize that’s not the purpose of your blog, but whitewashing the reality on the ground is a bit hypocritical. Well maybe not if your primary goal is to return year after year.

    Finally I find it odd that everyone is so fixated on visiting Dubai, Maldives, etc. when there are probably 100 more interesting/relaxing/enjoyable places I’d like to visit that are closer/cheaper/less oppressive etc. I can see visiting once just to check it out and cross it off your list, but repeatedly… well I guess that proves YMMV. I’d take the Hotel Hana in Maui any day over the Maldives. I suspect it’s really an ego thing, kind of like paying 3-grand for an LV bag just because you like making the statement that you can and most people can’t…

  82. I’ve given some thought before adding my two cents. As a gay man, I have traveled to six countries where homosexual acts are illegal: Botswana, Namibia and Zambia for wildlife, and Bhutan, Egypt, and Togo for culture. I have traveled to 50 other countries where homosexual acts are not illegal. While I did not break any laws while traveling in the six aforementioned countries, I would be a hypocrite to make a black and white statement against travel to countries that have harsh laws against homosexual activity. In the United States, I avoid travel to states that have resisted advancement of gay rights (e.g. Utah). I also try to avoid to try to traveling to countries where homosexual acts for local residents can result in imprisonment or death, but as I have already stated, hypocritically I don’t rigorously adhere to my self-imposed rules Do I make repeated visits to countries where homosexual acts are illegal? No. Do I think gay rights in the Middle East are advanced by Lucky’s visits to the Middle East, where he does not interact with citizens but instead mainly interacts with non-citizen guest workers? No. Do I encourage Lucky to give up some Middle East luxury and instead shift some of his spending and reporting to countries where gay citizens do not risk imprisonment or death? Yes.

    As an aside, Lucky had an uncomfortably long wait emigrating from Doha in November. When I read his post, it did cross my mind that this emigration delay might have been due to publicly coming out as a gay man earlier in the year. (And I praise and support Lucky for coming out!)

  83. As a young LGBT male beginning to travel alone (and otherwise), this question has definitely plagued me. Even living in London, there are sometimes situations in which I would feel uncomfortably, say, holding hands with someone of the same sex. That said, I would not rule out an entire country based on its laws. There is no need to fight fire with fire. The average person is not represented by these laws and you can’t generalise like that – just look at the US a few years ago. “Sodomy” was illegal in the state of Virginia until a year or two ago, yet I happily spent my childhood there and hold nothing against the state/people. Furthermore I completely agree that the likelihood of anything happening, at least in places like the UAE, Turkey, the Maldives, etc. is very low. Am I somewhat uncomfortable sometimes? Of course. Would I act differently than on a night out in Soho or someplace like Sweden? Of course. That said, I totally agree with you. Thank you for this post and keep enjoying your travels!

  84. Having spent nearly a year on secondment to Dubai and Doha I can say that there is almost an LGBT ‘scene’ in Dubai.

    As a gay man I don’t actually think LGBT rights are the big issue / problem in the region. I think the issue is a more pervasive and deep-seated one. One thing I quickly learned working in the region (including a lot of time ‘on the road’ there venturing out of the CBD) is that the region is imagine OBSESSED and things are rarely as they seem. Perhaps the thing that I found most troubling was workers’ rights. I lived in a very nice apartment with a pool and health club on the roof (I shared a 2 bedroom apartment with another person from my company – the irony being it has to be same sex)! I got quite friendly with the health centre receptionist there and learned that she did 7 days a week, every week. She lived in a shared room. Her pay was a pittance but she was doing it to try to send money back home. Many taxi drivers in Dubai do the same. That’s one thing. But if you look at the construction industry, especially in Qatar, you see a really scary picture. For instance, the conditions in which construction workers work and live reminded me, and I do not exaggerate here, of labour camps. The law has recently changed but there are still instances of employers retaining workers’ passports and if they try to leave short of their notice period they are unable to leave the country. Even with their passport they needed a Certificate of No Objection (a “NOC”). That’s the thing, not being gay, that made me so uncomfortable. I would be sitting in my 5* hotel in Qatar (which by the way served booze in the bar including outside on the terrace during the world cup regardless of the fact that it was Ramadan as Al Baker happened to own the hotel and had special dispensation) eating a caesar salad and enjoying my L’Occitane amenities, whilst I’d be thinking of where the people who built the hotel, the roads, the infrastructure, were living. They don’t have air conditioning. They don’t have their own WC let alone shower. It’s abysmal. QR crews there have curfews (I admit Emirates crew have a generally good lifestyle) and the QR crew I got to know living in Doha often complained of bullying by senior cabin crew – in fact I think Lucky mentioned witnessing this first hand on one of his QR reviews. So actually the LGBT perspective, for me, takes a back seat to all of the other issues.

    Frustratingly, the government can’t just have a tall building – it has to be the WORLD’s tallest building, or the world’s best / most luxurious / award winning / 5 star (to quote Al Baker). But when you scrape away the thin veneer that is plastered on to everything in the region you find, in general, that it is all talk and no substance. Just saying that something is 5 star does not make it so. Placing lots of staff into a room does not make for good service. It always amuses me that people in Europe tend to see Dubai as having seven star hotels which must have impeccable service. Yes, they have a lot of staff. Yes, those staff are doing their absolute best to do a great job. But try asking a Qatar Airways cabin crew member something that is slightly off-script, or asking in a five star hotel whether they can do x, y or z to an item on the menu, and things generally descend pretty quickly into chaos. Whilst hotels in London, Berlin, Paris or Rome may not have the world’s most luxurious carpet or a staff ratio of 1:1 I guarantee that ‘true’ five star service (anticipating needs; knowing when less is more; knowing when to leave somebody alone; listening to what the guest wants and adapting to it) is more likely to be found at the George V in Paris or the Hotel du Rome in Berlin than it is in Al Qasr in Dubai or the Four Seasons in Doha.

    There are plenty of places that have de facto ‘LGBT nights’ in Dubai and plenty of other *interesting* bars (many frequented by Emirates crew – I remember being puzzled when asked for my Emirates ID at the bar as there was a discount for them – Rock Bottom at Bur Dubai – had many great nights there as all there is to do is to drink, eat or shop!) The observation I would make is that economic ‘development’ in the UAE (mainly Dubai) and Qatar (mainly Doha) in terms of the huge boost in tourists, business trips and non-GCC nationals living in the area has far outstripped the de jure / legal developments there. Did you know that it is ILLEGAL to consume alcohol in the emirate of Dubai without an alcohol licence? Even in licensed premises, you technically still need an alcohol licence to consume alcohol. There is no exemption for tourists. But in order to be able to obtain an alcohol licence you need to be a resident and have a residents’ permit (i.e. a visa) which tourists or people going for business trips etc don’t have. My impression is that the way Dubai and to a lesser extent Qatar deal with this is to try to ‘zone’ people – tourists and so on go in one area; they can drink inside the hotel; they can go to clubs which close at 3AM but then they can carry on with an after party if drinks are put through room service and so on. The authorities will ask no questions and you will tell no lies. The *moment* though that you take a step out of line the police will get involved and the offence on the charge sheet will invariably be drinking without a licence. Whether it’s having a car crash with a few bottles of wine purchased in Dubai Duty Free (a free zone) – it’s much easier to prove than dangerous driving which probably isn’t even codified in their civil system. The same applies with LGBT rights, it seems to me. Public displays of affection are offensive in any event in the middle east and it is in my view important to at least make an attempt to ‘respect the culture’ (whatever that means in the middle of Dubai Mall!) but what happens behind closed doors is seen as a private thing. Of course gay people live in Dubai and most of them are fine.

    In summary, if you are ‘an Arab’ you are treated like Royalty (you probably are); if you are a middle class European or American then you will be treated very well; if you are from the Indian subcontinent you are the lowest of the low.

    And PS did you know that their laws don’t even cater for the notion of lesbians?

    I would still go to Dubai on holiday and I do still fly QR (even though I feel morally awful about giving them my money) but I wouldn’t want to live in the region because I must say I find the attitudes that I have explained above to be completely devoid of any morals. The true unifying religion of the region is capitalism, not Islam.

  85. @iamorgan thank you for an interesting and thoughtful comment. I have relatives who live in the region and everything that you say rings very true.

  86. @Deez N.
    While traveling sexual orientation should be a consideration for the safety of persons involved

  87. @iamorgan – good synopsis. I recently lived in Abu Dhabi and loved it, but had the same reservations you did. I was friends with a good number of EY crew and they are treated much better than QR crew.
    BTW – there most certainly is a “scene” as you mention in Dubai.. and DEFINITELY so in AUH.

  88. There’s a difference between the law dictating that homosexuality is illegal vs where the act of homosexuality is actively suppressed; i.e. Singapore vs Zimbabwe…

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