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Blog 5 February, 2021 Back

LGBTQ Traveller Safety & Wellbeing

Becky Malcolm

This month is LGBTQ history month and an opportunity to look at the safety and wellbeing of this community. Today’s LGBTQ workforce has undergone a fundamental, generational shift, both in how it defines itself and what it expects of workplace inclusion. This also applies to business travel safety expectations.

In a survey by SAP Concur and Wakefield Research, it was revealed that 95% of LGBTQ travellers hide their sexual orientation while on a business trip for safety reasons, and a staggering 85% have changed their accommodation because they feel unsafe.

Yet LGBTQ adults generally take 2.1 business trips per year on average, compared to 1.2 trips by non-LGBTQ adults*

Attitudes towards LGBTQ travellers around the world can be very different from those in your home country. Some will advise LGBTQ travellers to avoid destinations where “consensual same-sex sexual activity, public gathering, or dissemination of pro-LGBTQ material may be illegal,” not only for safety reasons, but also as a means of economic boycott.

However, not all LGBTQ travellers have the privilege of boycotting when they have to travel for business or to see family in areas that are not friendly to LGBTQ communities. And, some members of the LGBTQ community still choose to visit these destinations despite the legal challenges.

We believe that if you know the laws, policies and attitudes of your travel destination before you travel, you’re unlikely to experience problems.

While many companies have safety protocol covered in their travel policies and risk management plans, it’s important to cover safety specific to LGBTQ requirements then decide how this level of information is communicated to employees.

Coming out - and being out - matters, but it has both positive and negative impacts.

In research conducted by McKinsey and Company, one interviewee described being out as key to forming relationships: “My successful professional relationships are underpinned by really getting to know the people I’m working with. When that’s happening, I want to be open about my identity. Otherwise, it’s hard to deeply relate to people and instil in clients a sense of confidence.” Feeling unable to come out, another interviewee explains, “contributes to lower workplace productivity, because it is stressful and debilitating.” Nearly half of LGBTQ respondents reported that they repeatedly have to come out at work, in some cases at least once a week.

The experience appears widespread: a lesbian partner at an international law firm reflected, “It makes life difficult because you’re coming out all the time. We all get those questions from clients, like, “What does your husband do?" Having to come out repeatedly can take a toll. The effort can be “psychologically draining.”

Coming out is not the only challenge LGBTQ people still face in the workplace, many believe they have to outperform non-LGBTQ colleagues to gain recognition. LGBTQ people are underrepresented in corporate environments, and many report being an “only” in their organisation or on their team - the only lesbian or the only trans person, for example. Being an “only” can fuel anxiety and isolation.

Company policies can also make life harder for LGBTQ employees, fewer than two-thirds of Fortune 500 companies offer trans-inclusive healthcare cover or benefits for domestic partners.

There are steps employers can take to make the workplace more comfortable for LGBTQ employees and the first is to understand their challenges.

Transcending any one identity, in the SAP Concur survey 33% of respondents felt safety was a major concern when travelling for business, and many felt their companies did not make safety when travelling a priority.

The Williams Institute Global Acceptance Index report showed an increase in polarisation over the past 10 years. The most accepting countries - Iceland, The Netherlands, Norway, Canada, and Spain - have become more accepting; and the least accepting countries - Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Senegal, Tajikistan, and Somaliland - have become even less accepting. The ILGA Sexual Orientation Laws World Map illustrates the current global position with regards to the laws applicable to the LGBTQ community.

When LGBTQ people travel, they can face overt discrimination, danger, and legal jeopardy. More than one-third of UN member states - including half of Asian members and nearly 60 percent of African members - criminalise same-sex sexual acts. In some cases, the penalty is life in prison or death. In certain countries, simply being transgender is illegal.

Researching the countries you are travelling to is vital when planning a trip. The UK FCO government website provides helpful information for the LGBTQ community here. Knowing how to pack, understanding airport security rules and preparing documentation will minimise difficulties at border controls.

*Data from the Harris Poll May 2020