It is important for members of the LGBTQI community to be aware of their rights and to know how to stay safe and feel welcome across different locations in Europe. With this guide we will try to provide helpful and practical advice for LGBTQI travellers. Topics include information about anti-discrimination laws, tips for staying safe and secure, how to find LGBTQI-friendly accommodation establishments, and how to deal with discrimination and harassment. The aim here is to empower LGBTQI travellers with the information they need to have an enjoyable and memorable experience while travelling in Europe.
Finding accommodation that is LGBTQI-friendly in Europe
After selecting a European travel destination, travellers need to locate a comfortable place to stay. Matt Jost established Misterb&b after an unpleasant experience with a homeowner on Airbnb who became hostile when he found out Jost and his companion were a LGBTQI couple. To avoid similar incidents, it's recommended to choose hotels that have demonstrated support for the LGBTQI community, such as Hyatt, Kimpton, Hilton, and Marriott. You can also check a hotel's score on the Corporate Equality Index released and updated annually by the Human Rights Campaign. This evaluates how well a company treats its LGBTQI employees. A positive score is an indication that the hotel is likely to provide a welcoming experience for customers.
Before booking, it's advisable to call the hotel and gauge their response when asked about celebrating a same-sex anniversary. Additionally, it's essential to consider local cultural standards and norms of expressing one's gender when choosing a location. Misterb&b, like Airbnb, offers options for entire homes, rooms, or apartments, with the added assurance that the owners or hosts are part of the LGBTQI community. The firm also maintains a list of LGBTQI-friendly hotels.
Staying safe in Europe
If you find yourself in a situation where you do not feel safe or welcome, or it looks like the hotel staff are treating you in a manner and it causes you to feel uncomfortable, trust your instincts. If they can't give you separate beds, consider moving to a different place.
If there is something you wish to complain about but you do not feel comfortable doing so, consider waiting until after you have checked out. Rather avoiding a confrontation is always the safer option.
Try to ignore people taunting you. Rather remove yourself from the situation and put some distance between yourselves and the group or person who is harassing you. When that is impossible, use your smartphone to call the police or if things get out of hand, shout for help. If the situation is not that urgent, try to snap a picture or record a video - this could help should there in future be an investigation into the incident.
Overview of the LGBTQI situation in Europe
In Europe, many countries have passed anti-discrimination legislation to protect LGBTQI individuals in the workplace, housing, and public spaces. There are also laws that recognize same-sex relationships and marriage, as well as protections for transgender individuals to change their legal gender and access healthcare services.
However, the exact protections and rights available to LGBTQI individuals vary from one country to the next and it is vital for LGBTQI travellers to research each destination before the time to make sure they understand the local laws and cultural attitudes.
Attitudes towards LGBTQI across Europe
Europe is home to a variety of LGBTQI rights, varying from country to country. Out of the 33 nations that have legalized same-sex marriage worldwide, 19 are located in Europe. In addition, 11 European countries have legalized civil unions or more limited types of recognition for couples of the same sex.
Some European countries do not recognize any type of union between same-sex couples. The constitutions of Bulgaria, Belarus, Georgia, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, Moldova, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Montenegro, Serbia, Russia, and Ukraine define marriage as a union between a woman and a man only. Of these countries, Croatia, Latvia, Hungary, and Montenegro recognize same-sex partnerships. The constitutions of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Kazakhstan, North Macedonia, Vatican City, and Turkey do not recognize same-sex marriage, but it is not explicitly banned. Eastern Europe is considered to have fewer legal rights, less support from the public and inferior living conditions for the LGBTQI community compared to Western Europe.
In every European country where LGBTQI marriages are allowed, same-sex couples can also adopt children. Among countries with civil unions, only in Andorra joint adoption is allowed, and around 50% allow step-parent adoption.
In a 2011 a declaration by the General Assembly of the United Nations for LGBTQI rights, states were given the opportunity to show their support, opposition, or abstention on the matter. The majority of European countries expressed support, with only Kazakhstan expressing opposition. Azerbaijan, Belarus, Russia, and Turkey abstained from expressing a stance.
According to ILGA-Europe, the 3 European nations that are the furthest ahead as far as LGBTQI equality is concerned are Malta, Belgium, and Luxembourg. Western Europe as such is, however, still widely viewed as a particularly progressive part of the planet for LGBTQI individuals to live in.
LGBTQI rankings in a subset of EU countries
Below are the top 10 European countries according to the Rainbow Europe Country Ranking, based on how the laws and policies of the country impact the lives of LGBTQI people. Below the list are also brief descriptions of LGBTQI status across various EU countries. Rainbow Europe was created by ILGA-Europe, the European Region of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans & Intersex Association.
The rights of individuals who identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender (LGBTQI) in Romania have undergone significant changes over the past two decades. Homosexuality has been decriminalized, anti-discrimination laws have been enacted, and equal age of consent laws have been established, along with laws aimed at preventing homophobic hate crimes. Despite these advances, conservative attitudes towards LGBTQI rights persist in the country. In recent years, however, the visibility of LGBTQI communities has increased due to events like the Gay Film Nights festival of Cluj-Napoca and Bucharest's regular yearly pride parade.
In 2006, Romania was recognized for its progress in combatting rights abuses based on gender identity or sexual orientation by Human Rights Watch. However, in 2020, the study of gender identity in the country's education system was banned, but later overturned by Romania's Constitutional Court. In 2022, a bill was passed by the Romanian Senate prohibiting "gay propaganda" in schools and the discussion of gender identity and homosexuality in public spaces. Although Romanian Human Rights Commission approved the legislation, it still needs to be approved by the Chamber of Deputies, Parliament's lower house. This bill sparked a demonstration by over 15,000 individuals in Bucharest, fighting for equal rights for sexual and gender minorities. In the same year, Romania was ranked second last among the 27 EU countries for protecting LGBTQI rights by the advocacy group ILGA-Europe, behind every other EU country except Poland.
In December 2020, the Hungarian parliament declared adoption illegal for same-sex couples in its constitution, and in June 2021, it approved legislation banning the display of any content promoting or depicting homosexuality or sex reassignment to minors, similar to Russia's "anti-gay propaganda" law. The law was condemned by thirteen member states of the EU who called it a violation of the European Union's Charter of Fundamental Rights.
Portugal has made great strides in improving LGBTQI rights over the past two decades and is now considered among the most progressive on earth. After years of oppression, the country has become more accepting of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Portugal has strong anti-discrimination laws. Discrimination based on someone's sexual orientation is, for example, banned in the Constitution. In 2010 it also became the eighth country to recognize same-sex marriages. The country has advanced gender identity laws to simplify the procedures involved with name and sex changes for transgender individuals, and has allows same-sex couples to adopt children since 2016.
The Portuguese society, though still influenced by Catholicism, has become much more tolerant toward the LGBTQI community. A 2019 survey revealed that around 74% of the population has no problem with same-sex marriage and nearly 80% believe that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals should have the same rights as their heterosexual counterparts. Lisbon as well as Porto have large LGBTQI communities, with many gay nightclubs, bars, and regular pride parades.
France is considered to be among the most progressive globally with LGBTQI rights. Although during the Ancien regime, same-sex activities were considered a capital crime, with the death penalty being a common punishment, the sodomy laws were abolished during the French Revolution in 1791. An exposure law that was often used to target LGBTQI individuals was, however, implemented in 1960 but was eventually revoked in 1980.
The age of consent for sexual activities between individuals of the same sex underwent several changes before being made equal for everyone in 1982 under President Mitterrand. France was the 13th country to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013, after offering domestic partnership benefits, called the civil solidarity pact, to same-sex couples in 1999. Laws against discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation were introduced in 2012 and 1985, respectively. France was also the first country to reclassify gender dysphoria as a medical illness in 2010. Since 2017, transgender individuals in France are allowed to alter their legal gender without the need for surgery or a medical diagnosis.
France is widely considered as a gay-friendly country and recent polls indicate that a majority of French people support same-sex marriages. In a survey conducted in 2013, 77% of French people said they believed that society should accept homosexuality, one of the largest percentages among the 39 countries polled. Paris, in particular, is recognized as a gay-friendly city, with areas such as Quartier Bois de Boulogne, Pigalle, and Le Marais being known for their thriving LGBTQI communities and nightlife.
European travel essentials - passports, travel insurance and travel authorisations
Planning for a trip can be daunting and time-consuming, but in order to ensure that your vacation goes off without a hitch, make sure you have all the essential documents needed. This includes your passport, however it's just as important to obtain or renew your travel insurance before departure. Since travel insurance policies varying greatly in coverage, shop around to find a plan that best fits your needs for European travel. It is also advisable to make digital copies of all documents as extra assurance if anything gets lost during the journey.
Starting in 2024, travel requirements for entry into Europe are changing. ETIAS, a new travel authorisation for visitors arriving visa-free into Europe, will be launched. Travellers requiring a Schengen Visa are unaffected by the ETIAS launch. You can learn more about ETIAS by visiting the FAQ.
Take the basic yet essential steps of sorting out your travel authorisation (ETIAS or Schengen Visa) and travel insurance before you travel, as they may just be the difference between an unforgettable experience and a travel nightmare.
Everyone is entitled to a safe, fun and rewarding European travel experience. Before you select your travel routes, do your research in advance and bear in mind potential precautions. Make sure you know the laws and customs of the countries you'll be visiting, and avoid countries or regions where you would potentially feel unsafe or unwelcome. Lastly, don't forget to have all the necessary documents, like your passport, travel insurance policy as well as an approved ETIAS or Schengen Visa, at least a few days in advance of your departure.