Half of LGBTQ+ travellers have experienced discrimination while travelling, according to a recent study by Business Travel Show Europe (BTSA). Being at the receiving end of discrimination has a significant impact on anyone’s travel experience, but if you are travelling for business, it can hinder productivity, affect your mental health, and even jeopardise your safety, explains Bonnie Smith, GM Corporate Traveller.
While many countries have come a long way in accepting LGBTQ+ individuals, there are still quite a number of places in the world where openly coming out as queer can be very dangerous. Even within countries or cities considered more tolerant, the level of cultural acceptance varies greatly.
As an organisation, Smith explains that part of your duty of care is to prepare employees for ‘foreseeable safety risks’ when travelling. This includes preparing travellers for specific risks they may face while travelling as LGBTQ+ individuals. It also shows goodwill – that the company is aware of these issues and taking steps to address them.
However, the same BTSA study found that a staggering 66% of travel programmes do not address the needs of LGBTQ+ travellers. Why? One factor is that companies cannot ask about their employees’ sexual orientation or gender identity, and their employees may not want to volunteer this information.
For this reason, it is essential to proactively develop strong diversity and inclusion policies, including for travel, so that all employees feel comfortable and safe, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As one HR employee said: “The importance of DEI is more of a mindset than a process, and it should be included in everything a company does and across every department from the top down.”
“A travel policy will already include a duty of care that contain a number of common-sense points for dealing with certain risks. However, risk assessments should proactively cover the specific concerns of LGBTQ+ travellers so that you can take safety measures or the traveller can decide if they still want to visit a destination where they may face discrimination,” says Smith.
Smith points out the following risks and challenges for LGBTQ business travellers:
Uncomfortable situations at security checkpoints
The transgender community often faces discrimination when travelling. Some countries refuse entry to people whose documented gender does not match their appearance and they may be searched and questioned. This can be a very stressful and humiliating experience. A travel policy that educates travellers about their rights could help reduce this risk. For example, transgender individuals may have the right to request a private search with a witness of their choice.
Being “out” is against the law
In more than 70 countries around the world, it is illegal to be gay. Therefore, companies need to educate and counsel their employees before travelling on what to expect and what to do in case of emergencies. It is essential to be aware of local customs and traditions too. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, and you could run afoul of the authorities if you inadvertently violate it.
Violence and discrimination
If you are LGBTQ+, you may be the target of hate crimes and discrimination when travelling to conservative countries. You could be verbally or physically assaulted, and the authorities may do nothing to help you if you report the crime. Worse, you could even be arrested. Country-specific travel advisories can note where these risks exist.
Inclusive healthcare can be hard to access
In some places, LGBT-inclusive healthcare may not be available. This must be considered when making decisions about travel abroad. Organisations can work with LGBTQ+ travellers to prepare them for different levels of care by creating an action plan in case their needs cannot be met. For example, health insurance can be purchased to cover emergencies so that they can be flown home or to a third country for treatment if needed.
“It is important to provide honest, unbiased travel advice that is consistent for all travellers and that takes into account and accommodates diversity so that everyone’s needs are met. By ensuring that all employees receive the same risk assessments before travel, they can access the knowledge they need to travel safely for business, regardless of their personal risk profile. Also, exclude those vendors from your travel programmes that do not reflect your DE &I values or policies,” Smith concludes.