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Cornell Abroad recognizes that LGBTQ students may encounter cultural and legal situations abroad that may require additional awareness and adjustments. We are committed to informing our students on the risks that accompany going abroad and provide this page as a first step in the conversation about their safety. As always, the Cornell Abroad Advising Team and Coordinator of Travel Safety are here to support all students at Cornell and are available to meet to discuss this and any other issues. This resource page provides information, suggestions and links concerning a variety of topics listed below.

LGBTQ Laws and Rights Around the World

LGBT civil rights vary drastically from country or region. As of December 2016, same-sex marriage is legally recognized (nationwide or in some parts) in the following countries: Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, France, Iceland, Ireland, Luxembourg, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uruguay. Several other countries or territories recognize some form of same-sex partnerships, such as civil unions. Alternately, nine countries implement the death penalty for homosexual acts. Other countries have also criminalized homosexuality with varying degrees of monetary fines a short- to long-term imprisonment. Legislation in these countries often targets sexual practices under sodomy laws or age of consent. For a comprehensive list of LGBT laws by country or region, refer to the map on the Wikipedia page linked below.

Often, regional and cultural attitudes influence legislation regarding LGBT rights. Islamic Sharia law, for instance, views homosexuality as a grave sin punishable by death. Sometimes, countries within the territorial jurisdiction of a former colonial power uphold the legislation of the mother country despite any geographical distance. For example, the Caribbean island of Curaçao, and the African island of Réunion, maintain the guaranteed LGBT rights passed in the Netherlands and in France respectively.

One important thing to know as a study abroad student is that you will be viewed primarily in light of your nationality before your sexual orientation.

For a comprehensive list of LGBT laws by country or region, please click the following link or go to the website:

LGBTQ Visibility Abroad and Behavior

Depending on the LGBTQ visibility within your host culture, you may have to make some adjustments or be more aware of
the way you behave. Questions to consider might include:

  • Who can be trusted? (in some places the police can’t)

  • What are the norms governing dress and behavior? (are assumptions made about the morals of women who are out alone after certain hours)

  • What is street-smart behavior? (how to act if you’re alone? in a group? in a group that includes only men or women?)

  • Should you come out? To whom, when?

  • What documentation should be carried at all times versus stored in a safe place? (visa, passport, etc)

  • What risks are associated with alcohol and drug use? (use caution and common sense, drug laws in some countries can be much more strict than in the US)

Public displays of affection can also vary in pervasiveness and in meaning depending on where you go. For instance, in
China as in a number of other places, same sex affection like holding hands does not automatically imply LGBTQ, but rather
close friendship. Observe and learn from peers and host families what forms of behavior are socially acceptable in your host

CIEE’s definition of gender identity is “a person’s sense of being masculine, feminine, in-between or androgynous- a sense
that is independent from biological sex and usually manifests itself by the age of three or four.” Be aware that depending on
the region you are in, traditional gender roles and perceptions may be entrenched within the local culture. Short hair on
women, for instance, may be construed differently in the social sphere abroad. Some cultures have certain standards for
women that may challenge your values. You may even experience some harassment, either verbal or physical, for your
outward appearance if it does not conform to the local cultural notions of gender identity. Remember that your program will
provide assistance if you are ever in trouble and to contact your program director, should you experience any form of harassment.

LGBTQ Health and Safety Abroad
Whether at home or abroad, practice safe and responsible sexual behavior in order to protect yourself from sexually transmitted
diseases or unintended pregnancies by carrying condoms or other items for sexual contraception as a precaution. If you are a
woman, consider packing feminine hygiene products if they may not be readily available in the country of your abroad destination.
Cases of HIV/AIDS are higher in some parts of the world, making sexual responsibility a top priority in your decision-making.

Related Websites

NAFSA: Association of International Educators Rainbow Special Interest Group:

International lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex association:

Indiana University's Office of Overseas Study:

Related Articles

We provide updated a list of articles, tips, etc. in this section. If you come across any articles please do forward them to us.

LGBT Travel Information : Department of State 

LGBTQ in Africa : OSAC Report

Gay Travel Advice : USA Today

In Case of an Emergency

Dealing with harassment or other issues for any traveler can be a traumatic and harrowing experience. Your first
steps of support will be the program trip leaders or institutional support in country. Cornell Abroad and your Cornell
community can provide additional support in whatever capacity is called for, including your academic concerns.

Most importantly you want to reach out to Cornell Police as they will be able to begin an emergency 607-255-1111.
They will be able to set up an emergency response and coordinate with the Director of Risk Management and the
travel safety coordinator. 

Special thanks to Corinna Lewis for providing the bulk of information on this page.

GSA Partner

Cornell Abroad 300 Caldwell Hall Ithaca, NY 14853 p: 607.255.6224 f: 607.255.8700

In an EMERGENCY for a student abroad, call the Cornell Police: 607.255.1111
Last modified 12/20/2016