Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex or aseaxual (LGBTQIA+) travellers can face unique challenges when travelling abroad. That’s why, Rosie Maddren, Lucy Okell, Beth Cracknell-Daniels, Joseph Hicks and Christina Aitchison from the School of Public Health set up the LGBTQIA+ International Support Group at Imperial to help improve the overall experience of going abroad for LGBTQIA+ staff and student travellers.
“So are you married?”
I freeze. How do I respond? It seems like a simple enough question, but I’m gay (and so is my spouse). The question is being asked by a taxi driver in a country where not only is same-sex marriage illegal, but so is homosexuality in general. And it’s not just something imposed by the government. A recent poll suggested that 90% of this country’s citizens have a negative view of LGBTQ people. So how do I respond? How would you?
Travelling abroad for work is a rewarding opportunity that can come with challenges for any student or staff member. For those identifying as part of the LGBTQIA+ community, such travel can be associated with further complications. Legal restrictions and societal norms of some countries may make LGBTQIA+ staff and students feel anxious, unwelcome or unsafe. Unfortunately, in certain environments being your true self can directly impact your safety. On the other hand, presenting a censored version of yourself may negatively impact your mental health and wellbeing. There is no single correct way to navigate such situations, and there is limited guidance on this topic provided not only by Imperial, but wider networks across the globe. Last year, a group of us started working together to help build support for LGBTQIA+ staff and student travellers at Imperial.
Forming the group
Our motivation for this cause began following Christina Atchison’s research on travelling as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community at Imperial. Christina’s novel research funded by the Imperial EDI Seed Fund chiefly highlighted that despite 92% of respondents considering work-related travel important for career progression, 38% of Imperial staff had, at some point, chosen not to do overseas work-related travel or fieldwork because they felt it might be unsafe or dangerous based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. A further 35% experienced/felt discriminated against and 61% felt uncomfortable, unsafe or in danger when travelling. Christina’s results resonated with some of us in the Department of Infectious Disease, so we decided to form the LGBTQIA+ International Support Group.
Following Christina’s work, our group has collected resources, advice and stories from travelling LGBTQIA+ staff members and students and is finalising a series of webpages hosted by Imperial. These resources are not exhaustive or a definitive travel manual, but we hope it will help reduce anxiety around travelling, improve the overall experience of going abroad, and foster conversations around travelling for both the LGBTQIA+ community and allies, across departments and hierarchical levels. Our group is working with the Imperial Safety Directorate to consult on the inclusion of LGBTQIA+ awareness within the Imperial travel workflow. We are fostering connections with the Imperial600 (LGBTQIA+ staff network) and IQ (LGBTQIA+ student network) communities and have connected with other institutions globally to create similar resources.
Setting the standard for other institutions
The LGBTQIA+ International Support Group recognises the extra challenges faced by the community when travelling, and as such aims to improve the wellbeing of the Imperial LGBTQIA+ community, increase awareness for Imperial allies, and start the conversation around safe travel for all Imperial colleagues regardless of gender and sexual identity. We hope the conversations will make a safer environment for all colleagues, setting the standard for other academic institutions to follow.
If this resonates with anyone who would like to join the conversation with the LGBTQIA+ International Support Group, please get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org