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Six LGBTQ+ destinations around the world

By?Stephen Emms,?
Alamy Melbourne, Australia (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
(Credit: Alamy)

Beyond famous hotspots like Brighton and Berlin, these are some of the most accepting places for LGBTQ+ travellers to visit.

Even though it's Pride season, it can still be a potentially nerve-racking time for LGBTQ+ travellers. While LGBTQ+ rights and visibility have increased greatly in the last decade, so have some increasingly intimidating threats, as the community continues to battle international customs, legality and cultural norms.

Case in point: in May, the US State Department issued a worldwide travel warning about the "increased potential for foreign terrorist organisation-inspired violence against LGBTQI+ persons and events." It recommends staying alert in locations "frequented by tourists, including Pride celebrations and venues frequented by LGBTQI+ persons."

Matthieu Jost, CEO of LGBTQ+ accommodation app misterb&b, which has 1.3 million registered users, advises queer tourists to "travel and stay like a local, particularly in areas you're not sure about, and get advice from LGBTQ+ residents before you even step foot in a new travel destination." Even in less LGBTQ+-friendly places, Jost maintains that "LGBTQ+ travellers often aren't as deterred to visit as you would expect, and that's likely due to local gay hosts as well as allies within the community itself." ?

Due vigilance aside, there are still hundreds of queer-friendly destinations around the world, from Berlin to Mykonos and Amsterdam to Madrid. But for every Brighton and San Francisco that are famous for their inclusive culture, there many other queer-friendly destinations you may not think of, such as Torremolinos, Spain and Malta.

This list of six LGBTQ+-friendly destinations is based on several sources, including the ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index, which ranks European countries on LGBTQ+ equality; its parent site, ILGA, which compiles global rankings; and Asher Fergusson's 2023 report on LGBTQ+ travel, which involved 400 hours of research and examines many factors related to LGBTQ+ safety – from protections against discrimination to same-sex marriage – in more than 200 countries.

"It was important for us to cover this topic because it so greatly affects so many travellers," said Lyric Fergusson, who runs the travel safety site with her partner, Asher. "Unfortunately,?the harsh reality is that the majority of the?world is still far from safe for LGBTQ+ people. But because laws are always being revised, it's our mission to update this list at least once a year."

Here are six LGBTQ+-friendly destinations on five continents proving that despite recent warnings, much of the world remains an open, welcoming place.

Alamy The Village is Montreal's main gay neighbourhood (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
The Village is Montreal's main gay neighbourhood (Credit: Alamy)

Montreal

Standing proudly at #1 on the Asher Fergusson list is Canada, which decriminalised homosexual acts back in 1969 and same-sex marriage in 2005. While its largest city, Toronto, hosts one the world's largest Pride celebrations (running through 30 June 2024), Montreal's queer scene is pioneering: back in 1918, this was where the first-known queer magazine in North America was published, Les Mouches Fantastiques.

The epicentre of the city's LGBTQ+ scene, The Village, in Ville-Marie, is the province of Quebec's largest gay neighbourhood. Its main drag, Saint Catherine Street East, is home to a buzzy strip of bars like Le Stud, Aigle Noir and Complexe Sky. Non-binary, queer women and trans?visitors should also check out parties such as?Elle Lui?and?Sweet Like Honey.

"The queer community is well-mixed between?anglophones and francophones, so I guess some kind of richness comes with having most of our events bilingual," said Theo Tessier from the Montreal LGBTQ+ Community Centre, established in 1988, whose library, she explained, holds "more than 20,000 books, essays, documentaries and films." Meanwhile Montreal's Gay Archives, which is open to the public, contain thousands of books, zines, posters and periodicals.

Alamy Thailand is the only South-East Asian country to recognise same-sex unions (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
Thailand is the only South-East Asian country to recognise same-sex unions (Credit: Alamy)

Bangkok

Thailand legalised same-sex activity back in 1956 and has laws that ban discrimination over gender identity and sexual orientation. What's more, the same-sex marriage bill was just passed last week, making Thailand the only South-East Asian country to recognise same-sex unions. However, since same-sex marriages still weren't legal in 2023, the Asher Fergusson report placed it at #62 on its most recent list.

"And yet, Bangkok is truly one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly destinations in the world" for travellers, said Blue Satittammanoon, founder of White Party Bangkok, an annual event attracting 32,000 attendees from 93 countries. "It's not only the largest gay dance festival in Asia," he said, "but also the biggest gay New Year's Eve in the world."

For those visiting, Satittammanoon recommended neighbourhoods like Silom, home to venues such as "DJ Station, G Bangkok and The Stranger Bar, plus new clubs like Beef and Rush". As Satittammanoon said, the key to Bangkok being a "haven for LGBTQ travellers [is] Thailand's [increasingly] progressive stance on LGBTQ rights, coupled with the warm hospitality that is so deeply ingrained in Thai culture."

Alamy The main hub of Brussels' LGBTQ+ scene is around Rue De Marche au Charbon (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
The main hub of Brussels' LGBTQ+ scene is around Rue De Marche au Charbon (Credit: Alamy)

Brussels

Belgium came in at third place on the?ILGA-Europe Rainbow Index (after Malta at #1, and Iceland at #2), and #9 on the Asher Fergusson list. Astonishingly, same-sex activity was legalised here in 1795, and it was the second country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage back in 2003, after the Netherlands.

While Brussels is sometimes regarded as a little buttoned-up, locals say its LGBTQ+ scene is second to none. The main hub of its queer scene is located on curving thoroughfare Rue De Marche au Charbon and its surrounding streets. Popular bars include historic spot Le Belgica, trading since the 1980s; Station BXL; and quirky bar Homo Erectus, home to drag artist Paula Roid.

"We're far ahead in terms of LGBTQ+ rights, whether it concerns queer parenthood or trans-identity," Roid said. "Our queer artistic scene includes Kitsch and Cheap at The Agenda, a must-see non-binary bar, and Playback, which opens the doors of so-called straight places in order to raise awareness of our community."

Alamy Puerto Vallarta has been an LGBTQ+ destination for more than 60 years (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
Puerto Vallarta has been an LGBTQ+ destination for more than 60 years (Credit: Alamy)

Puerto Vallarta

Few people realise that same-sex relations were legalised in Mexico back in 1871. And even though Mexico City legalised same-sex marriages back in 2010, and the country's final state legalised same-sex unions in 2022, the country makes only #42 in Asher Fergusson's travel safety report due to issues around adoption and hate crimes.

However, for more than 60 years, the Pacific coast resort town of Puerto Vallarta in the state of Jalisco has been an LGBTQ+ destination. In fact, by some estimates, roughly one-third of all tourists to the so-called "San Francisco of Mexico" are members of the LGBTQ+ community.

As Omar Eduardo Rivera Aguayo of the Mexican LGBTQ+ rights organisation Yaaj said: "In a country with one of the highest rates of hate crimes against the sexual diversity population, Puerto Vallarta stands out in an act of rebellion and acceptance as one of the most LGBTQ+-friendly destinations in the world." Aguayo recommends the "iconic" cobblestoned gay-bourhood called the Romantic Zone, adding there are "more than 40 bars and hotels exclusive to our diverse community," including long-running Palm Cabaret, which has hosted tribute shows to queer icons.

Alamy Melbourne's Victorian Pride Cetnre is Australia's first purpose-built LGBTQ+ space (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
Melbourne's Victorian Pride Cetnre is Australia's first purpose-built LGBTQ+ space (Credit: Alamy)

Melbourne

A respectable #21 on the Asher Fergusson report, Australia's newly crowned largest city is home to the country's first-ever purpose-built LGBTQ+ space, Victorian Pride Centre, which opened in 2021 (and houses the queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas).

The state of Victoria is regarded as the country's most progressive, with Melbourne home to one of Australia's first queer political organisations, Daughters of Bilitis (Australia), formed in 1970. Key annual events include the Midsumma Festival and Melbourne Queer Film Festival (founded in 1991). Areas like Windsor, Fitzroy and St Kilda are all LGBTQ+ hubs, the latter home to the Prince Public Bar, a queer haunt since 1937. An essential newer opening is Beans Bar.

"I?like to think Melbourne is so queer-friendly due to how multicultural?we are and our diverse backgrounds," said owner Beca Pressing. "This has helped us form a community that is accepting. We're not the first lesbian bar, but we are the first?lesbian, trans, non-binary and neurodivergent bar: our aim is to create a safe and inclusive space for those who are most disadvantaged in the community."

Alamy Sao Paulo's Pride festival is known as the world's largest (Credit: Alamy)Alamy
Sao Paulo's Pride festival is known as the world's largest (Credit: Alamy)

Sao Paulo

Brazil is listed at #33 on the Asher Ferguson report, due to "the recent increase in violence towards the LGBTQ+ (especially trans community)." Despite this, same-sex couples have enjoyed equal rights since 2013, while in 2019, laws were passed banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In 2023, Booking.com placed Sao Paulo at #1 on its list of LGBTQ+-friendly destinations in Brazil, while also naming it as one of the world's Top LGBTQ+ Friendly Destinations for 2024. Sao Paulo's Pride festival (which started in 1997) is known as the largest in the world.

Queer-friendly neighbourhoods include the bohemian Vila Madalena and upscale Jardins. An important LGBTQ+ thoroughfare is Frei Caneca Street, with dozens of shops and bars, while lesbian and queer female-friendly Espeto Bambu is in the artsy Pinheiros neighbourhood. And after a year-and-a-half closure, the Museum of Sexual Diversity, the first of its kind in Latin America, recently reopened.

"This physical expansion reflects the expansion of horizons that we aim for," explained director Carlos Gradim. "It's the first step in a series of cultural and educational activities, creating important connections and dialogues for society: a sublime moment for us."

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