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  • Writer's pictureWenjie Cai

Heteronormativity preventing LGBT tourists from partaking in holidays

Our latest study published in the Journal of Travel Research reveals interpersonal, interpersonal and structural constraints of LGBT travellers.

Many LGBT tourists have feelings of stress, discomfort, anxiety, and worry, related mostly to how their sexuality would be perceived while travelling. A lot of these negative emotions were appearance-related, in particular, associated with the fact that they might appear as “strange” or “not normal” when travelling.

"I worry when going through airports, as a trans woman. You get stopped a lot, and they want to search your body. It is embarrassing to be searched in front of everyone, but if you ask for a private room, they think you are hiding something. I also worry about being ‘clockable’ and about who sits next to me on a plane. I don’t know whether it would be a problem for them to sit next to a transgender woman'

Transgender tourists, in particular, are concerned about their potential hate crime when they are on holidays. Going through airport security and immigration, wearing makeup, and going to the toilets, these regular activities are considered extremely stressful for transgender tourists.

For homosexual participants, they have to ‘negotiate’ their sexualities (pretend to be straight) in many destinations, and ‘surrender’ to heteronormative values. For same-sex couples, they cannot show affections in public and have to pretend to be friends. Such behaviour is often a cause for anxiety and fear. Many of them end up deciding not to travel at all.

"I tend to avoid certain kinds of straight men that seem aggressive, I can’t explain it, but you just get a feeling that you should be careful about your behaviour when they’re around"

Our participants also shared their unpleasant experiences in the heteronormative holiday space. Many are about physical and verbal discrimination and harassment by locals, other tourists and occasionally, local authorise. Our participants feel particularly threatened by single, heterosexual men, particularly in groups, loud and drunk. These perceptions toward straight men and their view on heteronormativity while travelling are largely determined by past negative interpersonal experiences and reflections.

"Once I was with a girl, and a straight man approached us. He tried to touch us, and we told him to go away. So, he started shouting ‘disgusting lesbians"

Our lesbian participants reported several cases of sexual harassment from straight men when on holidays. Many instances of the harassment turn into insults of their sexualities, and some results in crimes. Lack of confidence in local authorities, such as the police in unfamiliar cultural contexts, results in many crime cases being unreported.

LGBT tourists have much fewer options in terms of destination choices. They tend to stick with a safer and limited options and avoid regions such as Middle East and Russia.

Participants mentioned that they tend to avoid holiday family space, which predominated by heterosexual parents with young children. Our research reveals these parents judgemental and heteronormative gaze make LGBT tourists comfortable.

Apart from modifying their behaviours in the heteronormative holiday space, many LGBT travellers look for ‘gay-friendly haven in the destination as a coping mechanism. However, some participants are still concerned, as many of these places are targeted by local police. In this case, the place where the LGBT community can express themselves is also constrained and harassed due to local laws.


Measures should be taken to protect LGBT tourists’ mental and physical health from major risk factors. We need to constantly question the heteronormative behaviour, perceptions, and values and co-create a more inclusive, welcoming, and stress-free host community for LGBT travellers.

We urge a transformation of the traditional LGBT tour operators and gay-friendly haven, which are often seen as too sexualised by the community. By offering wider activities and services, these LGBT operators and queer space not only functions as a vehicle of change to transform the relationship between LGBT tourists and others (other straight tourists and locals), but also provide a safer and better experience for LGBT tourists.

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