Let’s be real: even in this day and age, the world still has a lot to learn. We are still learning about important issues like race, religion and sexual orientation and to be quite honest, we are not where we should be by now. LBGTQ+ TEFL teachers are no doubt aware of this, and we understand the need for LGBTQ+ teachers to be more mindful of where they choose to teach. As teachers of English as a Foreign Language, the world might be our oyster, but some of us need to take a few extra factors into consideration when deciding where to hang our hat.
When it comes to gender identity or sexual orientation, in some countries it’s not even a topic of discussion, while in others being openly gay is punishable by law. Sadly, as of January 2021, only 29 countries in the world have legalised same-sex marriage, while in 71 countries homosexuality or homosexual acts are still punishable by law. Because of this, it is important to be aware of the status quo of whichever countries we wish to visit so that we know where to go and where to avoid.
With this in mind, we’ve put together a list of our favourite TEFL destinations which are known to be LGBTQ-friendly.
Thailand is a popular choice for many TEFL teachers and an obvious choice for LGBTQ+ TEFL teachers. You just have to take a walk down any street in Bangkok and you will see same-sex couples walking hand-in-hand without anyone so much as batting an eyelid (though, funnily enough, PDAs between anyone are frowned upon). In popular culture, too, the LGBTQ+ community is well represented.
Unfortunately, however, this tolerance is not reflected in their laws. As recently as 2020, the Thai cabinet passed a civil partnership bill that recognises same-sex unions, but only as long as one of the people in the partnership is Thai. Interestingly, though it affords these unions the same rights as heterosexual marriages, they are referred to as partnerships rather than marriages. We are still waiting for the bill to be passed as law.
Flamenco, food and fiesta is the name of the game in Spain. A liberal country in many respects, Spain legalized same-sex marriage and same-sex adoption in the early 2000s. Discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation is illegal, and transgender people are now legally allowed to change their name and gender.
As expected, there are numerous different festivals held throughout the year, most notably Bear Pride, Barcelona Gay Pride and the International Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. Barcelona is arguably the gay party hub of Spain, while Sitges is a gorgeous beach town that is celebrated as Spain’s most celebrated gay city.
Considered the most progressive country in Latin America, Uruguay is a popular TEFL destination with any teachers, but it is especially LGBTQ-friendly. It was placed in the top ten of the most LGBTQ-friendly countries to visit in 2021 by Asher Fergusson. Same-sex marriage was legalised in 2013 and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity has been banned since 2003. Gender confirmation surgery is free for Uruguayan residents, and it’s possible for trans residents to change their name without going to court.
The capital of Montevideo is where you’ll find the best LGBTQ+ nightlife in the country, but homosexuality is considered to be nothing surprising or out of the ordinary throughout the country. The capital is one of the few cities in the world to have a homomonument: a rose-coloured granite in the shape of a triangle with an inscription which reads “To Honor Diversity is to Honor Life”.
Argentina might be more famous for its tango, steak and dodgy exchange rate, but it was the first Latin American country to legalise same-sex marriage in 2010. Same-sex couples are also allowed to adopt and lesbian couples have the same access to IVF treatment.
If you know any Argentinians, you’ll know how naturally friendly they are and this extends to tolerance and acceptance in terms of gender identity and sexual orientation. Buenos Aires has a thriving gay scene, and its Pride Parade is one of the biggest gay pride events in South America.
While same-sex marriage was only legalised here in 2017, Germany forged the way by legalising homosexuality back in the 60s. Very recently, thousands of German priests, nuns and parishioners launched the Love Wins campaign to publicly acknowledge that LGBTQ+ people are welcome in their churches, in stark contrast to the official stance of the Vatican.
Every year the annual gay pride holiday Christopher Street Day is celebrated by thousands in Berlin, Hamburg and Cologne with a parade. Cologne is a popular German city with the gay community and Berlin is also home to the world’s first queer museum, the Schwules Museum.
Read more: Teach English in Germany
Another Asian TEFL hotspot, Taiwan is fast becoming the preferred Asian destination for LGBTQ+ TEFL teachers. Discrimination in the workplace based on gender identity and sexual orientation was banned in 2007 and same-sex marriage has been legal since 2019. Taiwan Pride is held every year in Taipei and it is the largest gay pride event in Asia.
As an LGBTQ+ TEFL teacher, there are many open and friendly destinations for you to choose from, and these are just a few. Having said that, there are a few countries which you want to avoid as cultural and religious beliefs and even laws are discriminatory towards the LGBTQ+ community. These countries include Iran, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and many central Asian and north African countries.
(While we’re on the subject, Lavender Book is a new app which could be very helpful for your travels. It is a community-driven platform for the Black Queer, Black Trans and Black Gender Non-binary communities to help identify safe spaces while you are travelling.)
Unfortunately, it’s a sad reality that we are not yet in a world that is safe for everyone to travel in. Though we are making strides towards equality on all levels (and a few steps back in some places), there is still a lot of work to be done.