6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinations

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While Europe, Australia, and the US are usually considered quite gay- and queer-friendly, there are other places in the world that might surprise you with their welcoming attitudes. Each of these destinations stands out in its own unique way

Pride parades of São Paulo, Brazil

Despite the persisting conservative attitudes towards homosexuality within the region, South Americans organize some of the biggest and wildest celebrations of gay pride in the world.

São Paulo Pride saw its humble beginnings in 1997 with some 2,000 participants and has since grown into supposedly the largest and best pride event of the year. Over the last couple of years, the number of participants in the event has consistently been around five million.

All over the world, pride is not only a celebration of love and acceptance but it’s also a time to be merry. Even though the parade itself is the highlight of the festival, there are many accompanying events taking place in the weeks leading up to the parade, such as concerts, talks, performances, exhibitions, and countless more.

Cross-dressers celebrating gay pride in Brazil — MAR Photography / Shutt 6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinationsCross-dressers celebrating gay pride in Brazil — MAR Photography / Shutterstock

The world history of pride dates back to 1969 when a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in New York City sparked the idea of celebrating pride. The 2019 pride honors the memory of these demonstrations.

Queer beaches of Tel Aviv, Israel

Tel Aviv is frequently referred to as one of the most gay-friendly cities in the world. Some estimates say that 25 percent of its residents are gay, which in actual numbers represents over 100,000 individuals.

The city promotes open-mindedness and serves as a refuge to many LGBT people from the neighboring countries that are generally less open to the interests of the LGBT community than Israel. Tel Aviv takes pride in showing its support to the community and there are many LGBT-dedicated sites throughout the city.

One of these sites is definitely Hilton beach, Tel Aviv’s official gay beach. If you’re looking for maximum experience, visit the beach during the annual gay pride week in June.

A couple walking at the beach in Tel Aviv — svershinsky / Shutterstock 6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinationsA couple walking at the beach in Tel Aviv — svershinsky / Shutterstock

Twirl ‘round, my lady, Bangkok, Thailand

Today, Thailand is pretty well-known for being accepting of homosexuality and transsexuality.

The country decriminalized homosexuality in 1956, which was earlier than some other developed countries in the world. Even though homosexuality is “tolerated” there, the status of LGBTs might be different outside of the major urban centers.

Bangkok, especially, is famous for its ladyboys, also known as katoeys or transwomen. Out of the 70 million people living in Thailand, more than one million work in the trans industry. Ladyboys are well integrated into Thai culture and almost indistinguishable from actual women. It might be almost impossible to spot the difference.

Pattaya's Walking Street offers wide range of sex services, including ladyboys — Mazur Travel / Shutterstock 6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinationsPattaya’s Walking Street offers a wide range of sex services, including ladyboys — Mazur Travel / Shutterstock

However, it might be best to avoid displays of public affection, especially in non-urban areas, as it might bring unwanted attention. Urban places are less strict about this and there are many gay-friendly spots. Overall, Thailand is one of the best exotic destinations to visit if you’re looking for a romantically and sexually unconventional experience.

Third time’s the charm, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, a beach resort on the west coast of Mexico, carries the name of gay capital and the most welcoming gay spot of Mexico. The city has earned the name for its continuous support of the LGBT community.

Throughout its past, Mexico has never developed strong anti-gay practices or legal systems and there are many gay-friendly spots in Mexico.

The Zapotecs, an indigenous people inhabiting the southern state of Oaxaca, transcend the binary division of sex and gender — they recognize a third gender called muxes.

Muxe contemporary performer — Mario Patinho / Wikimedia Commons 6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinationsMuxe contemporary performer — Mario Patinho / Wikimedia Commons

Muxes are often gender-fluid, meaning one cannot label them as strictly male or female. To make things simpler, muxes are born male but have physical and behavioral features classified as female. Some decide to marry a woman and raise children while others prefer male partners.

Draw me queer in Tokyo, Japan

Japan, as a conservative country, doesn’t encourage public displays of affection, no matter who’s displaying them.

Nevertheless, the Japanese are a friendly bunch with no significant history of hostility towards the LGBT community. It’s unlikely you’ll encounter any sort of aggressive or confrontational behavior. As a matter of fact, homosexuality is believed to have a long tradition within the country. In recent years, the nation has seen a growing acceptance of LGBTs.  

As yet, being LGBT isn’t something people in Japan would openly discuss. Luckily enough, LGBT culture has found its way into one of Japan’s most popular literary genres — manga.

Japanese comic art has been portraying homosexual relationships since the 1970s but really started booming in the 90s. Bara aims at gay men and yuri and yaoi at lesbians.

Particularly in Tokyo, it’s rather easy to stumble upon gay sites and events. Ni-chōme is the gaybourhood of Tokyo and one area to visit if you really want to get immersed in Tokyo’s gay scene. It also happens to be the noisiest and busiest part of the city. Apart from the many bars and clubs, it hosts a number of events such as the Tokyo International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival.

Future gay continent? Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is a popular destination for many travelers, including the LGBT community.

In 2006, South Africa became the first African and the fifth country in the world to legalize same-sex marriages. To this day, South Africa remains the only country in mainland Africa to recognize and allow same-sex marriages.

Although being the most progressive country on the African continent, a certain level of discrimination towards the LGBT community still exists there.

A couple strolling through Cape Town — Dewald Kirsten / Shutterstock 6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinationsA couple strolling through Cape Town — Dewald Kirsten / Shutterstock

Within the country of South Africa, Cape Town is among the most gay-friendly cities. De Waterkant is the gaybourhood of Cape Town. It’s located in the heart of the city and offers many possibilities for social interaction.

The local Afrikaans name for gays and the queer is moffie, even though it’s rather offensive. During the apartheid era in South Africa, female names were used as codes, e.g. Beaulah for beautiful or Hilda for ugly.

And an honorable mention goes to…

Pakistan. The country has recently introduced its first transgender news anchor. In 2018, the 22-year-old journalist became the first openly transgender news anchor to make a debut on Pakistani television.

Marvia Malik, Pakistan's transgender news anchor — A M Syed / Shutterstock 6 surprising gay- and queer-friendly destinationsMarvia Malik, Pakistan’s transgender news anchor — A M Syed / Shutterstock

Please note that in my article I use the words gay, queer, homosexual, LGBT and LGBTQIA+ interchangeably. I’m aware of the fact that neither of these words, nor any other words currently available in the English language, is all-encompassing and might not apply to everyone.