Skip to Content

LGBTQ+ identities abroad

Remember that LGBTQ+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Two-Spirit, Queer, or Questioning) identities are historically and culturally specific. The terminologies and social significances Americans are most familiar with are products of a specific time and place. 

Students do not necessarily need to alter their behavior/appearance while abroad, but they should be conscious of how their behavior/appearance translates into the host culture so they can make informed choices to ensure their comfort and safety. 

Similarly, people’s willingness to discuss personal experiences of gender and sexuality may change depending on who is participating in a given interaction, where they are, etc. That does not mean that they are ‘ashamed’ or ‘in denial;’ neither does it mean that those who identify as ‘out’ are comfortable discussing such topics in all situations.

Students who are undergoing medical transition (taking hormones, preparing for SRS, etc.) will need to make sure that they will have the medical resources they need while abroad. Hormones in particular may be very difficult to obtain overseas, and it can be extremely dangerous to cease hormone treatments abruptly if they run out.

Same-sex sexual behavior is illegal in many countries. Furthermore, being open about their sexuality may place students at risk of physical harm, depending on location. 

Make sure you know what your rights are, and make sure someone you trust knows where you are at all times. 

Study abroad participants should not be afraid to ask for help and reach out for support. Intercultural Programs Advisors in the CGIS office (734.764.4311) are LGBTQ allies and can assist students in addressing their concerns and point students in the direction of resources at the host institution and here on campus, such as the Spectrum Center. 

The UM Spectrum Center (3200 Michigan Union) is also the main LGBTQ+ resource on campus that can help students identify valuable resources and support services. They can be reached by email at spectrumcenter@umich.edu, or by phone at 734.763.4186. CGIS students may find especially useful information on the Spectrum Center's International page. 

Additional Resources

LGBTQ and similarly-identified students who are not familiar with the legal status and the attendant cultural attitudes of sexual orientation in the host country might consider purchasing the most current edition of one of the various gay and lesbian international reference guides before departing. New York University (NYU) also offers a location specific, student-to-student LGBTQ+ guide written by NYU students, and you can find details about LGBTQ+ rights by country and region at the Equaldex Knowledge Base.

Explore Perspectives by Country

For most students, study abroad is an amazing, sometimes even life-changing experience. CGIS has prepared in-progress documents intended to provide identity-related background information and context from news sources and other resources. 

These documents are a springboard for your own research: they might prepare you for some of the specific dynamics that you may experience in several countries that are the most popular with CGIS students (Australia, China, Costa Rica, France, Israel and Palestine, South Africa, Spain, and the United Kingdom) but these documents are only a starting point, by no means an absolute or exhaustive list.

Even though you might be a minority based on your nationality in your host country, you may also receive additional attention for your additional identities, including race and ethnicity, which may or may not be discrimination. You might feel judgment from people based on your gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, disability, or religion, and your unique identities interact and intersect with one another to affect your experience. Remember that nowhere in the world is completely free of ignorance. No matter what happens, don’t let the possibility of discrimination keep you from experiencing and enjoying the life-changing opportunity to study abroad.

Keep in mind that although these excerpts and anecdotes might ring true for some, every identity and experience is unique, and you will have your own, specific experience abroad. These are living documents, and we encourage you to contact us at spauling@umich.edu or nestore@umich.edu if you would like to add your own experiences, input, or other resources to the list, for these or other countries.

Click here for our in-progress compilation of excerpts and anecdotes to start your own research!