Rainbow Nations: LGBTQ+ Friendly Destinations
For the LGBTQ+ community, being made to feel welcome when you're on holiday is not always taken for granted. Here's our round-up of some of the world's countries that embrace queer culture in their own unique way
This is a feature from Issue 11 of Charitable Traveller. Click to read more from this issue.
In a region that is notorious for being one of the least gay-friendly places in the world, Israel stands out like a rainbow beacon. Tel Aviv is at the centre of the country’s LGBTQ scene and thanks to its ingredients of hip, cosmopolitan city plus beach, it’s actively promoted as a queer-friendly holiday destination. Hilton Beach, just under the Hilton Hotel, is one of the city’s LGBTQ hotspots, a vibrant and buzzing stretch of sand crammed with tanning bodies, volleyball players and windsurfers. Not far from cosmopolitan Rothschilde Boulevard, with its Bauhaus buildings and al fresco cafes, Shpagat Tel Aviv is one of the city’s most famous gay bars, serving coffee by day and cocktails by night, with DJs on the decks. Tel Aviv Pride takes place in June, culminating in a joyous, kaleidoscopic festival of music and performances attended by tens of thousands of revellers.
With one of the most famous LGBTQ events in the world – the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade – Sydney, and Australia in general, has always been a destination of diversity. From the city centre to the suburbs, Sydney has many colourful communities celebrating gay, trans and queer culture. Collingwood and South Yarra in Melbourne, Fortitude Valley and New Farm in Brisbane and Northbridge in Perth also have buzzing LGBTQ communities.
Sydney’s Oxford Street is closed to traffic for one day every March when the legendary glitter-drenched Mardi Gras sweeps through, but cafes, bars, late-night clubs and shops sport rainbow flags year-round. Melbourne’s equivalent event is the Midsumma Festival, which stretches for 22 days in January and February. In 2023, Sydney is hosting the first-ever WorldPride in the Southern Hemisphere!
Malta topped the European Rainbow Map Index (a measure of how friendly European countries’ laws are with the LGBTQ community) for the seventh year in a row this year. In 2016 it became the first country in the European Union to ban conversion therapy and for trans and intersex people it has some of the strongest rights in the world. The island’s gay scene is strong too. The main place to party is Paceville in St. Julian’s (home to island’s biggest gay club, Michelangelo), but the honey-stone capital Valletta has the largest number of LGBTQ bars and clubs – like 1920s prohibition-style cocktail bar the Thirsty Barber and Maori, a lesbian-owned bar on the waterfront which hosts queer dancing nights and is a hangout for local artists, poets, and musicians. Malta Gay Pride takes place in September and encompasses everything from pride football tournaments to street parades.
Thais are famously accepting of same-sex relationships and the country has a large and open transgender community. Bangkok is Thailand’s LGBTQ epicentre and Silom Street is the pulsing heart. Down Silom Soi 4 there are myriad bars – everything from outrageous drag shows to karaoke. Revellers start here before heading to Silom Soi 2 and the biggest gay dance club, DJ Station. Down south, Phuket island’s rowdiest resort Patong is full of speedo-clad guys and raunchy shows.
More outrageous still is the beach resort Pattaya, home to the famous cabaret Tiffany’s Show, which also hosts two renowned beauty pageants for drag queens and transgender women: Miss Tiffany’s Universe and Miss International Queen. Close by, Koh Samet island is a great place to unwind in peace.
While Africa lags behind other continents when it comes to the acceptance of LGBTQ people, South Africa is happily setting an example. Nelson Mandela set the wheels
in motion by introducing the first-ever constitution to prohibit discrimination
on the grounds of sexual orientation. In 2003 the country gave citizens the right to change gender legally and in 2006 gay marriage was introduced. Cape Town and Johannesburg have the largest LGBTQ communities. Somerset Road – or ‘The Strip’ – runs through Green Point and De Waterkant in Cape Town and is lined with about 100 LGBTQ- friendly venues and bars that thrum into the early hours. Beefcakes is a 1950s-style diner boasting great burgers and a side of stand-up comedy, drag queens, and ‘bitchy bingo’ evenings. Johannesburg Pride is the largest and most established on the continent.
Capital Bogota has the country’s biggest queer scene, centred in the Chapinero area which hosts the 5,000-capacity Theatron, purportedly the biggest gay club in Latin America. Medellin, the so-called city of eternal spring has transformed from a place of drug wars to one of the flower festivals and a substantial gay scene, in buzzy El Poblado. Cali (Colombia’s salsa capital) and Caribbean Cartagena also have LGBTQ-friendly communities and Barranquilla’s world-famous carnival has a dedicated parade for LGBTQ revellers.
This huge country is a mass of contradictions, encompassing some of the most gay-friendly places on the planet alongside places where homophobia and transphobia is rampant. The disparity is such that the Spartacus Gay Travel Index, which ranks the legal situation and living conditions for members of the queer community, published a separate guide for U.S. states. In 2021, California, Illinois, Colorado , Nevada and New York made up the top five. San Francisco and New York City’s gay scenes are legendary (the Stonewall movement started in the latter’s Greenwich Village). Less known ‘gaybourhoods’ are found in Miami and Fort Lauderdale in Florida, Provincetown in Massachusetts, The South End in Boston, West Hollywood in LA, Boystown in Chicago, Capitol Hill in Denver and Philadelphia’s Gayborhood.
This is a feature from Issue 11 of Charitable Traveller Magazine. Click the button below to read more from this issue.