Kissing allowed: 7 destinations that promise a queer-friendly vacation
Where the mind is without fear, and the nightlife is off the charts
In 2018, when the Supreme Court decriminalised gay sex, my close friends Mikhael and Nital interrogated me with much passion. The Israeli couple was planning a baby through surrogacy and wanted to know if India offered queer-friendly travel options.
“Can we hold hands in public?”
You’ll fit right in with all the grown men strolling down the streets, pinkies linked.
“Will Airbnbs judge our marital status?”
No, they just focus on harassing straight couples. You’ll just be stamped as ‘those gora brothers’.
“Are there gay clubs?”
Well, they are hard to come by. As a note of caution, stay away from clubs of any sort if you care for your eardrums.
“Can we kiss on the streets?”
Sadly, the land of Kamasutra hasn’t warmed up to the idea of PDA yet.
I sealed the argument with a seemingly convincing pep-talk: “Don’t worry, you’ll be safe. Sometimes, safer than straight couples.”
While India is taking baby steps towards being queer-friendly, the rainbow is stretching far and beyond every passing day. In several foreign cities, including London, San Francisco and Paris, the queer community is seamlessly erasing out existing gaybourhoods. The cities are now one big family. No raised eyebrows, no jaw drops.
From exotic hot springs in Taipei to Mykonos’s extravagant nightclubs and drag fests, eccentric parades in Copenhagen to LGBTQ ski tours in Toronto’s bone-chilling winter, here’s our list of some of the most queer-friendly travel destinations in the world.
The appointment of Kathleen Wynne, the first openly LGBTQ premier in the state of Ontario, set the stage for inclusivity and acceptance in the public eye. Toronto has set a strong precedent for tolerance and acceptance of all cultures, ethnicities and individuals—taking the idea of Pride Day a step further, with month-long Pride Month celebrations throughout June. Whether you visit in the flaming orange set of the fall or dare to explore while it’s snow-covered in the winter, check out the modern wonder — CN Tower and the equally photogenic knock-off of NYC’s Flatiron building — Gooderham Building.
Toronto also has pockets for all ethnic communities: Greek Town, Little India, Korea Town, Portugal Village, Little Malta and China Town, to name a few. The only thing in the Canadian city you’ll find hard to locate is an LGBTQ pocket; the city thrives on inclusivity. Queer culture is everywhere yet never stands out. Exclusive gay bars are not a thing, because most bars are all-welcoming.
Must-do: Catch a play by Buddies in Bad Times, the world’s largest and longest-running Queer theatre company. If you’re a party animal, sign up for one of their larger-than-life Saturday Night bashes.
Proudly homosexual emperors, princesses and composers have been instrumental in establishing the city as a queer-friendly destination and the Austrian capital makes sure to preserve the queer heritage by being remaining of the most inclusive European cities.
Last year, the Australian LGBTI Awards even crowned Vienna the best destination for the pink community.
Because Vienna doesn’t discriminate, you may not find an LGBTQ pocket or specific neighbourhood. This only means that you can pick up any spot, and there is a world of things to do in Vienna. Historical sites, palaces, taverns and modern cafes, you will feel safe everywhere, away from any concerned or curious gaze.
Must-do: Spot the cute same-sex traffic light figurines on the streets. They were introduced in 2015 to promote the city’s openness and acceptance.
In 1999, neo-Nazi David Copeland bombed London’s oldest gay pub, Admiral Duncan. It was an attempt to stir up homophobic tensions. It incredibly failed to deter the British capital’s spirit of inclusivity. There’s never a dull day in this queer-friendly city. Catch a musical at West End or spend the night at Vauxhall’s testosterone-fuelled dance parties. On a more laidback day, stroll down the Soho district; it is the most-frequented queer neighbourhood with hundreds of boutiques, cafes and galleries.
Must-do: Head to the Caravan Club; London’s first members-only gay club which was shut after a six-month existence in 1934. This was way before homosexuality was made legal in Queen’s land. The club reopened its doors in 2017 after being shut for over six decades. Also, it’s about time to plan your holiday in advance for next June’s pride parade.
For a country with a population (23 million) way smaller than China and Japan, it’s a matter of pride that the Taiwanese capital hosts the largest gay parade in Asia. Last year, it recorded a footfall of 1,30,000 people. In recent years, more and more international queer travellers from lesser-tolerant neighbouring countries are making their way to Taipei. Earlier this year, Taiwan also became the first Asian country to recognise same-sex marriage. As a result, the pride parade on October 26 is expected to be bigger and louder.
Hot springs, sea cliffs and erratic rock formations may not be exclusively queer spots to visit, but the live-and-let-live attitude of the locals makes it a paradise for everyone.
Must-do: Browse through titles at Gin Gin Bookstore, the only LGBTQ bookstore in the Chinese-speaking world. The shop was opened in 1999 by gay rights activist Lai Zhengzhe.
Lonely Planet calls Copenhagen the no. 1 most queer-friendly place on the planet. I guess it’s not a surprise when you are the capital of the first nation to recognise same-sex partnerships (way back in 1942). The history buff in you will be spoilt for choice here. The city is steeped in history, and it’s befitting to say that all roads lead to either a gallery, a museum, a palace or just a sculpture. Even the Nyhavn Harbour is a memorial site built in honour of the Danish sailors who lost their lives in WWII.
While gay men dominate most LGBTQ bars, Vela is Copenhagen’s only exclusive lesbian nightclub. The Danish capital’s hole-in-the-wall performance space, Warehouse 9, also hosts a monthly event called T-Lounge, to celebrate the trans community, their art and music.
If you plan your getaways in advance, book your tickets to Copenhagen for 2021. Two years from now, Copenhagen will become the first queer-friendly travel destination to host both the EuroGames as well as WorldPride in the same year.
Must-do: Enjoy a drag show on the patio at Centralhjørnet, one of oldest legal gay bars in Europe. The pub has been promoting love since the early 1950’s.
Re-election of Corine Mauch (the first openly gay mayor of the Swiss city) is a testament to the city’s liberal attitude towards the LGBTQ community. Flanked by the river Limmat and Lake Zurich, the city also serves as a passage to the Swiss Alps.
Enjoy a boat ride and sauna or indulge in bar-hopping sprees across the city’s fancy nightclubs. Zurich is lively and laidback in equal parts. This queer-friendly travel destination hangs the Rainbow flag with much pride.
Must-do: Try the signature sushi and margarita combo at Barfüsser, one of the oldest gay hostelries in Europe.
While mainland Greece is slightly more conservative, the country’s queer-friendly travel destinations are the islands of Santorini, Paros, Naxos and Mykonos. Over the past couple of decades, Mykonos has become synonymous with picturesque beaches, stunning whitewashed houses and queer-friendly tourism. You can spot rainbow flags on beaches, restaurants and streets as the community feels free to unwind in peace.
Must-do: Attend the world’s biggest queer music festival — Xlsior Mykonos Festival. The weeklong celebration held in August every year brings together a plethora of DJs and bands.