I want to go abroad this summer but I am concerned about receiving sexual health care abroad in a more conservative country. I am also gay going to a country where gay relationships are generally not accepted. What should I do?
Dear Global Trotter,
Whenever travelling abroad for internships or vacation, you should always consider your health and safety. It is important to have a plan in place in the event that you become ill or injured while traveling. It’s great that you are learning more about how to keep yourself healthy and safe before traveling.
Sexual health resources vary between countries and if you require sexual health care while abroad or if you expect that you will need specific sexual health services while abroad, it can be useful to know what resources are available in the country that you will be traveling to before deciding to go there. If you travel with a University-sponsored trip such as for an internship through the International Internship Program, the Streicker Fund, the Global Health Program, or the Princeton Environmental Institute, or for thesis research funded through University sources, you are automatically enrolled in International SOS, which is an international emergency medical assistance and insurance service. International SOS will be able to connect you to accredited, English-speaking doctors in the country and will often be able to connect you to LGBTQ+ healthcare allies at your request. Before traveling, consult with representatives at ISOS either by phone or email to inquire about the medical resources available and if you should be concerned about any security risks. They will be able to let you know if they recommend that you travel. If you find yourself needing medical attention abroad, you should contact International SOS for assistance regardless if it is a general medical concern or a sexual health concern.
If you are planning to travel internationally to places other than Western Europe and Australia, it is recommended that you make a Travel Health appointment with University Health Services 4-6 weeks prior to international travel to learn about country-specific risks and precautions and how to stay healthy while traveling. During this appointment, you may also ask your medical provider questions related to sexual health concerns or services while abroad. If you take medication such as birth control or PrEP, let your provider know so they can guide you through the steps needed to acquire enough drug for the duration of your trip.
As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, it is important to also consider the social climate, local laws, and norms around sexual orientation and gender identity within the country that you wish to travel to. Before your trip, advisers at the Office of International Programs (OIP) can discuss options with you. OIP’s website also resources to help you navigate identity in other countries, including a geographic map of sexual orientation protection and criminalization laws by country. You can also email the LGBT Center (firstname.lastname@example.org) to discuss some pre-departure safety considerations or to get in contact with other LGBTQ+ identified students, who have studied abroad in your host country, to learn from their experiences.
Different cultures may also perceive gender identity or sexual orientation differently. For example, while you might be more easily seen as “gay” at home, locals in your host country might read you as straight. Additionally, you may have to decide whether and/or how to “come out” to your new social circles while abroad. Or how to safely find community with other LGBTQ+ folks in your host country.
If on University travel, you are subject to the host country’s laws, as University travel policy states that the University will not provide any legal services to students arrested while traveling abroad. In some countries, being gay is considered illegal and a punishable crime. In other countries, being gay is legal but not as socially accepted (i.e., may be met with hostility). You may be able to travel to extremely conservative societies by “hiding” your sexuality but it is important to consider the emotional toll of doing this. If you are concerned about this, reach out to Counseling & Psychological Services at McCosh Health Center to discuss your concerns, and to talk through support options while abroad.
Remember, there are a ton of campus and online resources to support you in navigating this decision. Consulting with International SOS, University Health Services, Office of International Programs or your specific program, or the LGBT Center should be able to help you make an informed decision about where to travel and how to maintain your health and safety.
Here are some additional resources:
U.S. State Department LGBTI traveler information: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/international-travel/before-you-go/travelers-with-special-considerations/lgbti.html
The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (IGLA World) – https://ilga.org/maps-sexual-orientation-laws
Information for this article provided by Global ProgramSystem – Princeton University, LGBT Center, Office of International Programs and University-Sponsored International Travel regulations.