For many couples, traveling abroad offers a chance to rekindle a romantic connection. Without the stresses of daily life, they can reconnect and act more like newlyweds — holding hands and kissing in public — even if they’ve been together for decades.
The same is not true for LGBT couples, however, who overwhelmingly fear retribution abroad for showing affection to their partner. Only 5 percent of LGBT couples surveyed by Virgin Holidays said they felt comfortable showing affection to their partner abroad, compared to 84 percent of straight couples.
Approximately 80 percent of the 1,000 LGBT couples responded that they did not feel safe holding hands abroad, and more than half said they didn’t even feel comfortable doing so inside their hotels.
Their fear of reprisal often comes from experience: One in 10 respondents said they had been threatened with physical violence while traveling. At least one-third experienced discrimination abroad, including being laughed at or verbally abused. Hotel workers often expressed skepticism at LGBT relationships, frequently issuing them separate beds or even separate rooms, according to respondents.
“It is shocking that in today’s society some of us can’t even enjoy a simple holiday without fear of discrimination,” Richard Branson said in a statement.
The experience of LGBT travelers can vary greatly destination to destination, both in the U.S and abroad. San Francisco was the most LGBT friendly U.S. city, followed by Portland, Oregon, and Austin, Texas, according to a 2015 study from Nerdwallet. Nerdwallet used data concerning the number of LGBT residents, the number of hate crimes against LGBT communities, and the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality index to forge their analysis.
In Europe, the country with the best legal and social protections for LGBT people was the Mediterranean island of Malta, according to a report by human rights group International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).