Global Affairs Canada issues LGBTQ+ travel advisory for United States

By Mia Rabson in Ottawa

Canada has updated its international travel advisories to warn members of the LGBTQ+ community that they may face discrimination if they travel to some places in the United States.

The move comes after at least 18 U.S. states passed laws that limit or ban certain things relevant to the community, including gender-affirming medical care for minors and teaching about sexual orientation in schools.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security also warned in May that threats of violence against the LGBTQ+ community were becoming more frequent and intense.

Mid-morning Tuesday, Global Affairs Canada changed its U.S. travel advice to include a caveat for LGBTQ+ travellers because “some states have enacted laws and policies” that may affect them.

Unlike similar warnings for several other countries, such as Tanzania or Egypt, Canada’s U.S. warning doesn’t specify which states, or which of their laws or customs, are of concern. It only says travellers should check the local laws for their destination before travelling.

On a more general page about advice to international LGBTQ+ travellers, the government provides some links to resources to look up relevant laws around the world.

“Carefully consider whether you are comfortable visiting a destination where the laws and social customs affecting (LGBTQ+) people differ from those in Canada,” the government warns.

In May, the NAACP and the Human Rights Campaign, a U.S.-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group, were among several civil rights groups issuing their own travel advisories specifically for Florida. That came after Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, signed into law restrictions on drag shows, the use of bathrooms and the use of preferred pronouns in schools.

Florida teachers are also now required to teach that sex is “an immutable biological trait,” and that students must only use the pronoun of the sex on a person’s birth certificate. They also cannot teach anything about gender identity or sexual orientation until high school, a law critics have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

The groups said their advice wasn’t to avoid Florida at all costs. But they said if people still chose to travel there, they should use the opportunity to speak out against the laws, and if they chose not to, they should be clear about the reason why. 

Canada’s general page for LGBTQ+ travellers warns that if they elected to use an X on their passport where it identifies gender, they may face discrimination in some places.

When asked about the change, Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said Tuesday that the travel advisories issued by Global Affairs Canada are based on advice from professionals in the department whose job it is to monitor for particular dangers.

She would not say if the Liberals had discussed the matter with U.S. President Biden, but said the relationship with the U.S. is one of the most important for the government.

“We are able to manage that relationship regardless of the choice that the people of the United States make,” said Freeland.

“Even as we work hard on that government-to-government relationship, every Canadian government, very much including our government, needs to put at the centre of everything we do the interests and the safety of every single Canadian and every single group of Canadians.”

In a written statement, U.S. Ambassador David Cohen did not directly address the new travel warning but said his country “stands for equality and equal treatment for all.”

“The United States is committed to promoting tolerance, inclusion, justice and dignity while helping to advance equality for the LGBTQI+ community,” he wrote.

“We all must continue to do this work with our like-minded partners not only in the United States, not only in Canada, but throughout the world.”

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 29, 2023.

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