There’s something desperately sad about going through a world map and crossing off all the places you can’t go to. Poring over Wikipedia and scrutinising the LGBT rights section of each country before checking what other Black people have said about travelling to this part of the world. You’re hedging your bets, calculating the trade-off of some discrimination and discomfort in exchange for an idyllic holiday setting, before likely deciding that you simply cannot put yourself through this.
This certainly rang true for my girlfriend and I. After positively consuming pictures of Tanzania’s beautiful beach-side huts, we decided to go for a gorgeous bungalow alongside Jambiani Beach. It felt like the most exciting way to celebrate my partner’s upcoming birthday and the beach was beckoning us like no other. However, searching ‘LGBT+ rights in Tanzania’ shattered any possibility of feeling truly safe and comfortable enough to go ahead with the holiday. Wikipedia reported that “according to the 2007 Pew Global Attitudes Project, 95 percent of Tanzanian residents believe that homosexuality is a way of life that society should not accept which was the seventh-highest rate of non-acceptance in the 45 countries surveyed.” After receiving advice from my partner’s Tanzanian friend not to go, our holiday evaporated before our very eyes.
We were left heartbroken. For a few seconds - though a few seconds too long - denial had us considering if there was a way to salvage the trip. Could we present as two friends outside of the bungalow? Could we stick to being affectionate when alone within the four walls of our hut? It was a fleeting whim that was immediately shut down; it’s hard to believe we even considered the possibility of hiding who we are. There was a heaving sadness that we were left with and we couldn’t even speak to each other for an hour or two. It didn’t come from blame or anger but just the unfairness of the situation; what we were left with was a deep sorrow - because we knew that we couldn’t guarantee our safety.
What made this all the more trickier was that we know that there are LGBTQ+ people everywhere, including Tanzania, we just didn’t know how to locate them or have the means to. In October 2019, I tweeted asking if there were any Black LGBTQ+ travel resources that people had found useful. The few resources I was pointed to were either focused on Black travel or LGBTQ+ travel - I needed something that prioritised my positionality as a Black lesbian without trying to splice my entertwined experiences of misogynoir and queerphobia. I wasn’t entirely sure what exactly I needed but, at the very least, I craved something that could see me, and other Black queer travellers in the same position, as whole.
And so began the Black Queer Travel Guide project. I spoke to over 20 Black queer activists and community organisers around the world, from Jamaica and Papua New Guinea to Nigeria, finding out about the daily precautions they take in their countries, the grassroots work they're doing in their communities and how they navigate life in their locations. This research was transformational and has been critical to the building of our initiative.
I carried out further research with a survey on Black queer people and travel. With 93 respondents, some of the key fears that were flagged were around being ‘visibly queer’ and therefore facing unprovoked attacks, public displays of affections, racial profiling and invasive searches at the airport. The survey found that 85% of Black queer people seek out information about being Black and queer when looking at potential destinations, while 90% of those surveyed believe that finding Black queer travel information is either ‘tricky but not impossible’ or simply ‘non-existent’. With such overwhelming figures, I decided that the issues Black queer travellers face cannot be maligned or dismissed any longer.
Put simply, we deserve a whole lot more than what we have been making use of to date. So many of us find ourselves trying to patch something together between heteronormative Black travel resources and extremely whitewashed gay travel reviews. We deserve a framework allowing Black queer travellers to read reviews and experiences from local people, discover Black queer-owned or Black queer-friendly businesses, link up with Black queer individuals who are happy to envelope fellow Black queer people within their community. We deserve an app.
In October 2020, I worked with a team of developers-in-training at the Tech For Better Programme to create a web app; all the jumbled research-informed ideas in my head were taken by the team and magically turned into a useful prototype. The web app is the first stage of what will eventually become an easily downloadable native phone app. That same month saw the launch of the Black Queer Travel Guide’s GoFundMe page to help get the project off the ground and begin commissioning Black queer creatives and writers. We’re now a core team of seven people working towards making the app a reality, once a far off dream.
Our aspirations also go beyond the app. As a CIC, BQTG is committed to the Black queer communities it will be serving and as a result, profits made will be going straight into our services and supporting local queer charities and organisations around the globe. Research with Black queer activists yielded lots of examples of how desperately support is needed by people who have been arrested and harassed by both the public and police. This year alone, we’ve watched on as queer Ghanaians and Nigerians have experienced grotqesque violence. We plan to support individuals like these through financial support for legal services and advocacy.
For many people, the pandemic has made our worlds feel incredibly small and stifling - this is an everyday reality for Black queer travellers like me. When the world begins to open up more, and we try to find a new normal again, I want the worlds of Black queer people to open up too. I want us to feel like we can safely explore the globe without looking over our shoulders at every point. Rather than operating from a place of scarcity and eliminating where we simply cannot go, the dream is that, one day, we’ll be so spoilt for choice, deliberating over where we’ll go next when this many options are available to us. That day is coming closer and closer, almost within reach.