Safeguarding LGBTQ+ students during travel


In today's interconnected world, education often transcends borders, with study abroad programmes and transnational curriculums becoming more popular among students. Yet, for LGBTQ+ individuals, this can pose unique challenges. The landscape of global education for this demographic reveals a complex interplay of legislative changes, cultural norms, and personal safety concerns that must be navigated with care.

Now it’s personal

Global education programmes can take students to countries which could be considered less tolerant. In response, educational institutions should carefully consider a student's personal risk profile, encompassing gender identity, sexual orientation, race, gender, religion, among other crucial aspects, to make informed travel decisions and put the appropriate risk mitigation measures in place.

Understanding the impact of gender identity and sexual orientation on a traveller’s personal risk profiles is well-acknowledged amongst the higher education sector, reinforced by recent findings of our Risk Radar report. This revealed that in the Higher Education sector, gender identity and sexual orientation rank as the primary factors impacting a traveller’s personal risk profile, ahead of past travel experience, medical history and race & ethnicity.

While this recognition isn't new, what remains a challenge is securely collecting sensitive information. We can see this in our research where only 39% of respondents are integrating personal profiles into their travel risk assessments.

Legislation vs culture

Some destinations lack a protective framework for students' rights, and even disclosing personal information can pose significant risks. Legislative changes across the globe further compound the challenges. Recent advisories, like Canada's caution to its LGBTQ+ citizens about potential repercussions of US laws on their travels, underscore the necessity of understanding the legal terrain these students traverse.

Yet, legislation is just one aspect; the cultural landscape can diverge starkly. Take Brazil, where same-sex marriage is legal but societal intolerance lingers, or Singapore, where recent legal changes clash with the traditional conservatism still prevalent in societal attitudes. These nuances demand meticulous planning and emphasise the vital role of detailed travel security briefings, tailored to address specific concerns.

Rapid risk response

Preparation necessitates a having rapid response in place for emerging issues. Access to tailored 24/7/365 medical and security assistance becomes imperative for students.

Consider a scenario where a student is receiving treatment for gender transition. Being denied access to their medication could be a very serious situation. In many countries, this kind of treatment may be supported or subsidised by the national health service. In others it could be a very different situation and one where a student may be afraid to be open about their gender identity or are unsure if they can travel with a passport that outlines a different gender than their gender identification. This is even true of some US states currently.

LGBTQ+ pre-deployment safety training aims to provide comprehensive guidance not only to students but also faculty. Training serves as a crucial avenue for ensuring a collective understanding of the available support systems and how to access them effectively. While encompassing fundamental principles of safe travel and situational awareness, the training should primarily focus on addressing the specific risks encountered by LGBTQ+ travellers. Ideally, training should be delivered in conjunction with any review of the university's travel risk policies.

Beyond the individual traveller, communication channels should exist between the institution and, significantly, parents, guardians, and families. Establishing and nurturing open dialogue channels between educational institutions and all stakeholders, including concerned family members, becomes a crucial strategy in mitigating travel risks.

By its very nature, student travel overseas into potentially problematic countries is a cause for concern. Add to this the vulnerability of a LGBTQ+ student navigating how their gender identity or sexual orientation impacts on how they are received at a time when they want to be concentrating on their academic experience.

Ultimately, ensuring a positive educational experience for LGBTQ+ students isn't just a moral obligation; it's an investment in the future global workforce, and the responsible course for shaping a more inclusive and empowered generation of leaders and professionals.

Risk Radar 2024: Dare to Prepare

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Raquel Racuero
Regional Security Manager (APAC)
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