Ask around, and you’ll find at least one person you know who desperately wants to visit Morocco. With its romantic reputation and historic art, architecture and cuisine, this African country is bursting with culture. Adventure awaits behind every medina wall.
And Morocco wants you to visit. Travel and tourism is strongly supported by the current monarch, Mohammed VI, who hopes to double the annual tourist visits to Morocco over the next five years.
That call to visit might not sound as inviting if you’re gay. Morocco is not necessarily known for being a gay-friendly destination — but that doesn’t mean the country is completely lacking in LGBT tourism. With careful planning and consideration, mindful gay travellers can still savour regional delicacies, observe stunning architecture and awake to the mournful call to prayer as it echoes through the winding streets.
“Morocco is an exceptionally safe country and more liberal than any other Arab state, but has strict yet silent social rules about being gay, especially when exposed to other Moroccans,” says Robert Sharp, founder and owner of Toronto-based OUT Adventures.
“Concerning planned gay travel tours to Morocco, there are no other LGBT-focused travel companies except OUT Adventures arranging group tours of Morocco,” Sharp says, noting “there are several gay individuals who prefer to hit the back roads and do their own thing.”
OUT specializes in adventure travel for small groups of gay men, their friends and family, and had organized our 11-day journey through Morocco.
“The concept of gay is a difficult one in Moroccan culture, where family, marriage and having children are pretty much the focus of an individual’s life,” he says. “The idea of not having a wife and kids is alien to many Moroccan gay men — hence the many closeted men, searching for sex on the downlow on hook-up apps.”
Forty percent of Morocco’s population is under 25, and it’s a country where men and women were, until very recently, completely divided. As a result, sex amongst men is not considered gay — though a man assuming the passive role would be regarded as gay.
Even with some social advances, homosexuality is still illegal. However, the people seem to have a “live and let live” attitude — what happens behind closed doors remains there.
“Being gay in Morocco is illegal and can be punishable by up to three years in prison, although how much this is enforced varies from region to region,” says Thomas Hollowell, founder of Journey Beyond Travel. “[But] it should be noted that the law does not apply to non-Moroccan same-sex partners traveling or staying together on their vacations.”
Journey Beyond Travel is one of Morocco’s most renowned in-country tour operators, organizing customized travel itineraries throughout Morocco.
“LGBT travelers to Morocco should use discretion when traveling throughout the country,” Hollowell says. “In fact, public displays of affection should be avoided by anyone, as the country’s mostly Muslim population is quite conservative in this regard.”
“As this applies to the gay and straight community alike, the gay traveller through Morocco need not take offense with this reality, as it is simply a sign of cultural respect,” he adds.
“It is common to see Moroccan men holding hands and dancing together in discos, but my understanding is that one should not imply that they are even the slightest bit gay,” Sharp says.
But with globalization and social media engagement exploding, many young Moroccan men are no longer engaging in these masculine customs. They are now acutely aware such behaviour is considered gay in Western culture, and they do not wish to be associated with such a perceived stigma.
For the most part, gay male and lesbian couples will not find any problems in major hotels in Marrakech, Agadir or Casablanca, or any of the major tourist destinations throughout Morocco.
Developing relationships with locals, understanding their views and comfort levels (some areas of Morocco are more religious than others) will serve you well as you travel the dusty back roads and souks of this melting pot of European, African and Arabic influences.
While no gay scene is evident, Agadir reportedly has a major European gay community that meets in various cafés and bars along the Boulevard Hassan II, enjoying the Moroccan sun, cheap living and the abundance of handsome men.
Sharp notes that, due to several social and economic changes, many young men have turned to prostitution to make a living — an illegal practice in Morocco. And with prostitution illegal, there have been incidents where gay travellers have been blackmailed or robbed — even murdered — by hustlers on-the-take. And if the hustler is a minor, one can expect a lengthy prison sentence.
When the sun goes down over North Africa, the terracotta walls of ancient Morocco turn a rich, red hue. It becomes no small wonder why people become captivated by the country.
But my best advice to gay travellers wishing to travel to Morocco is to be street-wise, and constantly bear in mind that you are in a Muslim country where being gay is against the law.