You’re exhausted from a long flight and disheartened by the lines at Immigration, which fill the entire room. Entering another country is stressful for many queer travellers. Married couples wonder whether their relationship will be recognized. Queer parents face disbelief and questioning about their children. HIV-positive travellers may be denied entry.
“Travelling for trans people is always fraught with uncertainty,” says Nicole Nussbaum, a lawyer in London, Ontario, “especially when they’re crossing international borders.”
Often the transgender traveller’s appearance does not match the gender or photo on their ID. Many trans folk travel with ID showing the gender they were assigned at birth, or showing different genders on different documents. Nussbaum’s advice: bring all the documentation you can. This can include a letter from a doctor or social worker and a change-of-name certificate. “You want to be in a position to connect the dots for somebody who’s trying to verify your identity.”
Another concern is the new airport security machines that can perform Whole Body Imaging, showing a traveller’s naked body, including genitals and prostheses. The National Center for Transgender Equality posts a Whole Body Imaging FAQ on their site at nctequality.org.
Meanwhile, if all goes according to plan, the longstanding US ban on HIV-positive visitors should be lifted this January.
Policies of other countries vary. According to the International AIDS Society, about 67 nations restrict HIV-positive visitors or newcomers in some way.
China more or less bans all HIV-positive visitors, though the rules are unclear. Last year, there were reports of random blood tests at border crossings. South Africa apparently has no restrictions for visitors or immigrants. Many EU countries have few or no restrictions. Hivtravel.org has an extensive database for many countries but it may not always be up to date.
Same-sex couples travelling together with their children are not likely to be denied entry, but they could face a lot of questioning. Two men travelling with their child might be asked, “Where is the mother?” even if both their names are on the birth certificate, says family lawyer Kelly Jordan.
“I advise clients to bring as much paperwork as possible,” Jordan says. This could include adoption papers or a court statement saying that the surrogate mother is not the parent.
Crossing borders with her two children, Carlyle Jansen has been asked, “how does their father feel about this?” The problem was solved when she started carrying a long-form birth certificate which states that she is the only parent.
When Jansen travels with her female partner, it doesn’t make that much difference because border guards often assume they’re just friends. Discrimination is replaced with invisibility.
Jansen, who is the founder of a sex toy shop called Good For Her, says travellers are not likely to encounter many problems bringing toys to the US or Europe. It’s best to pack them with the batteries out but accessible, she says.
If toys are in your hand luggage, you can deal personally with any questions that arise, but you can also pack them with checked baggage — it depends on your comfort level.
On a trip about 10 years ago, while going through airport security, Jansen noticed the guards looking in the x-ray machine and furrowing their brows. “[One of them] picked up the toy, I think it was a Rabbit Habit — it had a rabbit on it and another piece that turns around — and she picked it up and turned around and she showed it to the other security guards, and I saw them putting their hands to their mouth, like, ‘Oh my goodness.’
“I remember her mouthing, ‘it’s a vibrator.’ Then she put it back in and I went on my merry way.”