On April 22 the UK issued a travel advisory warning its LGBT citizens that they may be impacted by recent legislation when traveling to North Carolina and Mississippi.
Both states have recently passed controversial legislation impacting the LGBT community. In North Carolina, the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, passed on March 23, 2016, requires individuals to use the bathroom which corresponds with the gender reported on their birth certificate when in any public building. In Mississippi, the Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, passed on April 5, 2016, allows businesses and religious organizations to refuse employment or service to individuals based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.
In the local laws and customs section of their foreign travel advice for the US, UK officials remind LGBT citizens that “the US is an extremely diverse society and attitudes towards LGBT people differ hugely across the country.” They encourage travelers to keep these regional differences in mind when planning a trip to the US.
For TCKs, dealing with regional differences is an everyday norm.
“Being internationally mobile means you don’t expect another part of the world to be exactly like home and that that’s ok,” shared Darja Popova, a TCK who grew up between Latvia and the US.
Popova found the UK’s travel advisory a bit odd. She felt that individuals should always be aware of regional differences and make efforts to comply with local laws and customs when traveling internationally. “I feel frustrated that the UK has to warn the LGBT community that they have to follow well-established bathroom laws and respect US citizens’ rights when visiting parts of the US,” she shared.
Many tourists feel differently. Both North Carolina and Mississippi have already seen a decline in tourism since the implementation of this legislation.
According to Shivani Vora of the New York Times, “Both states have been hit by hotel cancellations from tourists who spend a combined tens of billions of dollars annually.”
“In Charlotte, which has a large convention center, more than 20 conventions have either canceled or are no longer considering holding their event in the state, resulting in a loss so far of around $2.5 million,” Vora writes.
In response to this backlash, the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority (CRVA) has launched the Always Welcome campaign to “showcase the diversity and inclusiveness of our community.” According to CRVA’s website, local residents and businesses can display the Always Welcome logo to “express how open and accepting the community they call home is.”
Popova found this negative response somewhat surprising. “Comparatively, the US is more accepting/tolerating of different people groups than many other parts of the world, however I don’t think it’s as accepting as perhaps the UK is,” she said. “For instance, I know many people in Latvia would not receive an LGBT person with any kindness, let alone accommodate their laws.”
Unlike tourists, when TCKs travel between countries, travel advisories are often very low on their list of priorities. Concerns about saying goodbye to old friends and making new ones, learning your way around a new city, and pleasing family members and superiors take precedent.
In high school, Popova traveled back to Latvia for the first time since moving to the US when she was six. “When visiting back I had to travel alone and I had concerns of getting lost while traveling,” she shared. “After I arrived, my worries became mainly about pleasing my family members since their customs are pretty different from what I grew up with in the US.”
Popova expressed concern that travel advisories such as the one issued by the UK might dampen individuals’ overall traveling experience. “I think if I heard any travel advisory such as this one it would probably make me feel uncomfortable, especially for anyone around me that it does affect,” she shared.
However, she did feel that the international experience of TCKs might be useful in situations like these. “I think children who are internationally mobile generally tend to be more open-minded towards people and opportunities since they have experienced more cultures,” she said.