Queers Abroad

Italy, Paradise - Brianna Sommer

It's important to first distinguish gender identity/expression from sexual orientation.  Gender identity is a person's sense of being masculine, feminine, in-between, or androgynous—a sense that is independent from biological sex and usually manifests itself by the age of three or four. Independent from that is gender expression, which is the way you communicate your gender to others.  While sexual orientation refers to a person's emotional, physical, and/or sexual attraction and the expression of that attraction—which does not manifest itself until much later in life, usually after puberty and often not until adulthood.

Understanding how the expression of your gender and sexuality may impact your experience overseas is an important part of the preparation and pre-departure process of studying abroad.  Cultures around the world can vary greatly in their perspectives, social expectations, and opinions relating to the complex concepts of gender and sexual identities.  When you venture out in the world, you carry your identity with you even if it is not readily apparent to those around you. Going abroad can therefore represent a second "coming out", and you will need to make decisions about how and when to express your Queer identity. It is important to think about what kind of support may be available to you in your new environment, especially since contact with your current community of supportive friends and/or family may be limited. 

UCSC Study Abroad aspires to support the study abroad goals of all UCSC students and, to accomplish this, works directly with the Cantú Queer Center at UC Santa Cruz to provide advising tailored to the needs of individual students.  A good place to begin the study abroad journey is to read some of the statements on the Queers Abroad webpage, where queer students have written about their experiences and give advice on living abroad.  We also encourage students to attend a Queers Abroad Workshop which is offered twice a year and hosted by Study Abroad Advisor, Christopher Hanson, and the Cantú Center.

A Word About Location

Being abroad will present opportunities to think about identity in a whole new cultural context, which can be a rewarding learning experience that challenges your preconceived notions of what it means to be Queer. Concepts of identity and the way Queer individuals are perceived vary from country to country, and even between regions within the same country. US students abroad may find themselves visiting places that are more affirming of Queer identity than the United States, and this difference may be reflected in national laws that extend equal access and protection. Other countries may have laws that criminalize homosexuality and an accompanying social hostility toward any public expression of Queer identity.

The International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Association has an interactive map showing Queer specific information for countries around the world. It highlights some stark truths, such as the countries that still apply the death penalty to homosexuals, but it also shows vividly the positive progress being made across the planet to ensure that Queer people everywhere are treated with respect and appreciated for the contribution that they make to the world.

However, national laws and public opinion do not always tell the full story of what a Queer student can expect. Just as there are Californians who strongly oppose the legalization of same sex marriage, there are individuals who support the Queer communities from countries that demonstrate legal intolerance. It can be helpful to consult with several different sources when gathering information in order to assess the relative standing of Queer individuals in any place you plan to visit.

Many thanks to the UC Education Abroad Program (UCEAP) for the grant funding to create this interactive map, as well as the UC Davis scholars who built the map: Yixuan Yang and Christopher Orlando, and UC Davis' Study Abroad liaison, Benjamin Ferguson!

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Program Selection

Just as the level of support from the local community may vary, some programs may be better equipped to address the needs of Queer students than others. Any study abroad program available to UCSC students is a possibility. The key is to identify your expectations and clarify what kind of support the programs you consider are able to offer. Careful program selection and solid pre-departure planning will help you identify opportunities that will allow your Queer identity to be an asset, not a barrier, to your cross-cultural learning.

How ready is your program provider to offer support or address needs related to your Queer identity, like arranging a gay-friendly host family? How able will in-country staff be to help answer questions about local attitudes and concepts of Queer identity?

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Study Abroad Advising and Queer Identity

Your UCSC Study Abroad Advisor will be able to offer insight or recommend resources to learn more about the attitudes toward Queer individuals in your potential study abroad location. Concerns about your sexual orientation or gender identity should not be a barrier to studying abroad.

You will be encouraged to consider all program options, and to address any concerns related to identity with the staff of potential programs. Note that some programs may offer coursework addressing Queer issues, while others may specifically offer Queer friendly housing options or other student services support. Your Programs Abroad Advisor can help you decide how best to address the issue with program staff if you are in need of advice or assistance.

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Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Identity Abroad

The International Education Office recognizes that concerns around safety particular to transgender communities often go unacknowledged. Airports can be particularly difficult for individuals whose presentation are perceived to not match the “M” or “F” on their passport. Immersing in a culture different from one’s upbringing can be difficult without the resources from home to make a validating and safer space. Many transgender and gender non-conforming students must think about questions such as:

  • Will I have access to gender neutral bathrooms, and if not, which bathroom will I get least in to trouble for using?
  • Should I correct people when they get my pronoun wrong?
  • What should I do if the gender on my passport and birth certificate are different?
  • Will there be local LGBT groups, and how are encompassing are they of the “T”?
  • How likely is it that will I be perceived as who I am in my host community?
  • Will I experience discrimination in the country I study in? Who can I talk to about it if I do?
  • Are there additional funding sources that I can look into?

The International Education Office can help answer some of these questions and offer support for students who are concerned for their safety and well-being prior to studying abroad. Inform yourself about your host country’s culture around gender beyond government-enforced policies. Although national laws can reflect a cultural attitude towards transgender communities, it is significant that you surround yourself with people who will not interrogate you about your gender identity. Our office can help you understand the resources and groups available to you in your host country. While you shouldn’t let these obstacles stop you from traveling the world, you don’t have to compromise your dignity and security if you feel a certain program doesn’t have the resources for you to thrive as a transgender or gender non-conforming person.

Tips on Air Travel

Transequality.org offers tips for getting through TSA with resources like the “notification card,” which is a standardized card offered by TSA wherein one can discretely disclose a health or medically related circumstance to an agent as well as requesting assistance from a specialist during check in by calling the TSA hotline 72 hours before checking in.

The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) reveals the specific obstacle that transgender people might face during air travel and how to get around them.

Calpernia Adam's blog provides further resources and advice for traveling transgender folks.


The Transgender Law Center and Transequality.org go over specific passport requirements for name change, gender marker change, two year passports and which forms to use.

The Department of State has information on two year passports. “If a physician certifies that your transition is in process, you are eligible for a limited validity two-year passport.  The signed original statement from the attending medical physician must be on office letterhead and include:

  • Physician’s full name
  • Medical license or certificate number
  • Issuing state or other jurisdiction of medical license/certificate

A limited passport book can be extended to the full ten-year validity book with no additional fee by submitting Form DS-5504 within two-years of the passport issue date.”

Trans* Travel Testimonial

“When in the airport, I cannot stress enough the importance of having the name on the airline ticket and the gender on the airline ticket reservation match the traveler's government photo ID (passport). Both domestically and in international travel, this is what's most likely to trip up a trans traveler.

Domestically, when my presentation didn't match my gender marker, I've had people stare at my ID for a long time or give me another pat-down because I didn't fit the scanner's "ideal" shape for a man or woman. I've never had trouble getting on the plane, but my ID always matched the ticket.”

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Programs Addressing Queer Issues

Here are a few examples of specialized programs that address gender and sexuality issues in the academic curriculum. This is not a definitive list, so your program search should not be limited to the following. We welcome further submissions for posting.

UCEAP: You can use the UCEAP course catalog to search for classes that focus on gender and sexuality (trying searching UC Subject: Women and Gender Studies or Keyword: sex/sexuality).  Some countries with high number of courses that other UC students have taken include: Australia, Barbados, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Ireland, Mexico, Netherlands, Singapore, South Africa, and the UK.  However, please be aware that even though a program in a certain country offers classes focusing on Queer or LGBTQ studies, does not mean it always reflect the attitude of the local community.  Make sure to thoroughly research your program before making a choice. 

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Additional Web Resources

The internal links below are relevant resources for Queer students on the UCSC campus. The external links include organizations, articles, success stories and tips for Queer students preparing to go abroad.

Internal Links

External Links

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