US: The Risks of Traveling While Queer

Joanne Spataro (@lookitsjoanne) is a copywriter and humorist. My work has been featured in The New York Times, ViceBustleThe Establishment and The Huffington Post

Do you get excited at the thought of packing up the car and heading home for the holidays or setting off on a cross-country road trip? I don’t.

When my girlfriend, Lara, and I travel on the road, we have to take precautions. We’re constantly on guard against strangers. Lara is a transgender woman of color, and at rest stops I’m never far from her side, guarding her like a Secret Service agent. Lara doesn’t want to stop at gas stations, and she’ll have me pump gas so that no one can see her and try to size her up.

Late one evening this year, Lara and I were driving home to Charlotte, N.C., from Wilmington, N.C., a three-hour trip. We stopped at a service station in a small town called Whiteville. As I filled the tank and Lara sat in the car, I saw a group of people who could have been extras on “Duck Dynasty” gathered by two pickup trucks. I could feel them glaring at us.

One truck screeched out of the gas station, while the other remained. I got into the passenger seat without telling Lara what I saw and fell asleep. About an hour later, she woke me up with words you never want to hear: “We’re being followed.”

In the face of hate crimes and anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws, travelers are often the most vulnerable: If you’re unaware of a state’s laws or unfamiliar with your surroundings, it’s easy to fall into dangerous situations.

In response, organizations have begun to issue state-level travel advisories: After a rash of hate crimes in Missouri, the N.A.A.C.P. issued its first statewide warning for women, minorities and L.G.B.T.Q. people, urging them to use “extreme caution” when visiting the state. In July, California’s attorney general stopped state-funded travel to Kentucky, Texas, Alabama and South Dakota, responding to anti-L.G.B.T.Q. laws in those states.

Travel advisories and bans may seem like strong measures, but they don’t really protect L.G.B.T.Q. people traveling to or through those states. They’re just a way for politicians and policymakers to look as though they’re doing something, slapping states on the wrist with a pullback on economic incentives. Moves like that weren’t going to help Lara and me on that dark North Carolina highway. Read more via New York Times