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Safe travels: tips for families with LGBTQ+ members 

Traveling as a family can be a great experience that produces lifelong memories. Though my family might not have been able to fly to fun destinations every year when I was growing up (my kids have no idea how lucky they are!), the long road trips in the car with my parents and sister still brought fun adventures and shared stories to tell for years to come. Unfortunately, for families that are part of the LGBTQ+ community, whether they are families with LGBTQ+ parents or LGBTQ+ kids and teenagers, not all travel destinations are welcoming.

Over the past two years, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and policies put in place in states across the country have some families second guessing their vacation destinations. More than once, families in our Gender Health program have asked me to evaluate their upcoming travel ideas to see how “safe” I think it will be for them. Families worry about experiencing hateful comments and discriminatory treatment while traveling with their kids. They also worry about facing real danger of strangers in other states reporting them to authorities, which could place them at risk of being separated as a family.

Despite this, every family and every young person should be able to experience the joy of traveling to new places while staying safe. Doing a little research and preparation before finalizing your travel plans can help ensure a smooth family trip.

Travel tips

Do some digging

  • Before deciding on a destination, do some digging first. If traveling in the U.S., the Human Rights Campaign has a state-by-state scorecard that rates each state on its laws and policies that affect LGBTQ+ people and their families. The scorecard can help give travelers a sense of a destination’s general climate regarding LGBTQ+ families.
  • If traveling abroad, the U.S. State Department provides extensive information about preparations and precautions for LGBTQ+ travelers.
  • When booking accommodations, look for LGBTQ+-friendly hotels, bed and breakfasts or vacation rentals; they are likely to be more welcoming and understanding of your family’s needs. There are also several websites and apps that can help you find LGBTQ+-friendly accommodations, such as Purple Roofs and Ellgeebe.
  • Choose activities at places that welcome LGBTQ+ families. Many national parks, museums and other attractions are LGBTQ+-friendly, but it’s always a good idea to do some research beforehand.

Be prepared

  • Pack copies of important documents — especially if travelling abroad — such as passports, birth certificates, adoption papers (if applicable) and proof of relationship (if traveling with a partner). This blog has more good information for LGBTQ+ families vacationing outside the U.S.
  • Have a backup plan in case you encounter problems. This could include knowing where the nearest LGBTQ+-friendly community center is or having a contact person who can help if needed. If you are traveling to a state that might be known to have anti-LGBTQ policies but still has family friendly attractions (ex: Florida), know in advance the phone number for the advocacy organizations in that state that you could reach out to if needed.
  • If you are traveling with your transgender or gender diverse child, prepare in advance for questions you might get from strangers at hotels, public restrooms or other locations, and how you will handle them without ruining or interfering with your travel plans. Think about any ID-related documents, particularly passports if traveling internationally. Does the gender marker on the passport match your child’s gender identity and expression? If not, that’s OK, but prepare in advance for questions you might encounter at TSA and border entry points. Empower your child to explain their identities and reassure them you will be by their side keeping them safe.
  • Some TSA check points for flights may require a body scan that will detect any differences in your or your child’s body from what the machine expects. For example, travelers wearing binders or breast forms may trigger the “anomaly” on the scanner, which then leads to a manual pat down from a TSA officer. It’s important to know and understand your rights when it comes to airport security. Find helpful information on this website.

Rely on your instincts and lean into your community resources

  • It’s important to relax and recharge while on vacation. It’s also a good idea to stay aware of your surroundings and pay attention to potential dangers. If you feel unsafe in a situation, leave. It’s better to be safe than sorry. When you are traveling as an LGBTQ+ family or with your LGBTQ+ family member, your safety should be your top priority. Educating others or correcting those who are homophobic or transphobic is not your responsibility while you are on vacation. It’s OK to ignore comments and/or avoid confrontation to make yourself and your family feel comfortable.
  • Before you travel, remember, there’s no substitute for personal recommendations. Connect with other LGBTQ+ families and see if they have some good travel ideas. There are many online and offline communities that can be a great source of support and advice. We call ourselves family because we know what it means to look out for each other and help each other navigate complex and scary situations, which even includes travel and vacations. If another LGBTQ+ family you know had a great experience, take them up on their recommendations! If your child’s friend who is LGBTQ+ just had a great family trip, connect with their parents or caregivers and find out what tips they have for travel that helped things go smoothly.
  • As a queer and non-binary adult and parent, I have been in my fair share of uncomfortable and unexpected situations related to my identity and my family while traveling. I’ve had to have conversations with my kids about why some people don’t like “rainbow” families like ours, or what derogatory words or slurs mean when they have heard them. And, I have had many amazing travel and vacation experiences with my kids.

I long for the day when all of us, regardless of our identities, can travel freely without fear and without worries of social or political persecution. LGBTQ+ families and LGBTQ+ youth deserve to be treated with respect and dignity no matter where they are. Until we get there, consider doing a little extra research and preparation before your travel this summer (or anytime) to help improve your vacation experience with your family.

Dr. Kade Goepferd, (they/them)
Chief education officer and medical director of the Gender Health program

Dr. Kade Goepferd, (they/them), is the chief education officer, pediatrician and medical director of the Gender Health program at Children’s Minnesota. Dr. Goepferd is an advocate for advancing equitable health care for all children – including trans and gender-diverse youth. They have been named a Top Doctor by both Minneapolis/St. Paul Magazine and Minnesota Monthly for the last several years and gave their first TED talk, “The Revolutionary Truth about Kids and Gender Identity” at TEDx Minneapolis in 2020.
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