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Student Participant Reports

Gays and Lesbians Abroad

Lack of Information Deters Overseas Travel

CETLALIC, the Tlahuica Center for Language and Cultural Exchange, offers year-round Spanish language instruction and cultural immersion programs in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Each June CETLALIC also offers two concurrent 3-week programs: In/Visibility: Lesbian Lives in Mexico and Coming Out: The Gay Men’s Experience in Mexico. Both programs include Spanish study, programming that fosters cultural immersion, and homestays with gay- and lesbian-friendly families.

CETLALIC is one of the very few education abroad programs to directly address gay and lesbian issues. Most overseas programs do not consider the needs of gay and lesbian participants and most programs in locations with organized gay and lesbian communities do not tap into local resources to offer a gay and lesbian homestay option or referrals to local support groups.

Furthermore, advisers often lack the knowledge necessary to effectively advise students about local attitudes toward gay men and lesbians in a given country and about safety issues that any gay or lesbian student must address in deciding where to study or travel.

The lack of reliable information is a major deterrent to international travel for gay men and lesbians. They, along with their international education advisers, often overestimate or underestimate the risk involved for gay men and lesbians traveling to another country.

Bob Barrett, a participant in the CETLALIC gay men’s program, said, “My expectations were centered around my anxiety about the risk I perceived myself to be taking. Those anxieties faded and everything was wonderful.”

Conversely, it is possible to underestimate the risks involved. At the age of 15, having recently come out of the closet, I participated in a high school program in Israel. Being far from family and friends without a support system was a lonely experience at best.

When I confided in my program director that I was having trouble adjusting because I felt I had to hide my gayness from other program participants for fear of rejection, he gave me a sermon on the immorality of homosexuality. Had I considered the implications of being gay in another country and received advising prior to departure, I might have looked for a program more responsive to my needs, a country more receptive to gay men and lesbians, or at least have known how to contact local gay and lesbian organizations for support. As it was, I didn’t know that such organizations existed in Israel until after I came back home, having left the program early, dejected and convinced that international education was not for gay people.

Over 10 years later, I found myself in Cuernavaca, in a gay- and lesbian-friendly homestay. Finally, I was able to focus my attention and energy on an international experience without being preoccupied with my identity. The experience led to my mastery of Spanish, years of working in Mexico, and ultimately my decision to make international education a career.

In addition to offering gay and lesbian programs each June. CETLALIC periodically offers 3-week thematic programs, including Women and Social Change in Mexico and Multicultural Mexican Reality in the Third Millennium. Gay and lesbian homestays are available throughout the year. For more information contact CETLALIC at www.cetlalic.org.mx.

Other gay and lesbian themed programs include one in The Netherlands: Sexuality Gender and Identity, sponsored by SIT Study Abroad, a semester program offering academic credit to undergraduates. The program includes a gay and lesbian friendly homestay option, field study, independent study, Dutch language study, and a thematic seminar. For more information, see SIT StudyAbroad’s website www.sit.edu/studyabroad.

Direct enrollment can be an option for students of gay and lesbian studies interested in a semester or year abroad. Many universities abroad have gender studies departments or course offerings. Check directly with the university where you are interested in studying to see if courses or programs are available.

Resources for Gay And Lesbian Travelers

International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), founded in 1990, keeps tabs on human rights abuses based on sexual orientation around the world.

International Lesbian and Gay Association (ILGA), founded in 1978, is a worldwide federation of over 350 gay and lesbian organizations in over 80 different countries.

NAFSA: Association of International Educators Rainbow Special Interest Group (SIG). Their website contains a bibliography with a list of travel resources, including guidebooks, for gay men and lesbians.

Immigration Equality provides Lesbian, Gay, and Transgender immigration rights legal services, information, referrals, and support for bi-national couples, U.S. immigrants with HIV/AIDS, and sexual orientation-based asylum seekers.

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