American Express Global Business Travel (GBT) champions diversity and understands that we are stronger as a result of the unique perspectives and attributes each person offers. As part of our ongoing efforts to promote a workplace where employees can freely be their authentic selves, we strive to make GBT a safe environment for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities and expressions.
We know many of our clients share similar values, but some of the places where they are doing business and sending employees may not have the same respect toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex and asexual (LGBTQIA) people. Therefore, we have put together some safety tips for employers and employees that address some of the challenges LGBTQIA travelers may face when traveling abroad on a business trip.
Acquaint yourself with the local laws and culture
According to the U.S. Department of State, more than 70 countries still criminalize same-sex relationships and other activities. Even if a country does not have legislation that outright forbids same-sex activities, cultural acceptance of the community can vary significantly, not only from country to country but also city to city.
Companies that provide destination-specific travel information to employees also may consider highlighting in pre-trip briefings the challenges LGBTQIA travelers can encounter in certain countries. To make sure employees are in safe hands and are treated with respect, employers may want to inquire with travel suppliers in certain parts of the world about their LGBTQIA policies.
LGBTQIA travelers also should perform their own research on the places where work will be taking them. The U.S. Department of State website offers key safety information on each country as well as a page dedicated to LGBTQIA travelers.
In addition, travelers may enroll in the U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, which will send alerts about the destination they are visiting before and during their trip.
Special transgender security considerations
Some transgender travelers have reported difficulties entering a country on a passport bearing a name and photo that no longer correspond to their gender identity. To avoid such situations, transgender individuals should update their passport to reflect their current identity and ensure that all their travel documents include the same name and gender.
Some of the Transportation Security Administration’s (TSA) security protocols, such as body scanners and pat-downs, can put transgender individuals in an uncomfortable position. For those with concerns regarding these screening procedures, we recommend contacting the TSA Cares helpline prior to a flight.
In addition, we suggest enrolling in TSA Pre✔. Those who get approved for this Customs and Borders Protections’ Trusted Traveler program generally go through a metal detector instead of a body scanner and may experience fewer pat-downs.
Be the one to show respect
According to ManAboutWorld.com’s LGBTQ Guide to Travel Safety, a comprehensive manual breaking down the potential challenges the community may experience abroad, “The issue of safety always goes beyond LGBTQ rights to the much broader topic of human rights. You will enter these countries with a responsibility to be mindful of their citizens as well as the circumstances of their lives, and to respect the local culture” — even if the local culture does not respect the citizens of the LGBTQIA community.
It is prudent for all business travelers to have a safety plan in case they run into some kind of trouble on the road. That process begins back at home, by booking both air and hotel reservations through the corporate booking tool. This way, all itinerary details are captured and traveling employees may easily be reached if an emergency arises and the company using a travel risk management tool like GBT’s Expert Care™ would give the company the ability to pinpoint the traveler’s location and provide immediate assistance, if necessary.
Travelers also may wish to download the Amex GBT Mobile app so they may quickly connect with a GBT travel counselor 24/7 using the Messenger or click-to-call functionality. Phone numbers of the local police and U.S. embassies should also be stored in a mobile phone that is always on hand and charged up.
If a traveler is getting harassed in public, they should try to avoid a confrontation and place distance between themselves and their antagonist(s). If the situation becomes dire, they should seek help immediately.
Err on the side of caution
LGBTQIA employees who are worried about a destination they have been asked to travel to for work may address their concerns with a trusted supervisor and inquire about the protocols and resources in place to keep them safe during their journeys.
But it is also important to remember that harassment incidents are rare. While it’s unusual that LGBTQIA business travelers will experience troubles overseas, it is in everyone’s best interests to be knowledgeable and prepared.