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OECD Guidance for LGBT Travellers

The External Security Service (EXD/CSI/CSD), in charge of providing travel advice and security recommendations to OECD Officials before they leave on mission abroad, is considering creating a brochure with specific information for LGBT travellers. They have consulted GLOBE for advice and possible input.

Another brochure with information for female travellers already exists. The brochure has given rise to various comments. Many female colleagues appreciate it, while some of them think it is not relevant or necessary.

GLOBE has consulted its members through an online survey, asking them how worthwhile they think the guide might be, what the content might be, and what format it might take. This document summarises the findings, and proposes a way forward.

GLOBE welcomes this initiative

Respondents were generally positive about the idea of travel information, and welcomed the External Security Service’s initiative to consider LGBT colleagues. Most respondents were favourable to proceeding with producing a guide, although some felt it wasn’t a priority. One suggested that any information might be better integrated in a universal travel guide, which also addresses particular diverse challenges and needs such as those of women, LGBT people, colleagues with disabilities, and so on. Another felt that a guide would ‘create differentiation’ that was unnecessary.

Existing resources can serve as inspiration

Respondents noted existing guides that serve a similar purpose to the one proposed, each of which has its own advantages and shortcomings. Examples include:

Proposed content

Main areas for content mentioned included:

  • Legal status of homosexuality

  • Safety issues such as incidence of hate crime, prejudice and general social attitudes

  • The OECD’s position on particular matters relating to LGBT staff on mission

Legal status of homosexuality is a matter of concern, but high-quality information is already available

The legal status of homosexuality was of concern to some of our respondents. Laws vary widely in their nature and implementation. For example in some countries only certain male homosexual acts are illegal, but not female ones, and there may or may not be laws against public advocacy of LGBT rights. In other countries, all sexual activities are legal, but there are laws against ‘propaganda’ that effectively outlaw public expression of one’s sexual orientation. These laws may also change frequently.

ILGA's overview of sexual orientation laws in the world

Numerous resources already exist for colleagues to refer to; as such there is little added value in the OECD duplicating their work. GLOBE recommends that the guide include one or more links to up-to-date resources where colleagues can find the information they need. Examples include:

  • ILGA publishes a world map detailing laws on sexual orientation. The map is updated every year as part of their State Sponsored Homophobia report, and is available in several languages.

  • The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has general and country-specific information for LGBT travelers.

  • Equaldex is an open-source project which keeps up-to-date information about laws relating to LGBT people.

  • The Global Database on HIV related travel restrictions provides information for colleagues living with HIV.

Safety and social concerns are a matter for individual judgement and discretion, but more information resources could be provided

On general attitudes and safety, it’s very difficult to provide accurate information that will be relevant for every individual in every possible circumstance during a particular mission. One survey respondent thought it unwise to ‘demonise’ countries for failing to respect LGBT rights.

Two sets of information resources were requested to feature in any guide:

  • What number to call in the event of a problem (state-sponsored homophobia or otherwise)—this need not just be the OECD general SOS number, but could also include local organisations that have experience dealing with LGBT-related hate crime

  • Medical and legal services in case of need

Information is better than advice

Most respondents focused their requests on information, not advice. GLOBE cautions against offering advice altogether. For example, well-intentioned messages like ‘keep a low profile’ could be badly received as ‘advice on how to behave’. They could also be seen as insensitive to colleagues who do not easily pass as straight or cisgender. The decision to hide one’s identity is a complex and personal one that most LGBT people have ample experience in navigating. OECD colleagues generally possess good skills in diplomatic sensitivity. Therefore it is not necessary to advise them on when to strategically retreat to the closet.

One way to present advice in a more diplomatic way would be to use quotes from LGBT colleagues who have developed and shared their own good practices while on mission. This technique is used to some effect in the Man About World LGBT Guide to Business Travel.

The OECD does not provide information resources on entertainment or dating

While some respondents suggested that the guide could include information about nightlife and gay-friendly hotels, most preferred these things to be excluded in order to keep a focus on work and safety.

GLOBE also feels it unnecessary to include information about dating apps, precautions around meeting strangers, safer sex, and so on. Instead, CDS could consider a general line to all staff urging them to take sensible precautions as appropriate to their particular preferences and practices, and encouraging them to review the latest advice from reputable sources.

The OECD’s position is unclear on a number of potentially important matters for LGBT staff on mission

Many respondents to the survey said they were unsure of the OECD’s position on the following matters:

  • Can an official refuse to go on mission for reasons related to their sexual orientation or gender identity? For example if they feel that their personal safety could be in danger.

  • What is the OECD’s response if an official is arrested under allegations of violating a law prohibiting sexual activity of a certain nature?

  • What support can the OECD offer officials who have been the victim of harassment or discrimination (state-sponsored or otherwise) while abroad?

Transgender colleagues need to know what support and protection are available to them

GLOBE takes very seriously the need to consider the particular challenges and needs of transgender colleagues, and notes that any guide on LGBT travellers should reflect this.


GLOBE members made a number of suggestions relating to the format of the guide. Notably none of them requested a printed leaflet. The main suggestions were:

  • A page on the intranet that could be kept up to date

  • Using the Tip of the Week to draw attention to the new resource

  • Including a link to LGBT-specific information within the existing safety recommendations sent prior to missions


Diversity means differences in the ways in which individuals think, respond to situations, meet their needs, do their duties, and fulfil their potential [1]. GLOBE is pleased to see these differences taken into account and integrated into the functioning of the OECD; that is the core of our mission. This initiative from CSD is therefore to be welcomed.

In that sense, the differences of LGBT staff are part of the core objectives of CSD. They are not an accessory or add-on bonus, and there should be no suggestion as such. CSD produce a number of emails and intranet sites already related to travel safety and advice; GLOBE would like to see LGBT considerations integrated into these existing resources.

GLOBE would therefore request the following:

  1. As a first step: an information-based page on the intranet (rather than a full advice-based guide like the one produced for women). The page should:

  • Affirm the Organisation’s commitment to equitable protection of all staff’s safety while on mission, and recognise the specific potential challenges faced by LGBT staff;

  • Offer links to information resources on specific challenges, such as the ILGA map;

  • Remind staff what action to take and whom to contact in case of need;

  • Clarify the OECD’s position on the frequently asked questions above;

  1. In the near-term: a line in every Travel Advice email referring to the safety of LGBT colleagues and linking to the intranet page.

  2. In the longer term: specific and relevant information on safety for LGBT colleagues integrated as part of the bullet points in the Travel Advice for every country.

[1] Nelson Lim, Michelle Cho, and Kimberly Curry, Planning for Diversity: Options and Recommendations for DoD Leaders (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2008), 17.

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