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Travelling on business or working with clients and colleagues from foreign cultures is a part of business in today’s climate. It can offer excitement and enrichment to our working life, but for members of the LGBTQ community it can add a level of stress and reservation as to whether they will be as accepted as they are in their own culture.
Here’s an overview of how the biggest global cultures view and approach LGBTQ
We hope our advice and guidance offers support for individuals seeking advice and for employers wanting to ensure their staff are always safe and happy when representing their business abroad.
Homosexuality is legal in the USA. Same-sex marriage and civil partnerships are legal and same-sex couples are allowed to adopt.
Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity is not illegal on a federal level; the law varies from state to state. The same applies to hate speech and crime against LGBTQ people; the level of protection varies according to zip code, even varying from one city to another.
Similarly, the laws governing trans people vary from state to state. Transsexual people are allowed to change their legal gender but some states do not allow this on birth certificates and others require the individual to undergo reassignment surgery. As of 2019, transgender people are not allowed to serve in the military.
LGBTQ people are widely accepted in society in the USA but their experience varies enormously from place to place; in the strongly religious deep south, for example, attitudes are more conservative. In some areas, business owners are allowed to deny services to LGBTQ people on the grounds of religion.
Advocacy groups report discrimination and exclusion of LGBTQ people in some workplaces, or failure of the courts to enforce the law in workplace, housing and public services discrimination cases.
Homosexuality was only declassified as a mental illness in China in 2001. Although it was decriminalized in 1997, LGBTQ people still have no official rights in terms of discrimination or civil partnerships. While public opinion regarding LGBTQ people in China is becoming increasingly liberal, and advocacy groups more vocal, the government has still not addressed issues such as equality. Homosexuality is still listed together with pornography as a subject of taboo in the mass media. LGBTQ rallies and events, like the marking of International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO) are banned, or subject to police harassment. In 2018, Sina Weibo, one of the main social media platforms, banned all mention of LGBTQ issues, a move that was withdrawn after mass protest online, although censorship in the media remains heavy.
Traditions in China are strong, with families more concerned with inheritance, filial respect and saving face than diversity. Young people who have come out to their parents are still expected to enter into a heterosexual marriage. As many Chinese families only have one child, if that child is male and gay, the family line will end, as gay couples are not allowed to adopt.
Gender expression is difficult, too. Young people under the age of 20 may not legally change their gender and over 20, reassignment surgery is required before changing one’s name and legal gender. Transgender people have no protection against discrimination.
Having said this, living in China as an expatriate LGBTQ person is usually trouble-free. The Chinese prefer to avoid conflict and homophobia is rare. Chinese millennials in particular tend to be tolerant and open minded. Cosmopolitan cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong and in particular, Chengdu, have a thriving gay scene with clubs and bars, gay marriage ceremonies (despite the lack of legal recognition) and a safe environment in which LGBTQ people can live their lives openly and peacefully.
Germany is relatively open-minded about LGBTQ issues. Same-sex marriage became legal in 2017 and same-sex couples may adopt. LGBTQ individuals are protected by law against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity. Hate speech based on sexual orientation or gender identity is a crime. There are several high-profile politicians and other public figures in Germany who are openly gay. Germany also has a rich LGBTQ cultural scene.
Transgender people are allowed by law to change their identity with no need for surgery, although psychiatric evaluation is required. As of 2018, the government is legally obliged to recognize more than two genders in civil status.
Germans do, however, tend to be private people, keeping their personal and work lives separate. While a gay person may be out among friends and family, discussing sexual orientation at work may be seen as inappropriate or simply irrelevant, which can lead to LGBTQ people feeling marginalized when trying to form working relationships with colleagues. While the big cities are extremely LGBTQ-friendly, attitudes in small, rural towns and villages may be more conservative. Having said that, Germany is generally a welcoming and tolerant place for expatriate LGBTQ people to travel, live and work.
Homosexuality is legal in Britain and has become vastly more accepted in society over the last 25 years. Civil partnerships and same-sex marriages are allowed (although in Northern Ireland, only civil partnerships) and same-sex couples are allowed to adopt. LGBTQ people are fully protected by law against discrimination in all aspects of life and hate speech is illegal.
Trans people may change the legal gender on their birth certificate to male or female with no need for reassignment surgery. They do, however, have to provide a medical report and live in their acquired gender for two years before making the official transition, a law LGBTQ rights campaigners are trying to have changed. This Gender Recognition Act is currently under review. There is also no provision on a birth certificate for people who are non-binary (do not identify as male or female).
Being out in the workplace, the military and places of education in Britain is completely acceptable. Many companies have thorough diversity training and inclusivity policies. Britain is regarded as one of the most liberal and progressive countries in the world when it comes to inclusivity and to acceptance of non-conforming gender stereotypes.
France is a liberal and open-minded society where one’s private life is considered one’s own business – but is still deeply traditional and to an extent, conservative, especially in rural areas. Despite the widespread acceptance of the LGBTQ community, many LGBTQ French people may live openly but still harbour fears of what their parents or grandparents would think about their sexuality.
LGBTQ rights to equality are enshrined in the law, although LGBTQ rights organisations continue to report incidents of homophobia and transphobia. In May 2013 same-sex marriage was made legal in France, as was adoption of children by same-sex couples. In 2016, France adopted a law waiving the requirement for transgender people to provide proof of medical treatment to amend their legal gender. Discrimination in the workplace or in provision of services, goods and housing on the grounds of sexual or gender identity is illegal. LGBT individuals are allowed to serve openly in the French army.
Celebrating LGBTQ has become much more popular. Gay Pride in Paris is now a big event for French gay culture, rather than a tourist attraction. In French cities, at least, there is an open and thriving LGBTQ scene. The machismo associated with the countries of southern Europe is largely absent in France. Gay networking site PlanetRomeo’s Gay Happiness Index (a survey of 115,000 gay men globally of the best countries in which to live) ranks France 21st, ahead of both the UK and the USA.
Norway prides itself on being one of the most progressive and open-minded countries in Europe. It was one of the first countries in the world to introduce anti-discrimination laws on the basis of sexual orientation, in 1981. Same-sex marriage has been legal since 2009 and same-sex couples have the same rights as mixed-gender couples, including adoption and access to IVF. Transgender people may by law change their gender purely on the basis of self-identification.
Norway has a lively LGBTQ cultural scene, including bars, clubs, festivals and sporting events. Being out in the workplace is completely accepted and there are several openly LGBTQ public figures in the arts and in politics. Norwegians are, however, fairly reserved people and are often brought up to conform. As such, some trans people in particular still feel that they struggle to fit into society.
Homosexuality is legal in Japan. Same-sex marriage is not, although in some municipalities, civil partnerships are recognised. Foreign same-sex marriages are not recognised and there are no provisions to recognise the immigration of same-sex partners.
In the workplace, there is no specific legislation protecting LGBTQ people against discrimination.
Transgender people are allowed to change their name and gender, but not on their birth certificate. Sterilisation and gender-reassignment surgery are required. Trans people face many issues as being transgender is considered a disorder in Japan and there are deep prejudices. Trans women, in particular, are often confused with drag queens.
Japan embraces strong family values and LGBTQ people may struggle to come out to their parents for fear of shame and recrimination. In the workplace, there are significant differences between Japanese companies and multinationals. The latter have in many cases introduced diversity training, while traditional Japanese companies are more conservative. This is, however, changing, with more awareness and more companies embracing inclusivity. There are several LGBTQ business networking groups and cultural events.
Homosexuality was decriminalised in India in September 2018. Same-sex partners, however, still have no legal rights and civil partnerships and same-sex marriages do not exist. Same-sex couples do not have the right to adopt.
The law was changed in 2018 so that LGBTQ individuals are now protected against discrimination in the workplace. Hate speech regarding sexual orientation or gender identity is now illegal.
India has an estimated 4.8 million transgender people, known as hijras or hijadas. Transgender people are recognised by law as ‘third gender’ and are able to change their identity on certain forms and documents to this, although they are not allowed by law as yet to change their legal name. Since 1997, trans people have been by law entitled to the same pay as males and females for doing the same job.
LGBTQ people in India are unlikely to come out to their families for fear of bringing shame on their parents. Society is traditional and women are expected to marry, often in arranged marriages. The situation is slowly changing, though, thanks to a vocal LGBTQ community and to numerous Pride events all over India, as well as LGBTQ cultural festivals.
Indian companies do not tend to embrace diversity in their workplaces, despite the fact that Indian society is so diverse in other ways. Some multinationals offer diversity training and have strict inclusivity policies but generally speaking, LGBTQ people may be subject to exclusion, bullying and misunderstanding at work. Again, this is slowly changing, particularly with the change in the law in 2018.
Diverse teams really do bring a competitive advantage to an organisation but only when differences are accepted not challenged.
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