It’s always a fascinating topic of conversation while traveling with both gays and straights alike: “What is it like for gay people in your country?” Most of us find it easy to ask that question because it’s a near constant topic of debate and discussion. While it is no doubt something to delve in to, the key is how and when to bring it up.Never ask near or total strangers about this. As obvious as that seems, I’ve heard stories of people throwing the question out there after one drink as if they were chatting over the score of the Mets game. First and foremost, make sure you understand the laws surrounding gay issues and freedom of speech before you head out. For example, in Lithuania it is illegal to talk about homosexuality in public because it has been deemed “propaganda dangerous to the nation’s youth.”Once you understand the context think about ways to integrate the issue into a broader conversation about equal rights or political action in general. This can act as a “feeler” to get a sense of where people may stand politically. Remember that some countries are incredibly religious, meaning that while they may be totally rational in every other aspect of life, when it comes to social issues that are discussed “in the church” opinions may shift.Finally – and perhaps most importantly – don’t assume that just because someone is at a gay bar or has a boyfriend that they are “gay” in their home country. It is very common in parts of conservative Europe, Latin America and Asia for men and women to say to someone, “Yes, I have a boyfriend and I go to gay bars but I am not gay. I am totally different.” While that may seem ludicrous to you or me, it is a very “real” identity in other parts of the world. Bottom line, follow your instincts, remember that the situation may not be like it is at home and that you are the visitor, so respecting local norms is of the utmost importance.

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