Is your favorite destination in the top five?

Jess McHugh
May 18, 2017

Europe has a history of attracting people whose identities were degraded or flat-out denied by other Western countries. As early as the 19th century, cities like Paris and Berlin became sanctuaries for free-spirited women, African-Americans seeking better treatment, and LGBTQ communities looking for a place to express themselves without fear.

Despite the unifying laws of the European Union —an intergovernmental organization that includes 28 countries — European nations vary greatly when it comes to protecting the rights of LGBTQ people.

The Netherlands has blazed the trail for gay rights worldwide, becoming the first country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage in 2001. Meanwhile, Italy had no form of civil union for LGBTQ people until 2016.

Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images

The country in Europe that offers the best legal and political protections for LGBTQ people is Malta, according to a report by human rights group International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA), and co-sponsored by the European Union.

Situated in the Mediterranean Sea between Sicily and North Africa, Malta is perhaps best known for its bright blue waters, ancient architecture, and a natural stone arch that recently crumbled into the sea.

ILGA used six metrics to determine their rating: legal gender recognition, protections against hate crimes and hate speech, equality and non-discrimination, family laws, safe civil society space, and the right to asylum.

Malta has passed a host of legislation that protects LGBTQ people, including legalizing adoption for same-sex couples and allowing trans teens to legally designate their own gender. Malta also became the first country in Europe to ban “conversion therapy,” a process that aims to change a person’s sexual orientation.

Paul Biris/Getty Images

Norway came in second in the rankings, having excelled in the past year at building up its legal framework for gender recognition, allowing for more bodily autonomy for trans people.

A speech made by Norway’s King Harald in September 2016 that spoke of the country’s dedication to supporting people of all backgrounds and all orientations went viral at a time when populist leaders saw surging support across Europe.

“Norwegians are girls who love girls. Boys who love boys. And boys and girls who love each other,” he said. “In other words, Norway is you. Norway is us.”

The U.K. came in third, followed by Belgium and France.

This data speaks specifically to the legal standings of gay people in Europe, and they might not correlate to the sentiments of locals in any given country or town.

The experience of a tourist coming to visit a country such as Greece or Italy — which ranked 17th and 32nd of 49 countries, respectively —is also likely to be starkly different than that of a local, noted Andrew Lear, a former university professor who leads LGBTQ tours in Greece and Italy.

“It might be difficult to be a gay kid growing up in a provincial Greek town, but that doesn’t mean that a foreign tourist coming through is going to have any problems,” he told Travel + Leisure.

When asked if he or any of his clients had ever experienced discrimination or hate speech in countries like Italy or Greece, Lear didn't hesitate: “Absolutely never.”

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