We spent 2 years travelling around Asia and completely fell in love with the continent. It offers so much in terms of cultural experiences, food and landscapes, with some of the most humble people you'll ever meet.
But when it comes to LGBTQ rights, Asia has some serious work to do! In quite a lot of countries in Asia, being gay is either illegal or an arrestable offence, like in Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, the Maldives, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. If it's not illegal, then it's such a strong taboo that you have to stay in the closet to avoid jeopardising your job prospects and embarrassing your family like in China, Russia and Indonesia.
Despite this, there are a number of countries in Asia that are paving the way forward in relation to LGBTQ rights. We've selected the top 10 most gay friendly countries in Asia, which we've based on the following criteria:
- Where are they at with same sex marriage legislation, along with other LGBTQ laws?
- What is the gay scene like and do they have any notable annual LGBTQ festivals?
- Our personal experience travelling there as a gay couple, with reference to the most recent Spartacus Gay Travel Index.
We have taken it as a given that homosexuality is legal in the countries we've selected, which is why we haven't included Singapore despite it having quite a vibrant gay scene and a famous LGBTQ PinkDot festival in June/July.
We have also included two “places” (Taiwan and Hong Kong) rather than “countries”, because although they're not officially recognised “countries”, they can still be regarded as a “country” given they have their own flag, currency, national anthem, set of laws etc
Taiwan is the runaway pink trailblazer of Asia. In May 2019 it broke all records by becoming the first (and to date, only) place on the entire continent to pass same-sex marriage laws. Whilst the other countries in this list are still grappling with civil union legislation (if at all!), Taiwan has powered ahead and is the clear leader on our list.
LGBTQ rights in Taiwan
A big part of what makes Taiwan so progressive is that after the 38 years of the restrictive Martial Law or “White Terror” era ended in 1987, there was a huge push for democracy and change. Anti-discrimination laws were passed in education (2004), employment (2007) and other areas of business (2017). In addition, gays were allowed to serve in the military from 2002, the right to change legal gender introduced in 2008 and conversion therapy outlawed in 2018.
The gay scene of Taiwan
The biggest LGBTQ community of Taiwan can be found in the capital, Taipei, which also has one of the best gay scenes in Asia. Most of the gay bars of Taipei are based in and around the Ximen Red House Complex, such as Cafe Dalida, Secret Garden and the Commander D fetish bar. Other gay bars nearby include Hero, Hunt, Goldfish and Fairy. In terms of gay clubs in Taipei, Gstar and Cercle are the most popular.
Other cities in Taiwan like Kaohsiung, Tainan and Taichung City also have a few gay hangouts.
Gay events in Taiwan
Taiwan is notorious for having the largest gay festival in Asia: Taipei Pride. It takes place on the last Saturday in October, attracting crowds of around 150,000. Some of the best gay parties in Taiwan happen around Taipei Pride, in particular the WOOW Pool Party and the Formusa Pride Party.
The Mr Gay Taiwan pageant also takes place in late October, usually coinciding with Taipei Pride. The other big gay event in Taipei to look out for is the monthly queer party called Blush. Find out more in our interview with local boy Po-Hung about gay life in Taiwan:
Interesting fact about gay Taiwan: they have a God for homosexual love!
Yup you read right! Taiwan has its own God for homosexual love called Tu'er Shan or the Rabbit God. Tu'er Shan has his own temple in New Taipei City, making it the only gay religious shrine in the world!
Gay Taiwan in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: it was never illegal!
- Gay marriage or civil unions: gay marriage laws passed in May 2019.
- Gay scene: large gay scene in Taipei as well as in Kaohsiung and Taichung.
- Gay events in Taiwan: Taipei Pride in October, which includes big parties like the WOOW Pool Party and the Formusa Pride Party. Also look out for the monthly Blush queer parties.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 41 which is Spartacus' joint highest (with Nepal) placing for an Asian country. But this was before Taiwan legalised gay marriage, so expect it to be a lot higher next year.
Thailand is often cited as one of the most popular gay destinations in Asia and we totally agree. Thailand is our happy place in the world, especially the gay scene of Bangkok.
We love the Thais and found them to be very welcoming and friendly. What sums it up is a recent Nida Poll, which showed a whopping 88.72% of Thais to be accepting of gays (although in the same survey, a less impressive 59.20% in favour of gay marriage laws).
LGBTQ rights in Thailand
Thailand legalised homosexuality in 1956. Since 2015, it has had an array of anti-discrimination laws in place in education, employment and elsewhere, including hate speech. In relation to the military, gays have been allowed to serve since 2005 and homosexuality was declassified as an illness in 2002.
With regards to same sex marriage, unlike Taiwan, this is not on the cards sadly. However, Thailand is in the process of reviewing a Life Partnership Bill. When this becomes law, it would grant same-sex couples limited rights relating to property and inheritance, but not for public welfare, tax benefits, or adoption.
The gay scene of Thailand
The majority of the gay scene of Thailand is in the capital, Bangkok, particularly around Silom Soi 4 and 6. We love it because there is always an exciting atmosphere and we always have a great time. Some of the main gay bars to check out include Stranger, Telephone and Balcony. The best gay club in Bangkok is DJ Station.
Other places in Thailand with a gay scene include Phuket and Pattaya, and to a lesser extent, Chiang Mai.
Gay events in Thailand
Whilst the country doesn't have a formal Pride taking place each year, Bangkok's Songkran Gay Circuit Party in April is one of the most exciting gay festivals in Asia. Around this time of year, there is also an equivalent gay party taking place in Phuket and Pattaya. Also in Pattaya is the annual Asia Circuit Festival in June.
Bangkok had its first gay film festival in 2015, which is now the BangkokThai International Film Festival (BANGIFF), open to all. Whilst it's lost its gay title, it still retains a significant LGBTQ segment. The BANGIFF takes place in October.
Interesting fact about gay Thailand: very trans friendly!
Thailand is one of the most trans friendly countries in Asia, mainly as a result of having an abundance of highly skilled and inexpensive doctors specialising in gender reassignment surgeries. Also of note is that in March 2019, transgender filmmaker Tanwarin Sukkhapisit, was elected to the Thai parliament, becoming the country's first ever transgender MP.
Find out more in our interview with trans person Regina who moved from the Philippines to live in Bangkok to have her surgeries.
Gay Thailand in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: 1956
- Gay marriage or civil unions: the Same Sex Life Partnership Registration Bill is pending. If it becomes law, it will offer limited rights to “life partners”.
- Gay scene: large gay scene in Bangkok and Phuket. Smaller gay scene in Chiang Mai.
- Gay events in Thailand: the Songkran Bangkok Gay Circuit Party in April, the Asia Circuit Festival in June and the BangkokThai International Film Festival (BANGIFF) in October.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 47
In the “race for second place”, Cambodia is often touted as the next most gay friendly place in Asia after Taiwan. When we arrived in Phnom Penh, we found an unexpectedly large gay scene, which we loved.
Throughout our travels in Cambodia as a gay couple, we found people to be very accepting towards us, particularly in the big cities like Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanoukville.
LGBTQ rights in Cambodia
Cambodia has no record of ever having any anti-gay laws in its history! The equal age of consent has always been 15 for everyone regardless of sexual orientation. However, there are not yet any anti-discrimination laws in effect.
Whilst gay marriage is not yet legal in Cambodia, in 2018 the government introduced a civil contract that same-sex couples can enter into called a “Declaration of Family Relationship” (DoFR), offering limited rights. The DoFR is a symbolic civil contract between two people who are willing to be together and share responsibility of taking care of family, children and to distribute joint assets.
The gay scene of Cambodia
The capital, Phnom Penh, is where you'll find the best gay bars and clubs like Toolbox, Space and Blue Chilli. Siem Reap, the base to visit Angkor Wat, also has a fun gay scene with gay bars like Miss Wong, Barcode and Heaven & DreamBoys.
Gay events in Cambodia
In May, there is an annual Pride in Phnom Penh going strong since 2003. More recently since 2018, Siem Reap also has an annual Pride taking place in May.
Interesting fact about gay Cambodia: a gay King?
Rumour has it that King Norodom Sihamoni of Cambodia is gay! Nothing is official about this but this ballet-dancing-lifelong-bachelor remains a much-loved figure in Cambodia.
Whether King Sihamoni is gay or not, one thing he has publicly come out for is for progressive LGBTQ rights, including gay marriage. Even his father King Norodom Sihanouk (and predecessor) advocated for LGBTQ rights as far back as 2004. Read more about gay Cambodia in our interview with Aaron from Phnom Penh.
Gay Cambodia in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: it was never illegal!
- Gay marriage or civil unions: the “Declaration of Family Relationship” (DoFR) is a symbolic Civil Contract and public ceremony for same sex couples, introduced in 2018.
- Gay scene: large gay scene in Phnom Penh and a smaller one in Siem Reap.
- Gay events in Cambodia: Phnom Penh Pride and also in Siem Reap, both in May.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 57
As visitors to Japan, we felt very welcome. When it comes to customer service the Japanese are ahead of everyone. They do everything with such precision and attention to detail, always with a smile. Whoever you are, you'll feel this in Japan. For locals, however, the situation is more complex because Japanese society is quite conservative. Despite this, it's changing and improving all the time; certainly by Asian standards.
We place Japan high on this list because from our perspective as foreigners, we not only felt it was one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia but also one of the safest and most advanced. And where else in the world are you going to find a city with over 300 gay bars?!
LGBTQ rights in Japan
Japan got rid of its anti-gay laws in 1880 and interestingly has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world – 13 (which is the same for everyone, straight or gay). Other progressive laws include the right to change your legal gender (introduced in 2003) and gays allowed to openly serve in the Japanese military.
With regards to anti-discrimination laws, there are none nationwide. However, Tokyo and Ibaraki each have their own anti-discrimination laws in place. In relation to gay marriage, it is not legal in Japan, although some parts of the country allows same-sex couples to register a “Partnership Certificate”, which gives limited rights to aid with hospital visits and renting apartments.
The gay scene of Japan
Tokyo has a whopping 300 or so small gay bars crammed together in the “Ni-Chōme” area of the Shinjuku district. Some of the main gay bars and clubs of Tokyo to check out include Arty Farty, Campy! and AiiRo. Check out our gay guide to Tokyo for more details.
Other cities in Japan that have a few notable queer hangouts include Nagasaki, Kyoto, Osaka and Hiroshima.
Gay events in Japan
The main gay festival in Japan is Tokyo Rainbow Pride in April/May, based mainly around Yoyogi Park. In July the Rainbow Reel Tokyo takes place, which is the main annual Japanese LGBTQ film festival.
Interesting fact about gay Japan: the male geisha
The original geisha of Japan were men not women! The taikomochi were male advisors, artists and gifted storytelling entertainers to their feudal lords dating back to the 1200s. The first female geisha didn't actually appear in Japan until the 1700s, but quickly grew so popular that “geisha” became associated with women rather than men.
Today there are only a handful of male geisha left in Japan…increased by 2 when we visited: watch Stefan's video time-lapse of his geisha transformation above!
Gay Japan in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: 1880
- Gay marriage or civil unions: none yet, but in 2015 some cities began issuing “Partnership Certificates” – an unofficial document to help with hospital visits and renting apartments.
- Gay scene: large gay scene in Tokyo and a few queer hangouts in Nagasaki, Osaka, Hiroshima and Kyoto.
- Gay events in Japan: Tokyo Rainbow Pride in April/May and the Rainbow Reel Tokyo LGBTQ film festival in July.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 68
5. The Philippines
As far as we're concerned, the Filipinos are one of the friendliest people on the planet. The Filipino Hospitality is a thing and it is very important to them. Every time we hang out with Filipino friends anywhere in the world, whether in London, Toronto or Manila, we always leave feeling loved and happy. They have that power and we ADORE them for it.
The 2013 Pew Research Centre study about society's attitudes to homosexuality around the world found that 73% of Filipinos felt that homosexuality should be accepted, which was one of the highest. However, the Philippines is still heavily influenced by the Catholic Church, with large parts of society retaining very backward, conservative and homophobic views; hence the comparatively low Spartacus rating of #95. Despite this, we strongly feel that the Philippines is one of the most gay friendly countries in Asia. We asked some of our fabulous Filipino friends what is it about the Philippines that is so gay friendly and you can read what they said here.
LGBTQ rights in the Philippines
Homosexuality has always been legal in the Philippines and the age of consent has always been the same for everyone throughout its history. Interestingly, the Philippines has one of the lowest ages of consent in the world: 12!
Anti-discrimination laws are in place across parts of the Philippines and will soon be applied nationwide. In relation to the military, gays have been allowed to openly serve in the Filipino army since 2009. With regards to gay marriage, although this is not yet legal in the Philippines, the Civil Partnership Bill was introduced in October 2017 and is likely to become law very soon.
The gay scene of the Philippines
The main gay scene of the Philippines is in the capital, Manila, which has hangouts like O Bar, Adonis and Nectar. Other cities with notable LGBTQ hangouts include Davao City, Quezon City and Cebu.
Boracay Island used to be a massive gay party destination. However, since the big clean up of Boracay in 2018, most gay places have closed down. Find out more in our gay guide to Boracay. You can also read about what it's like growing up gay in the Philippines in our interview with Rione from Manila.
Gay events in the Philippines
Manila Pride in late June is the largest gay event in the Philippines, attracting around 25,000 people. Quezon City also has a Pride in March.
The annual QC International Pink Film Festival (QCIPFF) in Quezon City in November is famous for being one of the largest and best LGBTQ film festivals in Asia.
The Filipinos are very enthusiastic about beauty pageants, particularly the Mr Gay competitions. Every year the Philippines send their representative to the Mr Gay World competition, and have even won it twice: John Fernandez Raspado in 2017 and Janjep Carlos in 2019.
Interesting fact about gay Philippines: the first LGBTQ political party in the world!
In 2003 the LGBTQ political party Ang Ladlad (meaning “out of the closet”) was established by writer Danton Remoto. It was (and still is) the only LGBTQ political party in the world!
Sadly, due to lack of political funding, their campaigning efforts were limited, so they only managed to get 0.38% of votes in the 2010 election, 0.37% in 2013 and were disqualified in the 2016 elections.
Gay Philippines in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: it was never illegal!
- Gay marriage or civil unions: the Civil Partnership Bill was introduced in 2017 and is likely to become law very soon.
- Gay scene: the main gay scene is in Manila. There are a few gay hangouts in Davao City, Quezon City, Cebu City and Boracay.
- Gay events in the Philippines: Manila Pride in June, Quezon City Pride in March and the QC International Pink Film Festival (QCIPFF) in Quezon City in November.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 95 (but we think this should be higher!)
6. Hong Kong
Whilst Hong Kong is generally regarded as part of China, we list it here independently because, like Taiwan, Hong Kong is a fabulous pink breath of fresh air in what is a very conservative region of the world. Being gay in China is tough, especially due to the strict freedom of expression laws. These laws ban any online display of “abnormal sexual behaviours”, which includes homosexuality. In addition, there are no anti-discrimination laws in place in China and gay marriage is a looooong way away from becoming a reality.
In Hong Kong, things are more relaxed. Society in Hong Kong is still quite conservative but its reputation as an international financial hub and its independence from China has allowed it to thrive to become one of the most gay friendly places in Asia.
LGBTQ rights in Hong Kong
The anti-gay laws were revoked in 1991 with the age of consent equalised to 16 in 2006. There are anti-discrimination laws in place but only for government employees. In terms of gay marriage laws, there are none, but this is currently being challenged in the Hong Kong High Court. Foreign registered gay marriages are however recognised in Hong Kong.
The gay scene of Hong Kong
Despite its small size, there are a number of gay bars across Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, particularly in Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. Some of the best gay bars and clubs in Hong Kong include: FLM, T:ME Bar, Petticoat Lane and Bing Bing.
Gay events in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Pride in November is the largest gay festival, attracting around 10,000 people. In addition, on the 17th May, there is an annual procession for the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia (IDAHOBIT).
The Hong Kong Lesbian & Gay Film Festival in September is regarded as the oldest LGBTQ film festival in Asia, dating back to 1989.
Interesting fact about gay Hong Kong: the Gay Games 2022
Hong Kong is confirmed to host the Gay Games 2022. The Gay Games is like the LGBTQ equivalent of the Olympic Games, held every 4 years. It started in 1982 in San Francisco and has been hosted in a different city ever since, mainly in North America, Europe and Australia. This will be the first time it takes place in Asia, which is terrific news for the LGBTQ community of Hong Kong!
Gay Hong Kong in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: 1991
- Gay marriage or civil unions: none, but in 2009 the Hong Kong government introduced limited rights to cohabiting couples. A high profile court case is currently reviewing the lack of a Civil Partnership law.
- Gay scene: large gay scene in Hong Kong with several bars, clubs and parties.
- Gay events in Hong Kong: Hong Kong Pride in November, a LGBTQ Film Festival in September and an annual procession for IDAHOBIT on 17 May.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 68 (but defined as “China”).
7. South Korea
South Korea is a bit of a paradox. On the face of it, it is renowned for having a persistent LGBTQ intolerance due to antipathy from influential evangelical conservative Christian groups, hence the low Spartacus rating at #122.
Yet the capital Seoul has not only one of the best (and biggest) gay scenes in Asia, it has the second largest gay festival and has also become a cultural hub for queer culture. Remember, this is where Kim Chi and Soju from RuPaul's Drag Race come from. Also, one of our favourite gay icons originates from South Korea: comedian, Margaret Cho.
LGBTQ rights in South Korea
On the one hand, South Korea has never had any anti-gay laws ever in its history. The age of consent has always been equal at 13, and the right to change legal gender was introduced in 2006. But on the other hand, there are no gay marriage or civil union laws, no national anti-discrimination laws and there is an outright ban on LGBTQ people serving in the military.
The silver lining: whilst there are not yet any national anti-discrimination laws, many provinces are enacting them at a local level and in 2014, the government voted in favour of an anti-discrimination UN resolution against LGBTQ people. In addition, homosexuality was officially declassified as “harmful and obscene” in 2003. In relation to gay marriage, there is a strong push to change the constitution in favour of gay marriage, with important court cases taking place about it.
The gay scene of South Korea
Seoul has one of the largest gay scenes in Asia with queer hubs in Homo Hill in Itaewon, and also in Jongno. Homo Hill is where the majority of the popular gay bars of Seoul can be found like Lollipop, Queen, Q-Bar, Almaz, Always Homme, Bottoms Up and Why Not. Jongno is where the original Seoul village started out and is now more of a local scene with places like OWOO, Wallpaper Karaoke Bar and The Nine.
Seoul also has some of the best gay parties, like Trance and Shade @ CakeShop, Gray Club, SOHO, King, HIM by Pulse and the HOMPA by Le Queen.
Gay events in South Korea
What South Korea has in terms of conservative Christian intolerance, it sure as hell makes up for it in terms of a gay scene and queer events! Seoul Pride sums this up. Every year, usually in June/July, the capital hosts the second largest LGBTQ event in Asia (after Taipei Pride) called the Seoul Queer Festival, attracting crowds of around 120,000. Sadly, as popular as this event is, conservative Christian groups always try to hinder it. They managed to get it cancelled in 2015 and in 2018, an online petition demanding it to be cancelled managed to get almost 220,000 signatures! Thankfully, it still went ahead successfully, as have all subsequent Seoul Pride events since.
Other cities in South Korea holding Prides include Daegu, Busan, Gwangju, Jeju, Incheon and Jeonju, however each one also has a strong Christian anti-LGBTQ rally taking place at the same time.
The Seoul Drag Parade started in May 2018, campaigning for awareness for the queer community. It was so successful that it become an annual event every May. In terms of film festivals, the Korea Queer Film Festival (KQFF) takes place in July. Finally, the I Am Seoul circuit parties in August rival the Songkran Circuit parties of Thailand as some of the best in Asia.
Interesting fact about gay South Korea: a hub for Asian queer culture
When you talk about South Korea amongst Asian friends, two things immediately come to mind – plastic surgery and K-Pop (Korean pop music). Seoul has become one of Asia's top destinations for plastic surgery, particularly among men looking to achieve a “pretty boy” look and a macho physique; usually inspired by the strong K-Pop culture like boy band Shinee. In the K-pop world itself, more and more celebrities are coming out. For example, in March 2016 the girl group Mercury debuted with Choi Han-bit – a transgender model; and in January 2018 the singer Holland famously came out, becoming the first openly gay K-pop idol in the country.
South Korea also had its first Seoul Drag Parade in May 2018, which is the only one we know of in Asia. As it took place with no counter “anti-gay” protest, it was considered a massive success and has been repeated annually ever since. The Seoul gay scene also has a large drag show scene, which has given us the likes of Kim Chi and Soju on RuPaul's Drag Race.
Gay South Korea in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: it was never illegal!
- Gay marriage or civil unions: not recognised under South Korean law but attempts have been made to introduce same-sex partnership laws in the past, with pending court cases for it.
- Gay scene: Seoul has one of the largest gay scenes in Asia, with no fewer than two gay villages – the main one around Homo Hill in Itaewon and a more local one in Jongno.
- Gay events in South Korea: the Seoul Drag Parade in May, the Seoul Queer Festival in July, the Korea Queer Film Festival in Seoul in July and the I Am Seoul circuit parties in August.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 122 (but despite this low ranking we include it in this list because of the huge gay scene of Seoul and abundance of queer events).
Vietnam is a gay friendly country with a relatively high Spartacus ranking of #68, mainly due to it having quite progressive LGBTQ laws. We certainly found the Vietnamese people to be accepting and welcoming to us as a gay couple.
But while we've included it in our list we've placed it towards the lower end, below South Korea. This is because despite the progressive laws, the country lacks a big gay scene, particularly when compared to more conservative countries like South Korea and Hong Kong.
LGBTQ rights in Vietnam
Vietnam has never had any anti-gay laws, has always had an equal age of consent for sexual activity (17), gays are allowed to serve in the military, the right to change your legal gender was introduced in 2017 and single gay people are allowed to adopt. There are no anti-discrimination laws yet, but in 2006, the Government passed an anti-discrimination law to protect people with HIV from discrimination, which included provisions for free health care.
Whilst there are no gay marriage laws yet in Vietnam, in 2015 the government passed the Law on Marriage and Family, which outlaws the ban on gay weddings. Whilst this doesn't give any recognition to same-sex couples, it does allow gay marriage ceremonies to take place without fear of arrest.
The gay scene of Vietnam
Despite having a large LGBTQ community in Saigon and Hanoi, the gay scene is not that big at all, with only a handful of queer hangouts. The main ones are in Saigon and include Republic, Le Pub and Thi Bar. The capital, Hanoi, only has one gay bar called GC Bar.
With such a small gay scene, the gay dating apps are your friend in Vietnam, so we recommend using them to tap into the local LGBTQ community.
Gay events in Vietnam
Viet Pride is the main gay event in Vietnam, which takes place in Hanoi every August. It includes a bike rally parade, a film festival and an After Pride party.
Find out more about what gay life is like in Vietnam in our interview with gay local Quan from Saigon.
Interesting fact about gay Vietnam: an openly gay US Ambassador
Vietnam had an openly gay US Ambassador in 2014/15 called Ted Osius. He was always very supportive of LGBTQ events and frequently posed with his husband and children.
Gay Vietnam in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: it was never illegal!
- Gay marriage or civil unions: same sex wedding ceremonies are allowed but are not legally recognised and do not offer any rights.
- Gay scene: small gay scene in Saigon and a few gay hangouts in Hanoi and Da Nang.
- Gay events in Vietnam: Viet Pride in Hanoi takes place in August.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 68
India has the potential to become a big gay mecca in Asia. It has a huge LGBTQ community (this is, after all, a country of almost 1.4 billion people), which is growing more and more visible and confident by the day, particularly since the country revoked its anti-gay laws in a landmark 2018 court case. This is why it scored quite high on the Spartacus list with a rating of #57.
However, we place India towards the lower end of our list because society remains very conservative. For many gay Indian men, they have to lead a very closeted life and marry a woman to please their family in order to avoid being ostracised by their local community. In addition, the gay scene is small quite small and underground compared to other places further up on this list. Nonetheless, India is one place in Asia we are keeping an eye on. We think it's very likely to become one of the next Taiwan-like pink trailblazers on the continent…they have an openly gay Prince after all (read about him below)!
LGBTQ rights in India
Up until 2018, it was illegal to be gay in India under Article 377 of the 1861 Indian Penal Code, introduced during the British colonial years. This law was revoked by the Delhi Court in 2009 but then brought back by the Supreme Court in 2014, then finally revoked again in 2018. We hope it stays this way!
There are some anti-discrimination laws in place in India, but only against the state. In addition, gays are banned from serving in the military, and homosexuality has been declassified as an illness.
In relation to adoption, single gay people are allowed to adopt in India regardless of orientation. India also has some pretty progressive laws for trans people: the right to change gender and third gender option laws were both introduced in 2014. In relation to same-sex marriage/civil union laws, whilst there are none, they are under review by the Indian Law Commission with some high profile court cases taking place. Find out more about gay life in India in our interview with Raj from Delhi.
The gay scene of India
Most of the large Indian cities are slowly developing a gay scene, which is constantly growing and evolving since the anti-gay laws were overturned in 2018.
In Mumbai there are regular gay meet-ups and gatherings organised by the Gay Bombay group and Salvation Star. In the capital, Delhi, there are gay nights like Pink Tuesday at Depot 48, Rainbow Thursday at PDA Martini Bar and Kitty-Su on Thursday evenings at The Lalit. In Bangalore the best gay bars are Pink Sky Bar, Chin Lung and Gaylord. Read more in our article about why India is safe for gay travellers.
We found that a large part of the gay scene of India is still quite underground. We suggest using gay dating apps like Grindr to tap into the local LGBTQ community, as we found out in our gay night out in Delhi.
Gay events in India
There are quite a large number of gay events in India taking place throughout the year. Mumbai Pride is called Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM), which takes place in January/February (Azaadi means “Freedom” in Hindu/Urdu). Delhi Pride takes place on the last Sunday of November. Other Pride events to look out for in India include Chennai Pride in June, Bangalore Pride in October/November and the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk in December.
In terms of film festivals, the biggest is in Mumbai in mid-June called the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival. It was famously inaugurated in 2016 by Sir Ian McKellen.
Finally, just like the Philippines, the Indian queer community takes the Mr Gay World pageant very seriously. Every January, they elect Mr Gay World India in a big gay festival which usually coincides with the Queer Azaadi Mumbai Pride.
Interesting fact about gay India: an openly gay Prince!
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of the Rajpipla throne in Gujarat came out in 2005. His mother took it so badly that she reacted by placing a newspaper advertisement publicly disowning him!
This didn't stop Prince Gohil from campaigning for LGBTQ rights. For example, he set up an HIV/AIDS prevention charity called the Lakshya Trust and supports many charities that help sexual minorities. He also buddied up with Oprah several times to speak about the LGBTQ community of India:
Gay India in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: 2018
- Gay marriage or civil unions: none, but it is under review by the Law Commission of India and there are several same-sex marriage cases taking place.
- Gay scene: most of it is still quite underground, but more and more gay hangouts are opening up, especially in the big cities like Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
- Gay events in India: Mumbai Pride (Queer Azaadi Mumbai) and the Mr Gay India pageant is in Jan/Feb, Chennai Pride in June, the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival in June, Bangalore Pride in Oct/Nov, Delhi Pride in November and the Kolkata Rainbow Pride Walk in December.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 57
Nepal has the opposite paradox of South Korea. On the Spartacus listing it's the joint highest placed Asian country at #41 (joint with Taiwan). This is mainly due to the extremely progressive constitution introduced in 2007, which brought with it a whole array of LGBTQ friendly laws. However, like India, Nepalese society remains conservative, with men expected to marry and have children, so many gay men lead closeted lives. In addition, much like Vietnam, there is a comparatively small gay scene given how how queer friendly the laws are.
From our perspective as a gay couple travelling in Nepal, we quickly fell in love with the Nepalese as we did with the Filipinos. They are extremely warm hearted people, eager to welcome you, no matter who you are. What summed it up is our (straight male) guide during our Annapurna trek, who was apprehensive about us at first, but quickly became a good friend, and later sent us a very sweet DM on Facebook saying, “I respect your close friendship”.
LGBTQ rights in Nepal
In 2007, Nepal’s Supreme Court ruled that discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity was against the law. The court also ordered the government to legally establish a third gender category to recognise the rights of transgender people. This prompted the Nepalese Government to introduce one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, being one of the few to expressly make reference to protecting its LGBTQ community.
Since 2007, being gay is legal in Nepal and the age for consensual sex is 16 for everyone. In addition, gays are allowed to serve in the military and full anti-discrimination laws have been introduced in all areas. With regards to trans people, the right to change legal gender was introduced in 2007, along with recognition of the third gender.
Adoption and marriage laws are still non-existent for the LGBTQ community in Nepal, but the government announced that it is looking to make a separate law to legalise same-sex marriage…so watch this space!
The gay scene of Nepal
The short answer, there is almost none. Most of it is underground, so the gay dating apps are the best way to connect with the local LGBTQ community to tap into any queer events going on. There are a handful of gay friendly places in Kathmandu, which have a one-off queer night on weekends, like PINK Tiffany and Fire on a Friday night. Find out more in our interview with local boy Tilak from Kathmandu.
Gay events in Nepal
There are two main gay events in Nepal, both in Kathmandu and organised by The Blue Diamond Society. The first is the Mr Gay Handsome beauty pageant in June and the other is the Gaijatra LGBT Pride Parade, which is usually in August, but the date changes each year.
Interesting fact about gay Nepal: one of the most trans friendly places in Asia
When we arrived at Kathmandu airport we thought we were coming to another conservative Asian country where we'd have to stay in the closet, especially in public. So imagine our surprise when we arrived and found an “Other” option for “Sex”!
Yes, we admit we had very specific anti-gay perceptions of Asian countries before our big trip here, but how quickly we were proved wrong! We don't know any other place in Asia (and only a few in the world) that has this option on their landing card:
Gay Nepal in a nutshell:
- Homosexuality legalised: 2007
- Gay marriage or civil unions: none but the government is discussing it.
- Gay scene: no gay scene but some straight places have a gay night on weekends in Kathmandu.
- Gay events in Nepal: the Mr Gay Handsome beauty pageant in June and the annual Gaijatra LGBT Pride Parade in Kathmandu, which is usually in August, but the date changes every year.
- Spartacus gay travel listing: 41
Just like its Buddhist neighbours Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia, Laos has never had any anti-gay laws. But in terms of same-sex marriage laws, there are none, nor any notable discussions about it taking place at government level (yet). In terms of a gay scene, there are a few gay hangouts in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. As gay travellers in Laos, we felt safe here and found locals to be quite gay friendly. For a more local perspective, check out our interview with Somphorn from Luang Prabang, a dear friend who sadly passed away very recently. You can also watch our video from our travels in Laos as a gay couple:
Mongolia has quite a high placing on the Spartacus Gay Travel Index at #57. Having travelled around the country, we can certainly see why. Homosexuality was legalised in 1993 and there are a few gay hangout in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. They also have an annual Pride in Ulaanbaatar in August called the Equality Walk. Find out more in our interview with gay local Zorig from Ulaanbaatar, and watch our Mongolia video: