Top 10 most gay friendly countries in the world
This is our list of the top 10 most gay friendly countries in the world. We based our research on the following 4 studies and combined this with our personal experience of having travelled to over 100 countries as a gay couple:
- Wikipedia: list of countries that have legalised gay marriage
- Spartacus: Gay Travel Index 2018 of the most gay friendly countries in the world
- ILGA Rainbow Europe: 2018 survey of the most gay friendly countries in Europe
- PewGlobal: 2013 study of 37 countries asking “should society accept homosexuality?”
To be clear, we are looking at countries overall, not cities or regions. So for example, whilst the US has some of the gayest destinations in the world (San Francisco, the Keys, Fire Island etc) it also has so much extreme homophobia, which makes it difficult to rank it in our top 10.
In our opinion, gay marriage for us is the first and most important marker to measure how gay friendly a country is because we think that a government making the proactive stance to go from having civil unions to the symbolic step of saying “we're all equal and we're going to call it marriage” is a big deal! The only exception we made for this is Thailand – a destination we've always felt extremely welcome in as a gay couple, despite it not having equal marriage laws.
Here are our top 10 gay friendliest countries in the world:
There is a good reason why Spartacus places Canada as the number #1 gay friendly country in the world. In 2005, Canada became the 4th country to legalise gay marriage (after Holland, Belgium and Spain). It also scored high on the PewGlobal study. And from our experience, unlike any other country we've visited, Canada goes over and above to welcome gay travellers.
Where else in the world do you see the (straight white male) leader of a country leading a gay pride parade waving a transgender flag and crying out “Happy Pride”? We saw Justin Trudeau do this in person at the Fierte gay pride in Montreal. It made our hairs stand on end to see this.
Canada is also the only country we know that hosts its own national Pride event, called “Canada Pride”. The first one took place in Montreal in 2017. The next one will be in Winnipeg in 2020. Speaking of Prides, Toronto Pride is one of the largest in the world, attracting almost 1.5 million. Finally, every main city in Canada has a thriving gay scene, complete with rainbow crossings and numerous gay events taking place throughout the year. We loved the gay scene of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver in particular. Read more in our interview with Barry from Toronto about gay life in Canada.
Oh Canada Canada Canada, we applaud and salut you, and wave our big giant Nomadic Boys rainbow flag in your honour!
We love Spain because of the large gay scenes and very liberal minded accepting attitudes. Madrid, the gay capital of Europe, every year hosts one of the largest gay Pride events in the world. Barcelona itself is a popular LGBTQ hotspot particularly during the summer Circuit festival, with super gay-ville Sitges on its doorstep. Gran Canaria is another gay mecca getaway in Spain, as is Ibiza, which has some of the best gay clubs and beach parties. In fact, Spain has the majority of the best gay beaches in Europe.
Ask anyone what their favourite gay Pride event is and most will say Madrid. Ask any gay man where their favourite gay destination is in Europe and most will likely include Sitges, Gran Canaria, Barcelona and/or Ibiza in their list. Yes we're generalising a bit, but the point is that Spain has arguably the highest number of gay friendly destinations.
In terms of the surveys, Spain was the third country to legalise same sex marriage in 2005, it has the highest response rate of 88% in the PewGlobal survey and scored high on both the Spartacus and ILGA study. Spain is not only a LGBTQ trail blazer, it's also one of the destinations gay travellers want to keep coming back to, which is what makes it one of the most gay friendly destinations in the world.
3. THE NETHERLANDS
There are few places in the world we feel comfortable walking in the streets holding hands outside of the gay village, and Holland is one of them. When it comes to progressive laws and equality, the Netherlands is one of the most culturally liberal places in the world. It's certainly the most progressive we've been to.
The Netherlands was the first country to legalise gay marriage in 2001. It was also one of the first countries to decriminalise homosexuality in 1811. Equal rights laws banning discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation were introduced as early as 1994, and in addition, the country has very lenient adoption and transgender laws.
Whilst Holland is not mentioned in the PewGlobal survey, a similar poll carried out by Ifop in 2013 showed that a whopping 85% of the Dutch population supported same sex marriage and adoption. Amsterdam is also well known for being a very gay friendly city, with one of the most unique Pride events – a parade of floats on boats through the famous canals. It also has a national “Homomonument”, completed in 1987, which was the first monument in the world to commemorate homosexuals persecuted and killed during World War 2.
Iceland for us is one of the most LGBT friendly countries in the world for so many reasons. Gay marriage was ticked off in June 2010 with a unanimous vote in the Icelandic Althing (the national parliament of Iceland). Normally in same-sex marriage debates, you have a sad minority droning on about how unnatural we are and how we pollute the sanctity of marriage etc etc… But not in Iceland. Gay marriage laws passed here with flying pink colours!
Iceland has long been holding the pink flag proudly when it famously elected the world's first ever openly gay national leader, prime minister Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir in February 2009. She then went on to marry her parter, Jónína Leósdóttir in 2010, which made the country a popular gay wedding destination. We also love that Iceland was featured so much in one of our favourite LGBT Netflix shows – “Sense8” and they have LGBTQ events happening throughout the year like Rainbow Reykjavik in the winter months.
And if Iceland couldn't get any gayer, former (heterosexual) mayor of Reykjavík, Jón Gnarr, famously attended the 2010 Reykjavík Pride Parade dressed in full drag:
Although Germany was a late attendant to the gay marriage party (legalised in 2017), the country has long been famous as being one of the gayest countries in the world. For one, Schöneberg in Berlin was the first ever gay village in the world when it took off as a LGBTQ mecca in the 1920s. It also scores as the second highest country in the world (after Spain) on the PewGlobal scale about whether society should accept homosexuality.
We met Finn Ballard in Berlin, a female to male transgender, who told us why Germany is one of the most appealing places in Europe for transpeople to live. In terms of parties, Berlin has some of the best fetish and kinky clubs, not to mention the infamous and super exclusive “Berghain” mega club. The Christopher Street Day Berlin Pride in July along with Cologne Pride are considered one of the best gay Pride events.
Germany also has an array of fabulous politicians including Berlin's former Mayor, Klaus Wowereit, who outed himself with the famous words – “Ich bin schwul – und das ist auch gut so!” (“I am gay – and that's a good thing!”).
Finally, in a study by the Dalia Research in which it was discovered that 10% of Europeans identify as something other than heterosexual, it was found that Germany has the highest share of Europeans who identify as LGBT (7.4%), followed by Spain (6.9%).
6. ENGLAND v FRANCE
We've deliberately placed these two together. It was a typical British (Stefan) v French (Seby) Nomadic Boys squabble we have on a daily basis. In addition, in the 4 surveys/lists we are relying on for this article, both countries were also usually in joint place, and ranked towards the top. For example, both France and England legalised same-sex marriage in 2013, Spartacus have them in joint 3rd place, the ILGA-Europe survey gave them scores of 73.48% (UK) and 72.81% (France), placing them in 4/6th place (respectively), and in the PewGlobal survey, the scores were again both high, and almost the same – France 77% and Britain 76%.
On the one hand, England has London, which in our humble (and very bias) opinion, is one of the best gay destinations in the world. We love the gay scene of London, especially as we met at the GAY Bar in February 2009, so it will always be a special place for us. The annual London Pride is a lot of fun, and massive. In addition, most other cities in England have gay villages, in particular Brighton and Canal Street in Manchester, which are both huge gay havens.
On the other hand, France was the first ever country in the world to decriminalise homosexuality in 1791, whilst most other countries waited a few centuries before doing so. France has long held a belief of “laissez-faire” towards sexuality, ie not interfering in matters that may seem too personal, and respecting the privacy of others. For example, former president Mitterand was able to have a mistress and illegitimate daughter during his 14 years in office without the media pestering him on the subject. The French don't bat an eyelid if you tell them you're gay and you will never have any problems with gay bashing in France unless you go to a low-income suburb inhabited mainly by immigrants, which as a tourist you're unlikely to do.
One of the most unique gay events we attended was the”Queernaval“, which is the LGBT segment of the Nice Carnival in February:
Say what? A staunchly Catholic country, which didn't legalise divorce until 2011 and still bans abortion?
Well this tiny Mediterranean island country topped the ILGA 2018's survey by miles, scoring a whopping 91.04%; by comparison, on the same list, Belgium placed second with 77.76%. In 2017, The United Nation's Head of Equality and Non-Discrimination (OHCHR), Charles Radcliffe, was full of praise for Malta, calling it “a beacon of human rights for LGBTIQ issues” and that it has become the “gold standard” with regards to LGBTQI reforms.
So what happened in the last 5 years that transformed Malta into one of the most gay friendly countries in the world?
It all began in 2013 when the progressive centre-left Labour Party led by Prime Minister Joseph Muscat came to power and prioritised gay friendly policies led by the proactive Minister for Equality, Helena Dalli. For example, Malta became the first country in Europe to ban conversion therapy (a law passed unanimously in 2016) and also changed the language used to refer to domestic and family relationships in legal documents, making them gender-neutral. In 2017, Malta legalised gay marriage along with full adoption rights. In addition, the age at which people can independently request for their gender to be changed in official documents has been lowered from 18 to 16.
Reforms like these spearheaded Malta to the top of the “gay friendly countries in the world” lists, as well as into ours. And of course, let's not forget that Malta is always one of the most fun and enthusiastic entries for the Eurovision Song Contest, especially cutie Fabrizio Faniello:
Belgium's LGBTQ history is enough to make it into any list of the gayest countries in the world. In 2003, it became the 2nd country to legalise gay marriage, as well as one of the first to pass transgender and anti-discrimination laws. Interestingly, Belgium was also the second country (after France) to decriminalise homosexuality back in 1795, only beaten by France.
Belgium has also had its share of openly gay politicians including the world's second openly gay head of government, former Prime Minister, Elio Di Rupo (2011-2014).
In 2010, Argentina became the first country in Latin America to legalise gay marriage, making it the 10th in the world to do so, and the 2nd in the Americas (after Canada). It also has progressive laws for adoption, and when the gender identity laws were introduced in 2012, Argentina became the world's most transgender friendly country. Another reason we feel Argentina is one of the most gay friendly countries in the world is that in the PewGlobal survey, despite Argentina being a very Catholic country, it scored 74%, one of the highest scores.
We have always felt welcomed everywhere during our travels in Argentina and love returning here. We also love that the government actively supports and funds gay events, in particular the GNetwork360 conference every August, the BADiversa week and the BA Pride in November, which is one of the best prides in Latin America.
We love the gay scene of Buenos Aires because of the queer milongas (tango dance halls). Most cities in Argentina have a gay scene, such as Mendoza and Córdoba. The city of Roasrio is considered the most gay friendly and liberal minded place in Argentina, often leading the way for proactive change. Puerto Madryn in Patagonia offers a “Casamiento Express” (Express Marriage) package for gay couples visiting, in which anyone regardless of nationality can get married in just 5 days.
Thailand is the exception to our list because it is the only country we've mentioned where gay marriage is not legal. In fact, even civil unions are still pending, but promised to be made law soon. Although this may seem trivial and insignificant, this is extremely important. There are hardly any countries in Asia which have LGBTQ friendly laws. Remember this is a continent which contains 60% of the world's population (4.5 billion people from a total 7.5 billion). In most Asian countries, being gay is a crime, or such a taboo that you are forced to stay in the closet for your own safety. So for an Asian country to even be debating civil union laws is a damn big deal!
More importantly, from our own personal experience travelling as a gay couple in Asia, Thailand is a place we've always felt the most welcome as a gay couple, far more than in other countries with more evolved LGBTQ laws. Getting a double bed in hotels in Thailand has never been a problem for us, and the gay scene of Bangkok is in our opinion, one of the best in the world. For the Asian trans community, Thailand is extremely popular, as explained in our interview with our trans friend Regina.
Thailand is so used to welcoming foreigners, especially gay travellers, that we feel it should definitely be included in a list of gay friendly countries in the world. For more about the Land of Smiles, check out our complete Thailand gay travel guide.
As we said above, we've based this list on a number of different factors, least of all, our own personal first hand experience of visiting each as a gay couple. That's not to say the following should be overlooked:
- South Africa: in 2006 became the 5th country in the world to legalise gay marriage, and the only one in Africa to do so.
- Nordic Countries: Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark consistently lead the way in all surveys about the most gayest countries in the world.
- Portugal, Luxembourg, Ireland and Austria: some of the other very gay friendly countries in Europe we love.
- Uruguay, Brazil and Colombia: these are the other three Latin American countries who recently embraced gay marriage and becoming more gay friendly each year.
- Australia and New Zealand: Mardi Gras is a top bucket list item for us and one we can't wait to visit, as is New Zealand, the latter in particular famously being an earlier adoptee of pro-LGBTQ laws.
- The Philippines, Israel, Nepal and Taiwan: these are the other few LGBTQ friendly places in Asia which are either well known for being gay havens, like the Philippines, or have in place quite LGBTQ progressive legislation like Taiwan, Nepal and Israel.
- The USA: ok we bashed it in the intro, but we have to mention it: after travelling across Latin America, we saw how influential the US is in the LGBTQ communities worldwide. After the Supreme Court legalised gay marriages in 2015, it caused a positive pink domino effect across the continent as more and more countries are now pushing for civil union/gay marriage laws – like Panama, Costa Rica, Peru and Chile.