Guest Blogger

Ever Considered a Move Abroad? Meet Expats Who've Done It

Filed By Guest Blogger | May 16, 2014 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: binational couples, Ecuador, expat, moving abroad, Spain, Thailand

Editor's Note: Guest blogger Jamie Waddell is a freelance writer who specializes in travel and expat lifestyle. His writing has been featured on Yahoo News and he is a regular contributor to The Telegraph.

No matter your own personal stance on marriage as an institution, the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S.A. and in England, Scotland, and Wales is clearly a long-overdue expansion of LGBT rights. In the U.S., 18 states and Washington, D.C. now recognize same-sex marriage, and it's hoped that more will follow suit in the coming weeks and months.

globe.jpgWhile the American and U.K. LGBT communities are celebrating this drive towards equality, the story around the rest of the world is not so rosy. Shocking and highly-publicized anti-gay propaganda in Russia, Uganda, Greece, and vast swaths of the Middle East have been rightly met with anger and disgust here in the U.K. Last year, a senior Kuwaiti official's plans to use a "gaydar" system to keep out LGBT expats was a stark reminder that our recent legislation changes are just a drop in the ocean for gay rights worldwide.

"Unfortunately for LGBT expats there are a huge number of extra considerations that must be taken into account before planning a move abroad," said Michael Brinksman, editor at expat lifestyle publication WhichOffshore.

"For gay couples, financial matters such as obtaining family savings accounts, insurance policies, and joint mortgages may prove difficult if not impossible. If you have children there could also be issues regarding parentage - both partners may not be considered the legal parents of the children.

"Then there are cultural stigmas to contemplate. The UAE is a great spot for expat professionals in the finance sector, but their stance on public homosexuality is obviously not one of tolerance. Furthering one's career at the cost of closeting oneself may be a trade-off that LGBT expats would have to consider."

We asked a cross-section of LGBT expats what it's like immersing oneself in an unfamiliar and potentially less progressive culture.

Auston and David in Spain

auston-david.jpgAuston and David initially planned to swap their lives in Chicago for the sun and glamour of California, but after spending a year traveling around the world they decided not to return to their native land but set up a life for themselves in Spain. They write a blog about their travels to events and festivals around Europe called TwoBadTourists. I spoke to Auston about their experiences in Madrid.

"We've felt completely welcome in Madrid, our new home," Auston said. "Luckily, both Madrid and Spain as a whole are incredibly gay-friendly. Madrid has an estimated population of 500,000 LGBT people so we fit right into the dynamic. Madrid's Gay Pride (called 'Madrid Orgullo') is the largest in Europe: nearly 2 million people each year. Public displays of affection by same-sex couples is common throughout the entire city center, not just the gay neighborhood."

Despite the Spanish population being overwhelmingly Catholic, Auston is quick to parry any suggestion that intolerance pervades Spanish culture:

"Spain was the 3rd country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. We are actually in the process of getting legally married in Spain since it's the first place we've lived where it's legal.

"Spain is also extremely Catholic and of course, the religious groups oppose marriage equality. But even though Spain is 90% Catholic, only a small percentage of people actually go to church these days and it's mostly the older generations who oppose the law. In my opinion, these are just conservative politicians trying to make headlines and get the support of their older, conservative constituents just trying to set themselves apart from the liberals. I really don't think the status of same-sex marriage will change anytime soon in Spain.

"I would absolutely recommend an LGBT person to move to Madrid."

Mindy and Ligeia in Thailand

mindy-ligeia.JPGCanadian Mindy and American Ligeia are a seasoned expat couple, having met in 2004 whilst both living in Germany. They now reside in Thailand. One would assume by Thailand's reputation alone that the locals would be incredibly accepting of LGBT arrivals. However, as Ligeia told us, the cultural stance towards homosexuality is superficially tolerant but ultimately rests on damaging stereotypes.

"In Thailand, at first glance, society may seem rather inclusive of homosexuality given its understanding and belief of a third gender (katoey). However, we have discovered that homophobia is quite rampant, although it wears a different mask than we're used to. Butch lesbians (and effeminate gay men) are seen as "normal" because it's clear that these people [are] 'born this way' as the third gender.

"However, for more feminine lesbians (and masculine men) it is seen as strange and abnormal to be attracted to other feminine women [and masculine men]. In this way butch women are often referred to as 'he' and 'Mr.'

"As long as lesbian couples fit the butch/femme stereotype, they have a place in Thai society. Conversely, most Thais would be shocked at the prospect of two "ladies" (or muscle men) together. Thai society, therefore, seems to see us as a straight couple, labelling Mindy as a man."

Court and Sylvain in Ecuador

Most expats voluntarily choose to live abroad, but what if love made it a necessity? Court is from Boston and Sylvain from France, and the two fell in love while Court studied in Paris in 1990, before returning to the U.S.A. in 2000.

"We moved to New York City around 2000 and we had hired 2-3 lawyers to try to get Sylvain a green card. He was pretty low on the quota list, not having a university degree and not having a million dollars to get an investor visa. The only solution offered by the immigration attorneys was that Sylvain marry a woman and lie to the government.

"We didn't feel right about doing that and we lived together with his illegal status."

Sylvain was eventually deported, unable to re-enter the U.S.A. for at least 10 years, and Court received no help from the relevant authorities.

court-sylvain.jpg"The ACLU and Immigration Equality both told me that my case was typical and there was nothing we could do and that this happens to thousands of people every year."

Sylvain re-entered the U.S.A. illegally and the couple lived in New York for two more years in constant fear of their government.

"We decided we needed to be somewhere where we could both be legal. We decided to move to Ecuador. They offer full citizenship for an investment of just $25,000. We would both finally be able to be together legally!"

They started their own business, Freedom Bike Rental, in 2009 and were married in France on March 20th, 2014, although their marriage is not recognized in Ecuador.

"There is a conflict between the constitution and the actual law here that needs to be resolved. It would appear that the constitution grants the right to marriage equality but it hasn't been put into law. There needs to be a fight to get the actual law changed.

"Ecuador has come a long way since the year 2000, where homosexuality was illegal and gays faced imprisonment, [but] it still has a little way to go and progress is being made."

Court left us one last piece of advice for any LGBT person looking to make a move to Ecuador: "Be ready to go back to the 1980's. People are just figuring out things here."

These are just a handful of LGBT expat stories but they highlight the varied reactions that can be faced when LGBT persons set their sights on a move abroad. While a lot of positive movement for equal rights has been seen across the globe it's important that the LGBT community shares their experiences in other nations to better fight for equality.

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