Safe Travel Series | Sydney WorldPride & LGBTQIA+ travel

Episode #27 of NAVIGATE welcomes Sydney WorldPride and discusses LGBTQIA+ travel safety.

Sydney WorldPride & LGBTQIA+ Travel Safety


Frank Harrison

0:00:04 – 0:00:45

Hello, my name is Frank Harrison. I’m the Regional Security Director – Americas with World Travel Protection. Join Chris Noble, Lisa Hilton and Matt Ackersten and myself as we discussed safe travel and LGBTQIA+ in the lead up to Sydney WorldPride 2023. Welcome to NAVIGATE.

Hello everyone. I’ll get you to introduce yourself first, which part of our amazing business you are from before we start discussions on topics many LGBTQIA+ travellers can use for travel and personal safety. And this advice can apply to any traveller.

We’ll start with Lisa, do you want to introduce yourself and which part of the business you belong to?

Lisa Hilton

0:0:45 – 0:00:51

Thanks. I’m Lisa. Hilton. I’m the Chief Technology Officer at Cover-More, more based out of the Sydney office.

Frank Harrison

0:00:51 – 0:00:52

Great, thank you. Chris?

Chris Noble

0:00:52 – 0:00:59

I’m Chris Noble, Chief Marketing Officer and I’m based in Sydney, Australia.

Matt Akersten

0:00:59 – 0:01:12

Hello, I’m Matt Akersten. I’m the Pride and Diversity Officer here at Sydney World Pride. My pronouns are he/him. And it’s my pleasure to be here to spread the word all about Sydney WorldPride, all around the world.

Frank Harrison

0:01:12 – 0:01:38

Thank you, Matt. So before we began my caution to all our listeners, we’re all individuals with unique identity based perspectives with different tolerances, and experiences for traveling. What is the norm for one traveller may not be considered safe by someone else. No single person can be representative of a collective of diverse people.

Matt, can I get you to give a wider perspective on what it is we’re going to be doing.

Matt Akersten

0:01:38 – 0:02:21

So while we’re recording, we’re only a couple of days away now from what is Australia’s biggest ever pride organised events. It’s going to be – every year is a massive Mardi Gras in Sydney with the parade and parties and all those great events. But for Sydney WorldPride, these are once in a lifetime events that we’ve got in our festival.

We’re expecting 1000s and 1000s of travellers from across the world to join us. We’re going to have a big march across the Harbour Bridge, a stunning Human Rights Conference, and a whole two weeks and three weekends of events to suit everyone all across the LGBTIQA+ community from around the world. So we’re really excited to see everyone here very soon.

Frank Harrison

0:02:21 – 0:02:38

Very thank you for that introduction, Matt. Looking forward to our team coming from Cover-More Group joining. Lisa, first topic I’d like to put out to our group – safety perceptions and expectations, local laws and getting home. Can you introduce that topic and give your perspective on it?

Lisa Hilton

0:02:39 – 0:03:28

Yep. So I guess my perspective really is, I was born in the UK. So I’ve lived overseas, I’ve lived in the States. And I’ve also lived in Australia for almost 20 years. So obviously, I travel a lot around the world. And I think it’s really important as a visibly lesbian woman to be really clear on where I’m going and what their local laws are.

And so I often make as part of my preparation for travel, I do some research, I understand what countries I’m in. Especially I’m travelling with a partner because you know, you need to be really clear on whether it’s okay to hold someone’s hand or be visibly in a partnership while you’re travelling.

So yeah, for me, it’s something that’s very much front of mind, I also have a child. So that’s something that I’m super conscious of as well, and making sure that he’s safe, I’m safe. And just making sure I’m really going into these countries and I sort of eyes wide open and really clear on what the rules are, what the laws are, and where I can go for help.

Frank Harrison

0:03:28 – 0:03:35

Alright, thank you Lisa. So Chris, reflecting on calm and keeping our eyes open. Can you expand on that a bit.

Chris Noble

0:03:35 – 0:04:34

I think the other fantastic thing about travel as well. And also the age that we live in at the moment is our ability to reach out to to locals within those regions as well. And I know from my own experience, I think the type of travel that I enjoy more now was when I had the chance to engage with local people. And I find there’s a lot you can learn obviously, from research perspective, in terms of safety, the cultural norms for want of a better word, but also trying to stay out of trouble is having those connections in country.

So our ability these days, whether that’s through social networks to, to reach out to link in with different individuals and different people in the countries that we’re travelling to just add to that layer of local insight. I think local insight is just as critical as, as any research you’re going to do. So I think, you know, being brave and pushing out if you’re going to a new country to find your community and talk to members of your community in those countries to get a sense of where it’s safe and where it’s not as it’s a it’s such an amazing part of travelling these days.

Frank Harrison

0:04:35 – 0:05:00

Thanks, Chris. It is interesting that the world has changed dramatically in the shadow of COVID. And the world has gotten smaller with technology. But I’ll make a call in today’s world, people are still experiencing violence and discrimination based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.

Matt, can you take what was just said by Lisa and Chris just expand on that a bit, please.

Matt Akersten

0:05:00 – 0:06:18

Yes, of course. So look, Sydney is a very safe place for the LGBTIQ community. But if anything does happen, and you do feel unsafe, I want everyone to know who’s visiting for Sydney WorldPride. We’ve worked a lot with the police and our security and authorities here. I do diversity and inclusion training with as many police and security as I can. So I want you to know that if something is happening, and you feel unsafe, or someone’s being inappropriate, you can go to police, you can go to security at our events, or police if you’re on the streets, and always feel like it’s safe to go up and approach them and tell them what’s happening. They’re there to serve you and support you.

So I just want to make that very clear. The police are on our side, we work with them to close our streets for our big events. And we couldn’t do what we do without them. And they’re there to help keep us all safe and supported. So if anything does happen, it’s very important to report it. And they’ll address it as much as they can. They also have what’s called the DLOs, diversity liaison officers, and the New South Wales Police Service. And they’re there to specifically talk to people from our community and help them with what needs they have.

Frank Harrison

0:06:18 – 0:06:35

Thank you Matt for painting the picture on how safety is going to be paramount while our time is in Sydney. But that’s going to lead me to the next question when we’re dealing with travel, Lisa, on safe destinations, how to know the difference? And how do we find accurate information?

Lisa Hilton

0:06:35 – 0:07:20

Yep. So again, I mean, I tend to do more internet research than anything, but also making sure that I’m looking at official sites as well. So it’s not someone’s sort of opinion on what’s safe and what’s not safe. So really trying to reference a kind of Smart Traveller, things like that, where you can go and find accurate information to make sure you’re really clear on if you’re going to a country where it’s illegal to be part of the community, etc, that you’re really clear on that before you enter and you know, the sort of risks that you’re taking.

I also to be honest, I tend to avoid countries wherever it is illegal, because why, like, I just want to put myself in that position. But I realise that may not be what everyone wants to do. And it may not be practical for everyone. And I just really try and you know, at the end of the day, I want to travel because I want to enjoy it. And I want to have a great time. So pick destinations and go places where I’m going to feel welcome. And I’m going to be kind of free to be myself.

Frank Harrison

0:07:20 – 0:07:57

That’s a good point, Lisa because there’s an argument to be made. We shouldn’t visit destinations where there’s anti LGBTQ+ policies and laws, and just basically not provide them with tourism dollars. But there’s the other side of the argument that many of these destinations have LGBTQ+ communities, and people that do exist there. And by travelling to these destinations, there’s an opportunity to meet, to support, empower, and potentially influence change in those countries. Chris, would you like to expand on that?

Chris Noble

0:07:57 – 0:09:44

Yeah, I mean, it’s, I’m an ally of the community, a mad traveller. I’ve considered myself a nomad for over 20 years. And I think when you travel around the world, it’s not only just opening your eyes to new experiences, it’s opening your eyes and opening the opportunity to build relationships with people around the world. And I think for a lot of that time, I’ve taken for granted the challenges that members of the LGBTQ+ community have had, and just being able to explore the world and have the same experiences that I’ve had without that fear of persecution and discrimination and an understanding and looking at it. And I know, it’s a very complicated topic. And I know that the people that are facing that persecution in the countries that they operate in, it can be very difficult for them.

But again, coming back to that point about the role that we play as travellers and living in a far more connected communities, how do we lend support to the organsations that are actually working on behalf of people in those regions. And I think that’s a big part of certainly where at Cover-More where we want to play a stronger role in supporting that, because I think it’s one aspect is to provide that sense of support around travel safety and an understanding of where to go to and the risks and what to watch out for. It’s another one for lean in, and leverage your travel community to support rule changes and to support fundamental changes in those in those countries. And I think we play a role in that.

And we will play a stronger role in that moving forward, but that will be through the organisations that are working there today. One example of that would be Human Dignity Trust who do amazing work, advocating and trying to change laws. And so I think that, you know, we can lend a huge amount of support in that regard, but learning and understanding how to do that in a way that also protects the people and can safely support the people in those regions where it’s still, you know, they’re actively being persecuted for those decisions.

Frank Harrison

0:09:44 – 0:10:19

Thank you, Chris, reflecting on your comments. There are currently 70 countries in the world that criminalise consensual same sex conduct. Six of those can oppose the death penalty and six others can potentially impose the death penalty so pretty significant.

Matt, when we look at where people can get information, I know that we as a business, we provide a lot of information to our customers before they go out. But for somebody who’s new to travel, or they’re new to a new destination, can you point out some ways that they can do some research?

Matt Akersten

0:10:19 – 0:11:42

Yes, of course. So we are welcoming a lot of people from around the world for Sydney WorldPride. And so of course, we need a lot of health well being safety information on our website. So if you look at Sydney WorldPride and check out the menu there, you’ll see a bunch of pages about health and well being travel advice, local laws, and how to get help – lots in there about where you can get help in an emergency, what our local laws are, and lots of travel advice.

And of course, it ranges from, it’s got a variety of topics, one of the big ones that come up and they warn people about is being sun safe and wearing their sunscreen, also swimming between the red and yellow flags and looking out for the lifeguards. So things like that and, and also the other big one is people realising they’ve got a have a tourist visa for Australia and making sure that they get better. So there’s been lots of advice.

The other one we tell people about is getting the monkey pox vaccination, getting COVID vaccinations if they haven’t already, making sure they’re prepped and ready to travel. So that’s all our safety advice.

Mental health is another big one for our communities, we have people from for example, RUOK day and ACONS roavers there to look out for the mental health and well being of all the people that come along. So a lot of that information is on our website now at

Frank Harrison

0:11:42 – 0:11:58

Awesome. Thank you for framing personal traveller safety and the importance of individual risk profiles, because ultimately I’m coming from Canada and I’m going to need SPF 3000, I think.

So Lisa, do you want to expand on Matt’s comments?

Lisa Hilton

0:11:58 – 0:12:36

Yeah, look, I think there’s a wealth of information out there. And certainly, that’s always kind of my go-to to go and kind of see with, you know, what information I need to know. I think just echoing one of the points that Matt made, are you around kind of the police and the people that are there to help you.

I think the thing I would call out is if people do have kind of challenges when they’re down here, don’t feel – you don’t need to confront that yourself. You don’t need to deal with it. And certainly when I’ve had any issues anywhere, I just quietly, you know, go tell security, go tell the cops or whoever’s around, and then they kind of deal with it. And then I don’t have to deal with it. So I think that’ll be a big call out for me.

Sydney, it’s such an amazing city, it’s pretty safe, you know, people are going to have an amazing time. Very exciting coming down for WorldPride.

Frank Harrison

0:12:36 – 0:12:50

Awesome, thanks Lisa. Chris, we’re gonna pose a question to you. And this one is understanding limits of one’s passport went abroad, what does it carry at home might not be accepted abroad? So thinking about the question, do you want to start off a conversation?

Chris Noble

0:12:51 – 0:14:43

Yeah, look, it comes back to research. And it comes back to understanding the country that you’re travelling to. And some of those restrictions. And we, you know, we’ve just gone through COVID, as well, which has been such a frustrating situation for people, there’s the rules have changed around entry and exit, in particular, what you can do, the information that you need, what you need to submit, and that varies massively from country to country. And I think Australia has certainly been up there in terms of the expectation that’s placed on people who are coming in to provide information, whether that’s, you know, proof of vaccination, all the way down to just more detailed information around where they’re going to be in for for what period of time.

So I think, again, it varies by country that you come into, but that being said, echoing Lisa’s point, and Matt’s point, as well, I mean, coming into particularly context of WorldPride coming into Sydney, by and large, comparatively, a very welcoming, very warm environment, I think it’s, you know, it’s an amazing, amazing place to host this event. But like any place that you come to being aware of, you know, some of those risks, and in Australia, sometimes it’s, it’s more of the concern of the weather and, and hydration, and all sorts of those sorts of things.

But again, you know, as the guys have said, there’s a lot of support around and this is going to be a certainly a very heavily supported event, in terms of safety and well being and many opportunities, many places where you can reach out to in those situations, but like you said, at the start, I think being acutely aware, and always aware when travelling to a new destination around some of those rules and those restrictions in relation to where you’re at sometimes it’s not the same old doesn’t apply to everyone.

I think that’s the other critical thing here is different rules will apply if you’re coming in to Australia, from Canada, say if you’re coming in from Egypt, so I just think wherever you’re coming into Sydney from, you know, again, go back, make sure that you check on what’s required and get that done well in advance.

Frank Harrison

0:14:43 – 0:15:31

Thanks, Chris. So Matt, I’m going to pose a question to you but am gonna make a statement first, and that’s what we’re looking at the world of travel through the lens of going to other places, besides you know, this amazing event that we’re all going to, there’s issues around the potential for persons who have an affirmed gender who may be denied medical services while they’re travelling.

There can be barriers in foreign justice systems that may not recognise or may even criminalise the sexual orientation based on the identity on a passport or not identify. And ultimately it comes down to, you know, everybody, we’ve talked about the research aspect of it, do you want to just provide us an overarching comment on that issue of the barriers that may be faced as travellers go out in the world.

Matt Akersten

0:15:31 – 0:17:13

Yeah you’re certainly right. And the one thing that we need to work harder on is making sure that for people who are transgender, and they’re affirming their gender or are gender diverse, that they are able to change their legal documents when you’re travelling, because you end up with a scenario where you’re you might be living as a woman, very happy and well, but then your documents like your passport, still might have the wrong gender on there – an out-of-date document that’s very hard to fix and hard to change.

So a lot of great countries are taking steps to make sure it’s possible to change documents like that, but a lot aren’t. And so a lot of gender diverse people when they’re travelling, they might be what they call dead named where an old name could be on a document or gender that doesn’t match with their identity. So that’s a major topic for our Human Rights Conference to talk about. Because a lot of places in the world are in a different state of that dialogue now, and a lot of states and Australia are in a different place with that with those possibilities at the moment. So that’s a big topic of discussion for our Human Rights Conference.

And even though Australia and New South Wales is a great place to come and visit, just because we have WorldPride, it doesn’t mean we’re perfect. The key objective of the Human Rights Conference is to create change, not just for the neighbours around us, but for our people as well. And gender diverse people, our trans people really need a lot of those law reforms to happen around various states and territories on Australia. So that’s a real key topic for us, yeah.

Frank Harrison

0:17:13 – 0:17:17

Alright, thank you Matt. Lisa, do you want to expand on that?

Lisa Hilton

0:17:17 – 0:17:53

Yeah, absolutely. Again, I think and I keep coming back to it. But I think for me, it’s really around having that information, you’re really understanding where you’re going. Understanding, like you said, Matt, within a country like Australia, now you move from state to state, there’s different rules, different laws, I also think being really aware of the countries that you’re transiting through as well, if whether you’re, you know, just going straight through or if you’re having a stopover as well, being really clear on that.

And I think just be aware, you know, when you’re being in Sydney is very different to being out in rural New South Wales. So just, I think, be aware, be safe. Yeah, have a great time. But just make sure your safety is your number one area of focus.

Frank Harrison

0:17:53 – 0:19:00

Great, thank you. So. So my next point is, can we talk about examples of travel safety and situations, and I’ll use one where I was travelling a couple years ago with a friend of mine or a couple of friends of mine. And we were in an environment where it was hostile to LGBTQ+, and we made the decision before going in that we were not going to talk about gender issues, were not gonna talk about sexuality. And we’re going to respect them and protect their privacy because we’re in an environment where potentially they face violence. And that was a decision that we made before we travelled into that environment.

And looking back on it, it was probably the best choice to make, because we were in a very hostile environment when it came to gender and sexuality issues. And it’s something that on occasion, I’ve had to have those discussions again with other people. But just putting this out there to Lisa or Matt, what do you feel about that? Or do you have any further comments to it?

Lisa Hilton

0:19:00 – 0:19:59

I think from my perspective, like I said, it’s really your safety has to be paramount. So whilst we all want to stand up for our rights, and make sure that we can be free to be who we want to be, we also need to be make sure that at that moment in time, and we’re in a potentially hostile environment, we need to make sure that we’re safe. First and foremost, I think it’s really around, you know, making sure that when things happen, you don’t have to necessarily face them head on. You know, I’ve had a number of things of my time ranging from you know, annoying when someone keeps going, ‘You sure you want that, you know, king bed and not two singles?’ and you’re like, No, no, no, but you know, there are things where you think actually, this is a bit dangerous so I’m not going to confront this. I’m not gonna say anything about it. So I think for me an understanding, like, what those laws are as well.

So you know, you need to be really careful. Um, if you’re in a potentially dangerous location as well, around the things you talk about, probably not holding hands with a partner, things like that. So yeah, I think just information is key and just yeah, keep yourself safe, I think.

Frank Harrison

0:19:59 – 0:20:01

Alright, Chris or Matt, do you want to jump in?

Matt Akersten

0:20:02 – 0:21:21

Yes, look, even for me, I go to a lot of pride events all around the world. And sometimes when I travel, my partner, and I always feel very safe, but sometimes you’ll be transiting through another airport and another place. And I kind of hide the rainbows a little bit, and wouldn’t hold hands there just in case. I respect the local laws, and we don’t want drama. So that’s where we sort of hide our pride a little bit better and it’s sad to say, but I know there are some places where we don’t want to put ourselves at risk.

I also would say that while I’ve been going around the world promoting Sydney WorldPride, there have been times where I’ve been in a big Pride event. And there’s been police there with riot shields, and they’re protecting us from homophobic neo Nazi people. And it’s been just the most stunning thing to see.

And I think for any pride organiser around the world, to be able to see an event like that, and protesters yelling homophobic things at us, it really does put into perspective why these events matter. And, and it makes us feel very lucky to have what we have here in Australia. So I just like to point that out, because places I’ve been it’s a very intense conversation.

Frank Harrison

0:21:21 – 0:21:41

All right, Chris. Lisa, Matt – what an incredible discussion we’ve just had about travel risk and going to destinations, how to be an informed traveller. Lisa, if you could look at your travels and where you’ve been in the world, is there one piece of advice that you can give our listeners?

Lisa Hilton

0:21:41 – 0:21:47

Yep, that would be for me it would be to take out travel insurance that covers both yourself and kind of everyone who’s in your party.

Frank Harrison

0:21:47 – 0:21:52

And reflecting on that, Chris, how would you expand on that?

Chris Noble

0:21:52 – 0:23:27

It’s gonna sound weird, we obviously we’re a travel insurance business. So this isn’t the hard sell. I mean, as a traveller, and specifically as a traveller, for me, there is a multitude of things that can happen. So I think it’s critical for you to understand the policy and understand your situation, your own personal situation, the destination you’re going to in the context of that policy and the things that you’re likely to do. So everything from whether you’re into adventure activities, just you know, just to cover cover that cancellation, luggage, medical.

I think the most important thing is to ensure that if you’re travelling a different country, and something happens to you, and you end up in a hospital, the bills can be staggeringly high. So, I mean, they’re the fundamentals.

But also, I think, coming back to also the importance of just more so around, travel insurances also assistance. And I think a lot of people forget that in the context of, you know, worrying about having luggage stolen or got flight canceled is, if you do get into a precarious situation, just having any assistance company a phone call away. To help you through whatever situation, you’re going through a random either a medical event or a safety event.

We have amazing teams and amazing people that genuinely care about our customers when they travel. And so calling that out as part of when you’re looking at buying travel insurance, and and hopefully you’ll consider that as one of the brands from the customer group is to look at that and think about assistance, as you know, certainly is a critical part of what you need. And certainly, you know, we’ve spoken about coming to Australia as a relatively safe environment to come to. But yeah, the importance of travel insurance, the importance of travel assistance, is why you really need to take that policy out before you come.

Frank Harrison

0:23:27 – 0:24:33

Chris, it’s a really good topic to bring up because a lot too that a lot of individuals travel with credit cards, and they believe that they have coverage for travel interruption, lost luggage.

And my advice to those travellers that are relying on that financial device, that credit card, confirm with your financial institution before you travel that you actually have coverage. In the shadow of the pandemic, there’s a lot of credit card companies, they’ve either reduced their packages that they offer, or they’ve cancelled them. A lot of individuals may not be aware that they’re no longer covered for travel on their credit card. So be aware before you go, and if you don’t have that coverage with your credit card, as Chris said, get a suitable and appropriate coverage for those unexpected delays because I’m on the assistance side of the business. And there’s nothing more heartbreaking than somebody who needs help having the worst possible day and they don’t have coverage.

Chris Noble

0:24:33 – 0:25:19

That’s an incredibly valid point. And again, I know it’s it’s always hard and it’s very difficult when you’re going through and you’re purchasing an insurance product but even travel insurance as well. And we’ve certainly tried to make it as simple and as easy to understand and for you to be able to make that decision based on your your own requirements as to what you would need or what you might need but again, our customer service staff is only if call away and it’s worth the time that if you have any doubts and you have any concerns in relation not only to your policy but also how it will protect you in the country that you’re travelling in, you know, always reach out. Always happy to help, always happy to answer questions to make sure that you feel you’ve got the right level of cover that you need when you’re travelling.

Frank Harrison

0:25:19 – 0:26:03

Thank you for listening as Chris Noble, Lisa Hilton and Matt Ackersten and myself discuss LGBTQI+ safe travel as we prepare for Sydney WorldPride 2023.

Looking for the Best travel podcasts and to aspire your upcoming adventures while also helping you travel smarter. Listen to NAVIGATE, the top travel podcast that enhances how you explore the world found on our Travel assist. In each episode our World Travel Protection hosts speak with travel industry experts and experienced everyday travellers to bring you thought provoking travel insights, experiences and advice, helping empower you to travel the world confidently.

Until next time, I am Frank Harrison.

At the start of Sydney WorldPride, we’re releasing this episode on travel safety within the LGBTQIA+ community. While Australia is excited to welcome all travellers coming to visit and celebrate, there are currently 70 countries in the world today that criminalise consensual same sex conduct. It’s critical that travellers are aware of their personal profile risks and how that could influence their safety.

Our host Frank Harrison is joined by Sydney WorldPride’s Pride and Diversity Officer, Matt Akersten, and Cover-More’s CTO and CMO, Lisa Hilton and Chris Noble respectively. Together they discuss personal safety tips for the Sydney WorldPride event as well as any international travel.

Cover-More is proud to be the official travel insurance partner for Sydney WorldPride 2023.

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