Around the world, there is considerable cultural variation between and within individual countries with regard to attitudes to diversity in personal identities, attributes and lifestyles. Just as this can reflect fascinating culture differences and diversity, it may also lead to forms of intolerance or hostility.
Though it may be important not to make assumptions or jump to conclusions about how you may be regarded in your destination country, it is helpful to consider the relationship between how you may be perceived by others and the predominance of particular attitudes to difference within local cultures. If you are travelling with friends or family members, you should also consider how this will affect them.
We recommend discussing your trip with your manager or supervisor, who can work through this material with you and should be able to assist in preparing a safe travel plan. If you don’t feel comfortable discussing aspects of your personal identity with your manager, you can contact the Staff Networks, the Faith Centre or the EDI Office before you begin travel planning, and the Health and Safety team can offer formal advice. Whilst travelling, it’s good practice to establish a safe contact in the UK (this could be your manager, or someone else) and arrange regular phone calls to check-in. If this is available to you, it may be helpful to establish a safe contact in your destination country. This could take the form of knowing how to seek consular support in case you encounter any difficulties, but someone you feel personally comfortable with is preferable.
Local groups can act as an excellent resource to understand the lived experience in your destination country. Depending on the information you would like to know, LGBT+ groups or LSE Alumni organisations may be a good place to start, or the local EDI, Ethics or Health and Safety teams at the host institution. The EDI Office can assist with contact in these instances.
Feeling like you need to hide aspects of your personal identity can be an incredibly isolating experience. It could negatively affect your mental health and wellbeing and impact your relationship with your work and your colleagues. Preparing for this in advance of your trip should go some way to help, but we also encourage you to seek support upon your return.
5.1 Legal factors
LSE is a public body, and under the Equality Act 2010 and the Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED), it has a duty to eliminate unlawful discrimination (both direct and indirect), harassment and victimisation in its study and work environments. While the policies and actions of the School do not have a direct connection to the laws in place in countries outside the European Union, LSE has an overall duty of care to its students and staff to protect members of the School from discrimination.
Most travel will take place without incident, but conditions can change rapidly, with little or no warning. LSE therefore ask all those travelling on School business to complete a notification to travel form.
Written risk assessments are not normally required for travel where the risks are no greater than the traveller would experience in their day-to-day life. Where the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) has a warning against non-essential travel, or the School's insurer classes the country as a high or extreme threat destination, staff and students will be required to complete a Risk Identification Form and an Overseas Travel Risk Assessment. The completed risk assessments should be authorised by the Head of Department or Service (or equivalent).
For degree students, approval for travel must be granted by the relevant authority as School level. For example PhD students must have approval for fieldwork or periods residing outside of the UK from the Chair of the Research Degrees Sub-Committee via application to the PhD Academy (who can provide advice on requirements)
The legal landscape of your destination country may differ significantly from the UK. In some extreme cases, small gestures such as holding hands with someone may put you in danger. When preparing for your trip, you should research legal factors which are likely to influence how you are treated by local authorities:
- Lack of anti-discrimination law
- Restriction of rights such as freedom of expression, assembly or medical freedom
- Lack of legal recognition of your relationship, religion, parenthood or gender identity (or active denial)
- Criminalisation of certain activities or behaviours
5.2 Non-legal factors
Although the legal landscape may paint a serious picture, your interaction with local people and the authorities may be more heavily influenced by non-legal factors. Non-legal factors are extensive and nuanced, if you are able to learn about the lived experience from a regular visitor or local citizen, this will add more accurately to your understanding:
- Religious and cultural customs and practices
- Prejudicial stereotyping based on gender, colour of skin and ethnicity, national origin, ‘ability’ and ‘disability’, and religious beliefs
- Social and political hierarchies
- Gender roles and norms that are informed by particular traditions
- The consumption and availability of particular foods
- The consumption or purchase of alcohol (may also be a legal factor)
- The general context for the coexistence of groups following different faiths
- Openness to a plurality of political perspectives and freedom of the press
- The availability of medications and health-related treatments
- Attitudes to wealth and charitable giving
- The interplay of two or more of your personal characteristics
5.3 Social media and online presence
It is important to be aware that what you post online while in the UK may be accessible to people elsewhere in the world. This encompasses social media, but also your online presence in relation to publications, talks or conferences.
For example, if you are a person who is LGBT+, it may be that discussing your sexual orientation or gender identity online may give rise to risks and difficulties in other parts of the world.
People whose faith or religious beliefs differ from those that predominate in a destination country may face hostility, perhaps especially in the case of those championing non-belief and atheism in settings with strong religious traditions. This may be a particular concern for members of the School from outside the UK whose belief system has changed while away from their country of origin (whether as a result of converting to a new religion or expressing non-belief), and who are going back to a context where religious freedom is poorly established. State authorities may monitor social media in your destination country.
5.4 Travelling in a group
All members of the group who will be travelling should familiarise themselves with this guide and acknowledge the importance of accidental disclosure when visiting a sensitive environment. Details about personal characteristics which may be freely shared within members of the group at home may be restricted entirely when travelling overseas.