Mexico LGBTQ - Travel Safety Tips

Is Mexico LGBTQ-friendly? In a culture where the machismo male stereotype rules, it's surprising to find that same-sex marriage is legal in the capital. But how open can you be, and stay safe?

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Mexico offers a wide range of experiences for LGBTQ travelers, including cosmopolitan cities, beautiful gay-popular beaches, culturally rich towns and endless historic sites to explore. Queer visitors should expect a warm welcome throughout the country, but it’s important to note that the experience for locals may be different.

Though laws favor LGBTQ people, there are still significant obstacles. Homosexuality was decriminalized in 1871, a full 132 years before the U.S. Same-sex marriage is allowed in Mexico City and 12 states (and recognized nationwide). Transgender persons can change their legal gender and name in Mexico City and two states.

LGBTQ Locals

The country is strongly Catholic; even gay people are often faith-driven; and family still plays a central role in the lives of LGBTQ Mexicans, who must often express their sexuality discreetly. The culture is stronger than the printed law, and each Mexican state can override national decriminalization laws by finding “adjacent“ excuses — like public decency laws — for making an arrest in rare situations. Interestingly, tolerance for homosexuality and non-binary gender identity is higher among indigenous Mexicans, especially among Isthmus Zapotecs, who recognize a distinct and respected third gender - muxe - and Yucatán Mayas.

LGBTQ Visitors

Basic displays of same-sex affection, like kissing and handholding in public (except for in or around a gay bar in, say, Mexico City), are invitations for scrutiny and potential backlash, which wouldn’t be much different from a small, conservative, rural town anywhere in the world. Gay-popular Puerto Vallarta has a defined gay area and beach. But, a five-minute walk in either direction and the rules change completely. Visitors are encouraged to exercise common sense and respect local culture. Visitors enjoy “tourist privilege” with little likelihood of harm, but it’s important to exercise discretion with locals you meet so you don’t inadvertently put them in harm’s way.

LGBTQ Friendly Areas

The legalization of gay marriage has reinvigorated LGBTQ culture in Mexico City and the place is rich with art, culinary experiences, historical sites, parks, great people watching and a super fun gay area called Zona Rosa packed with queer people, gay-popular restaurants and gay bars. Just beware that often the prettiest street-girls are boys, and male prostitutes (the ‘good vibe guys' or ‘chavos buena onda') solicit along stretches of Paseo de la Reforma, just on the periphery of the 'Pink Zone'. 

The area was reputedly named the Pink Zone by Mexican artist José Luis Cuevas in the 1970s, when he claimed the district was "too timid to be called red, too frivolous to be white." Now, a seen-it-all vibe prevails.

Mexico City Pride, scheduled for June 27-30, 2019, is an especially fun time to visit.

Puerto Vallarta is Mexico's gay capital. As well as hosting an annual gay parade, there are plenty of hotels, tours, cruises and venues (from sleek martini bars to gritty strip clubs and drag shows) which all aim to take a slice of the lucrative, upwardly mobile gay market. In many bars, you'll come across Purple Hand, the only beer (produced by a small Mexican brewery called Minerva) marketed at the LGBTQ community.

Many other places such as Cancún, Acapulco and Playa del Carmen have gay bars and significant gay populations, which you can look up online. You can connect with other queer people using dating apps but always practice discretion (meet in a public place) for your safety and theirs.

Mexico's Third Gender: Muxe

Southeast from Oaxaca, the lowland Isthmus of Tehuantepac has a strong Zapotec culture in which alternative notions of sexuality are not only accepted, they're celebrated. Once a matriarchal society, Zapotec women are hard-core saleswomen that also like to take the lead in all manner of village affairs.

Then there are the muxe (pronounced ‘moo-she'), a 'third gender‘ that takes both male and female characteristics and are neither devalued nor discriminated against in their communities. Muxes are not transgender, they are distinct. Vestidas are muxes who dress as women and apply makeup, but there are also pintadas, the less common muxes who wear men's clothing.

Just five hours from Oaxaca city, the town of Juchitán is a ‘queer paradise' where gender stereotypes are obliterated at every turn. You'll see priests offering communion to transvestites, women dressing like men and taking male lovers but still occupying traditional female roles.

Occasionally muxes will take on more ‘manly' career paths; one notable muxe, Amaranta Gómez Regalado, ran for Mexico's congress in 2003. Muxes also serve as a sexual outlet for men before marriage, often dating men who go on to marry women (who will visit the muxe to learn some tips about their new spouse). When the daughter gets married and leaves homes (usually at a very young age) the gay son generally assumes the role of caregiver to aging parents.

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