On August 9, Canadian model Gigi Gorgeous reported that she was detained at the Dubai International Airport for five hours because she is transgender. Gorgeous told TMZ that she was stopped by an immigration officer, who said, "I was told you are transgender. You cannot come into the country."
After her release, Gorgeous posted a photo on Instagram to let her followers know what'd happened. "Yesterday was one of the scariest moments of my entire life and I wouldn't wish it upon anyone," she wrote. "How you can be denied entry somewhere just because of who you are is seriously disgusting and also very scary."
Gorgeous, who has more than 2 million subscribers to her YouTube channel, told TMZ her passport has been updated from her birth name to show her transition and now reads "Gigi Loren."
"Airport police have a different story," TMZ reported. "They say the passport describes her as male and the passport photo shows Gigi as a male. Gigi tells us that's simply not true."
The model isn't the first to be allegedly targeted for being transgender in Dubai. In 2014, two transgender women from Brazil were vacationing in Dubai when they were detained and had their passports confiscated. They were charged with the crime of "imitating" women, LGBTQ Nation reported.
The United Arab Emirates isn't known to be particularly friendly to the LGBT community. According to the International Refugee Rights Initiative, all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage is considered illegal. Moreover, there are no protections from gender or sex-based discrimination listed in the UAE constitution.
The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) recognizes the difficulties transgender travelers may face and has compiled helpful information about airport security, including what to expect during screening procedures.
Harper Jean Tobin is NCTE's Director of Policy. She tells Broadly that although she can't speak to Gorgeous' case specifically, what happened to her was "horrifying."
"Transgender travelers very rationally have a lot of anxiety about what they're going to experience when they travel," she says. Those flying domestically may be afraid of facing harassment, she says. There's also some discomfort over the "invasive and often humiliating nature" of US airport checkpoints, in which prosthetic body parts can set off alarms and invoke uncomfortable discussions or pat-downs.
Traveling abroad brings a whole other set of potential problems, especially if a person's passport does not reflect his or her gender identity. "We know that in many parts of the world, being LGBT is criminalized and being perceived as 'cross-dressing' is criminalized," Tobin says.
"It's important obviously that the United States and any country speak up for its own citizens and for all LGBT people around the world if they are mistreated," Tobin says. She also called for change, including the need "to create a culture where people who are different, whether because they're people of color, religious minorities or they're transgender, don't feel profiled, targeted, harassed, when they're traveling."