Less than 15 kilometers south of mainland Europe, across the Strait of Gibraltar, is Morocco – a fantastic destination of sand dunes, beaches, crowded markets, resort towns and jaw-dropping mountains. Morocco is a beautiful country and has a way of engaging all your senses, making it a place that is without a doubt worth a visit. Though Morocco has a reputation as a great destination for many sorts of travelers, Morocco is not well known for being a particularly gay-friendly destination like, say, Costa Rica. However, doesn’t mean that it’s completely lacking in LGBTQ tourism.
Unlike Spain, its neighbor directly to the north where same-sex marriage is legal, homosexuality is illegal in Morocco and punishable by up to three years of imprisonment. To be fair, this is rarely enforced and the strictness of the punishment varies throughout the country. This law does not apply to non-Moroccan same-sex partners traveling or staying together on their journey. So though as a traveler you and your partner are excluded from the law, you might want to know that your brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community in Morocco to lead a more suppressed life.
For gay travel in Morocco, it’s best to respect the local culture and practice discretion in public. In fact, public displays of affection (and you can learn more here about the essentials of Moroccan tourism) should generally be avoided by both gay and straight couples. In fact, heterosexual kissing can even see the woman and man fined or in jail. The country’s largely Muslim population are conservative with regard to any sort of PDA. As this applies to the gay and straight community alike, for gay travel in Morocco, the LGBTQ community need not take offense with this reality as it is simply a sign of cultural respect.
Tradition and custom should be taken into account by any visitor, gay or straight, traveling to a foreign country… and not just for safety! It also can be viewed as an opportunity to learn about life in a different country through immersion into the culture. Seeing something from the outside versus experiencing it from the inside provides two completely different insights into a way of life.
LGBTQ People and Culture in Morocco
Though same-sex sexual activity may not be legal for Moroccansl, this is not to say that Morocco has no gay culture. Morocco has been and continues to be a popular destination for LGBTQ travelers, whether the country acknowledges it or not. Cities like Tangier, Marrakesh, and Agadir have been particularly popular destinations for the homosexual community. These days, Casablanca is the hub for the local gay community, though not too many travelers prioritize Casablanca as a destination (and for good reason).
In Tangier, the undisputed odd couple for many years was Paul and Jane Bowles. Paul Bowles, a musician and writer, had long been drawn to Tangier after famously having been recommended settling there by Gertrude Stein in Paris. Though never exactly public, it’s known that Paul Bowles was gay and Jane lesbian. In their era (they married in 1938), their marriage made a lot of sense. In Tangier, they found the perfect spot to be themselves. They reined over the art scene in Tangier for years, with Tennessee Williams, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Truman Capote all coming to call on them. In Tangier’s International Zone era, they were the king and queen of the LGBTQ scene.
Yves Saint-Laurent (yes, that YSL) with his partner Pierre Bergé saved the Majorelle Garden in Marrakesh from destruction. Over the last half of the 20th century, Yves and Pierre were one of Morocco’s true power couples. They were appreciated not only by the people of Marrakesh, but even by the royal palace. In 2010, as a small recognition of his contribution, the street in front of the Jardin Majorelle’s entrance was renamed the Rue Yves Saint Laurent. Her Royal Highness, Princess Lalla Salma, was there to unveil the new street sign.
Abdellah Taïa, writer, director and actor, is perhaps Morocco’s most famous gay man and certainly one of the most public. He has a number of books worth reading for those interesting in learning about gay travel in Morocco from a Moroccan perspective.
Gay Travel in Morocco: Destinations
When the LGBTQ communities were being persecuted in Europe, Tangier and Marrakesh were both sort of safe spaces. Not only are they wonderful destinations in their own right, but the local populations have a sort of worldly “been there, seen that” attitude of acceptance. In many ways, this remains true even today.
Tangier remains more of an “up and coming” destination, particularly with the French rediscovering this Mediterranean gem and so much work being put into projects around the city to revive it to its Barbara Hutton-era, jet-setting glory. There is a small expat gay scene here, but one gets the feeling that either you’re a little late or maybe early to the party.
Meanwhile, Marrakesh is the clear epicenter for all expat LBGTQ Morocco activity. Of course, there is a long history of famous people, such as Yves Saint-Laurent, calling Marrakesh home. These days, you’re more likely to find a mixed crowd at certain bars and clubs with some occasional private parties.
While Agadir doesn’t have a gay scene, per se, its beaches still attract a large European gay following.
LGBTQ Morocco: Acceptance
Though LGBT individuals in Morocco are not uncommon, Moroccans still have an expectation of men to marry women and start a family. To not do so would be unusual. This is one of the issues gay travelers may face when interacting with the locals. Still, same-sex couples staying in big hotel chains or in foreign-owned riads in cities like Marrakesh should not encounter any issues as they are quite used to many types of visitors.
Like other non-western cultures, hand holding between men is not uncommon, but this simply indicates male friendship and nothing more. So if you see this occur do not make any immediate assumptions. It is also likely that you will not catch this quite so often in more urban areas. Many Moroccans are aware that in the western world two men holding hands often indicates them to be a couple and Moroccans would prefer to avoid this assumption.
Outlook of LGBTQ Rights in Morocco
The potential outlook for LGBTQ equality in Morocco remains bleak. Traditional standards and a conservative religious culture means it will likely be a long while before the Maghreb catches up with western standards of LGBTQ acceptance. One LGBTQ Morocco rights organization worth mentioning based in Spain is called Kif-Kif, which means “similar;” they also published a magazine by the name of Mithly.
Morocco’s culture and laws may not yet align with the nearby western world as its traditional religious and familial traditions run deep. Nevertheless, Morocco continues to tantalize the gay community as a wondrous and exotic destination. LGBTQ travelers wanting to visit Morocco should exercise caution, but relaxing knowing that it is a wonderful destination with lots of do and experience.
Start Planning Gay Travel in Morocco Today
Journey Beyond Travel can help you customize a unique and wonderful experience in Morocco, taking into consideration any concerns you may have. Our on the ground staff are aware of local culture and can provide you with the best experience while providing advice and a tour of Morocco you’re not soon to forget! Contact us today to get started!
About the Author:
This article was written by world traveler and blogger David Brown. You can follow the adventures (and misadventures) of David and his husband at TwoBadTourists.com. You can also join up with David on Instagram to learn more about world wayfaring, festivals, and more!