LGBTQ Business Traveler Safety Discussion: Nate Shalev and Michael Becker

August 30, 2022

Safety for LGBTQ Business Travelers: A Discussion with Nate Shalev and Michael Becker

Emilie Kopp: Hello and thank you for joining us today. I'm Emilie Kopp, partner development director at Deem, and I am really pleased to be here today. I've got with us Michael Becker, CEO of GeoSure. This is the tool and intelligence behind our SafetyCheck feature. That's something that can surface relevant safety and wellness information to a traveler during their booking experience, including LGBTQ travelers, which we're going to be focusing on today.

I'm also pleased to have Nate Shalev join us. They are not only an inclusivity expert and founder of Rebel Impact, but they can provide some first-hand experiences when it comes to LGBTQ travel. So, Nate, Michael, thank you both for being here. I'm looking forward to our conversation.

Considerations and realities for LGBT travelers

Emilie: The World Travel and Tourism Council projects that the travel sector's total contribution to the U.S. economy could rise beyond pre-pandemic levels at over 1.9 trillion in 2022.

So especially as we're getting back to such high demand for travel, addressing safety during travel needs to be paramount in the minds of travelers, their companies and their travel managers. So with that, let's get started. Nate, I want to start with you. You have both professional and personal experiences when it comes to travel. I think that's a perfect way to start things off and is extremely relevant to the conversation.

So if you don't mind just kind of sharing a little bit about what your experiences have been, what do you take into consideration? And what does the general topic of safety mean to you? 

Nate Shalev: Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much. So I love traveling. First of all, I do love to travel. But yeah, as you mentioned, I have certain considerations that I need to think about when I when traveling as as a queer and trans person. And part of those considerations include: Does this state have protection against LGBTQ discrimination? If I'm going outside of the country, is it legal to be gay here?

And this also includes things like, is this hotel LGBTQ friendly? And if I get hurt will a local hospital treat me? How will what I'm wearing affect the way TSA is going to be treating me, as well? So there are all these considerations that I'm thinking about that really have nothing to do with planning my travel and my destination. It really just involves my safety and how I exist in the world and what that's going to mean for when I travel.

So traveling is always personal. And then when I was traveling for work and with the company, there's the compounded pressure of feeling like I had to go where I was going. So this means that like with all of my considerations for personal travel, if I choose to think that it's not safe for me, I don't have to go there. But for work, I feel like I have to go where I'm being asked to. It's probably because I want to be there for my organization and the work that I was doing, but also because I was being asked. So there's also this compounded feeling of that pressure to go somewhere where I might not be feeling safe.

And so the technology that we're talking about really is a game changer for me, because it would not only save me hours of research on my own, but also really would help me feel safe when I when I have to travel for for work and knowing that I might not entirely feel comfortable, but knowing that that someone has my back is really important.

The unique needs of trans travelers

Emilie: So, Nate, I think you just mentioned some things that a lot of LGBTQ travelers can relate to. But then there are some ways that I would say even a trans traveler like yourself has to go even further, with some more unique considerations that you might have to take. I want you to share a little bit more of what that's like, where you felt discomfort or you felt unsafe in a way that is a little bit more unique to the T part of the LGBTQ spectrum.

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important to just first note that LGBTQ travelers, and trans travelers in particular, do face these extra challenges when we're traveling. And so, the first is just around the logistics of being trans and what that means. So documentation can be really tough. Whether that's the gender marker on your license, if it doesn't reflect your gender identity or like the gender marker on any of your documents, license or passport, and then around names.

My legal name is different from the name that I go by. There's many reasons for legal name changes, why folks do them or don't do them. It's a process. And so right now, my documents are my legal name. So when I'm traveling personally, I can manage that. I can take care of it and it's uncomfortable and I don't like it, but it's still just affecting me. But when I was traveling with work, knowing that somebody else was going to be handling my travel was really stressful because now I'm concerned that my whole team could potentially know me by a name that I no longer go by. 

And then that now is both a concern for my safety at work, for my well being at work, for how I'm interacting with my team in addition to the regular safety considerations that I have when I go through TSA and having that TSA agent look at my license and being like, Is this you? I don't know. And that being uncomfortable in and of itself. And then the TSA security check process itself is really difficult for trans folks. The body scanners, the gendered nature of the way that security works is really tough, uncomfortable at best, and unsafe and traumatic at worst.

Emilie: Travel is stressful enough. And now you've just added another layer that I just cannot imagine what it's like to carry with you.

Nate: Yeah, it's worth it. I would say it's worth it. Traveling is worth all of the things that come along with it, but yeah.

Safer travel through technology

Emilie: Michael, your company, GeoSure, which is Deem’s partner for Travel SafetyCheck, focuses on traveler safety through technology. So tell us a little bit more about what GeoSure does, and can you share your philosophy about how travel safety plays into this concept of the new duty of care, especially as it pertains to LGBTQ travelers?

Michael Becker: Sure. Well, thanks so much for having me. It's a pleasure. And we're very proud to partner with Deem and delighted to be here today. So what GeoSure is: We're a data science risk modeling startup that's created and designed for the end user. And we've created a metric system, a quantification system, scaled over 65,000 locations, cities and neighborhoods, on a hyperlocal basis that covers eight critical traveler and stakeholder categories, including health and medical.

And we've done a couple of interesting things along the way. We've created the first dedicated women's safety category. We followed that in 2018 with the first dedicated LGBTQ category, and so on. And so the idea is to create a more granular, not only geographically granular, but more granular to the individual. And it's been a lot of fun partnering with Deem. 

With global uncertainty and a pandemic and people and individuals, workforces, travelers need to have some rapid understanding of safety or risk — and I'm going to use those expressions interchangeably here for the presentation today. We serve that up in an immediate, rapid fashion, again, specific to the neighborhood. And that involves everything in the booking process, along one's itinerary, personal travel outside of business, you're going to a hotel, restaurant, baseball game, hospital, university, so on and so forth and that’s what we do.

Travel resources for LGBT travelers

Emile: So, Nate, you know, in the experiences that you shared both for personal and business travel, you mentioned that there's a little bit more of a burden placed on you as a traveler to figure out what extra considerations you're going to need to take to travel to these various places. 

So I'm curious: What sources of information are out there that you're currently looking at? And I imagine you're also taking into consideration your own experiences as well as the experiences of friends and family. How do you kind of bring that all together and make decisions?

Nate: Yeah, it's really hard. There is no one central location for all of this information. So I'll start by first just Googling. Is it legal to be gay in X place? Does X state have protections against LGBTQ discrimination? Are there protections against gender identity? In whatever place I'm going to and start from that baseline, “will it be safe for me to simply exist in the environment that I'm going in?”

And then if the answer is yes, then we can move toward finding an LGBTQ-friendly hotel. And then that would mean pouring over resources from the reviews, or from some of the media that I look at and some of the queer media blogs that might have some recommendations. But it's learning with a really careful eye what the kind of coded words can be.

So poring over an Airbnb review and finding words like safety or trying to find things that might indicate that this person is homophobic or transphobic. It takes a ton of time, and I wish there was a much clearer answer. But once that happens, if I either can't find something or I'm unsure about it, then I'll go to all of my networks and go to some of the trans group chats that I’m in, or just, really just any of the available networks in my community to ask, does anyone have a place to recommend to stay in wherever I'm going? So it's a combination of just finding the research, finding anywhere that has it, and then crowdsourcing to find the information that they need, which is, of course, as accurate as that sounds.

So it is more art than science. And I'm very glad to be having this conversation to make it more of a science, which will absolutely help to benefit me and many in the queer community.

The technology: GeoSure and Travel SafetyCheck

Emile: So, Michael, we just heard Nate talk through just how much research and all of the places that one might be looking at in order to gather enough information to be able to make choices about where to go and how to get there. I'd love to hear from you. 

How can GeoSure make that simpler? How does GeoSure aggregate these swaths of data? What other sources of information, whether that's objective or subjective, are you able to include in the intelligence of your tool?

Michael: Sure. Well, again, thanks for that question. And it's a long answer, but I'll try to be somewhat succinct here. We really have four legs to the data store, which incorporates structured data sources from well-known recognized areas. We have a subjective element, a component where the user can input their experiences as well as private data share.

The sources we use are manifold and growing. We're looking at the built environment. We're looking at things like the Southern Poverty Law Center. We're looking at things like the Human Rights Watch, Municipal Equality Index, and on and on and on. And we bundle those or put them in a pot, if you will. And we create — process and analyze, and we create scores on a temporal and spatial basis, which means they change by location and over time.

And I'll use the Tenderloin example. This is representative of the kind of variation that you can have. The Tenderloin district in San Francisco has a different safety complexion than perhaps an adjacent neighborhood right across the street in Union Square or Russian Hill. And that's what we do on a hyper local basis around the world.

So to create this rapid understanding and awareness for the end user, it's been really designed for the end user to empower, to create a more confident understanding of what safety looks like throughout the booking process and the itinerary, and as well enable this ability to contribute and participate in the safety anywhere in the world as well as one's community.

Emile: Nate, it seems like there's this hyper local-level aspect of decision making when you're traveling and maybe you don't realize it until you actually get there. But even just being on the wrong side of the street can sometimes provide a much different experience of safety. I'm curious, does that kind of resonate with you as well?

 Nate: Yeah, it absolutely does. And I would also even say within LGBTQ-friendly neighborhoods, like something that you might think of as a” gayborhood,” is often really safe for men and really not safe for everyone else, or really safe for white men and really not safe for everyone else. So I would even say, even when it feels safe, if it's marked as a safe LGBTQ community, I'm also typically always going to be wary of it because my assumption is that men, and specifically white men, are going to be the default for that. And that would not help me if I'm trying to figure out if an area is safe or not.

Changes in the LGBTQ rights landscape

Emilie: So, Nate, I think it's pretty obvious to say that the global and the U.S. landscape of LGBTQ protections has the potential to change rapidly. Five years ago, we had to think about things like the bathroom bill and whether or not you had to use the bathroom associated with whatever gender you were assigned at birth.

Nowadays, we're having to consider things where if you're in a certain state, you may be refused medical treatment based on a religious view held by a doctor. These are some pretty scary things. Do you have any words of advice for how travel managers should stay abreast of these changes and how they may impact their travelers? Is it even possible for travel managers to stay ahead of these things?

Nate: Thank you so much for bringing it up and for acknowledging that it's scary, because it is scary. So while the landscape might be changing and there might be new laws happening or new conversations happening, my experience as a trans person is consistent. So I'm always worried about what it means if I have to go into a gendered bathroom, and I'm always concerned about that.

And so even if there are laws on the books or not, I'm still worried about that. And it's the same thing with this new bill as well against medical care in South Carolina. I'm still going to go to South Carolina if I have to go. The only difference now is that I'm going to be prepared for what to do if I get hurt there.

So that means before I go, I'm going to research a list of LGBTQ-friendly medical providers that I know that I can turn to if that happens. And I think that that's the case. So I think the important thing for travel managers to think about is to have this really proactive, holistic strategy going in. So, you know, all the time, what can happen if a specific scenario is going to happen for the care that your travelers need.

So I think it's about always consistently having that strategy all the time and knowing what different parts of the LGBTQ community need. So something that's really beautiful about our community is that we do exist across geographies and across identity groups and across demographics. And that's really wonderful but that also means we have specific considerations. 

So LGBTQ women are facing sexism. Black LGBTQ folks are going to face racism, Jewish LGBTQ folks are facing anti-Semitism. And each of those different things has a different set of needs. So knowing that we exist everywhere, but that also means that we need different considerations. And there are local community groups that you can find out the information for or really make sure that you have this inclusive strategy that actually is inclusive of everyone and acknowledging all the different needs that we have.

Emilie: Michael, do you think that there's a role that technology plays in this as well?

Michael: I do. And I think a SafetyCheck from Deem is a great example of that. There are ways to create awareness around safety for these specific demographics and to create a way to quickly understand what,  sort of distilling what is happening, and what's relevant from a safety respect standpoint.

And I think for technology there's a kind of a long way to go there. There are just so many wonderful tools there. But I think this is really just the start of a significant trend towards privacy, equality and a greater DEI for really any organization of any size and making that available to everyone.

We talk a lot about democratizing safety. We really believe that's core to our vision and our values. We want everyone to have safety tools available and to have them rapidly accessible. At the end of the day, this helps with a better understanding and to try to make those communities and those travel experiences better, develop economic incentives and then be able to measure growth. That's further down the road and probably a little bit off topic. But I just wanted to share that we're seeing this grow every single day.

Proactive safety considerations for all

Emilie: Nate, you mentioned the importance of travel managers having a proactive strategy for inclusive travel, not just for LGBTQ travelers, but for all intersections and marginalized communities of travelers. But as much as travel managers want to be able to help prepare and set expectations and make good choices, sometimes we just have to react and things kind of happen unexpectedly.

So tell me a bit more about how that transpires. And Michael, I want to hear from you, too. What kind of lifelines do we think technology might be available or might we sort of help when things change on the fly?

Nate: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's really important to consider and think about because we know things are going to happen. And it's unfortunate, but it is just the way that our current system and culture is set up. And the important thing is for us to be prepared for it. So I think having a reactive strategy is incredibly important.

I know for me, when I was traveling at a work conference, I had a really awful transphobic experience happen, and I was really shaken up and I did not feel safe at the conference or the environment that I was in. And I was able to speak to my organization and change my travel to be able to get back early and change my flight. And it was seamless. 

And I was so, so grateful for it because I was able to get out of a really bad situation. And so I was grateful for it. So I think that there is equally a need for a proactive strategy to make sure we're always being inclusive, but also that reactive portion to know that if things happen, we'll be prepared for it and your people will know that they're going to be taken care of. 

Emilie: Michael, I know that you've thought about this a little bit as well.

Michael: We do. We think a lot about this. What do you do in the event of any kind of state, whether that's a mild anxiety to a full blown emergency, what do you do? Are you going to call in the extraction teams? Not necessarily. Is there a way that technology can help individuals and by extension, travel managers and companies in those scenarios? 

And we sat around and thought about this for a long time. What do you do? Where do you go again, given that scenario? And we came up with a feature called Safe Refuge. Safe Refuge enables the user again in a full blown panic or just a mild concern to direct them to the nearest branded hotel, three, four and five star hotel anywhere in the world. 

Why hotels? Hotels are open 24/7. They're polyglot — they speak any language. There is typically security. It is the definition of a safe refuge. The whole idea of always improving the guest experience is an important mantra for the industry. 

And by contrast, you can't go to schools, you can't go to shopping malls. You know, you're not going to go to a local hospital. They're just not equipped for it. And in certain countries around the world, the last place you would want to go is a police station. So a hotel that is accredited, branded makes sense. And we have that tool available today. And it is an example of where technology can help relieve or alleviate distress.

Emilie: All right, everyone, thank you so much for joining this important conversation today about safety for our LGBTQ travelers. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and let us know what you want to hear. Just add a comment in the comment section and we're going to take a look. So thanks again, and y'all take care. See you soon.


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The Deem editorial team brings important, informative commentary and data to travel managers and everyone interested in technology and the corporate travel industry.

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