As readers know, I have been hosting the podcast, “Bigger, Better World” for International Living for several months now. In general, the show deals with topics of interest to those who are currently living abroad, or are contemplating such a move. Some listeners have told me they just like to hear about new places they may want to visit.

This week’s episode is a little different, in that it touches on a topic that relates to much that is going on in our own country these days. The podcast is entitled “Episode 18: Travel and Retirement Overseas as a Gay, Interracial Couple”.

It is a follow-up conversation with the previous week’s guests, Todd Hilton and Damon Morris. Last week, they were introduced as a married couple, but it was not brought up again in our discussion of their choice to sell everything they owned and start traveling around the world, living a few months at a time in different countries. We also never mentioned that Damon was a black man; it just wasn’t germane to the topic.

This is a timely topic, given the current atmosphere in the States, where it seems like minorities and the LBGT community seem to be facing more discrimination and having their rights brought into question once more. Issues that most Americans thought were settled matters, like accepting gay marriage and interracial couples, are for some reason being targeted once again in some states.

In fact, just today I saw a news article that reported first graders in a Wisconsin school are not allowed to sing a Dolly Parton/Miley Cyrus song, "Rainbowland", apparently because of lyrics like “Cause I know if we try, we could really make a difference in this world” and “Living in a Rainbowland … Where we’re free to be exactly who we are / Let’s all dig down deep inside / Brush the judgment and fear aside.”

So it was interesting to talk to these two men about their experiences as they have traveled in over 28 countries around the world.

Although they name a few places where they had to pretend they were not a couple (Dubai, for example where they could be sent to prison for 14 years), for the most part they have been pleasantly surprised by how much acceptance they have found outside of the US.

On a trip to Bali, after their tour guide continued to tell them he could take them places “where the ladies are”, they finally told him straight up that they were a married couple, and would that be a problem? “Not at all,” he told them, “Love is love, and that's what I teach my family.”

Damon confessed that he and his family had big concerns as they began their journey, that he would face difficulties abroad as a black man. In fact, Damon himself was even reluctant to book rooms on AirBnB at first, assuming they would get a better deal and less pushback if Todd, a white man, took the lead.

Why did he think this way? As Todd points out, “Well, perfect example. I mean, when Damon's sister was selling her house, they had me come when the appraisal person came. And so I was the face of the house when they came because that way they got a full appraisal as opposed to something less. We don't worry about that outside of the US.”

In fact, after a while Damon started making the accommodations arrangements himself, and indeed, he found no difference at all in the way they were treated.

And it is not that the fact he is black is ignored everywhere. In Southeast Asia, Damon said he was pointed at or stared at. “When they're pointing and doing that, it wasn't out of, like, rudeness or like, I didn't belong there. It was more like really in fascination and fascinated that I was there and that they really wanted to engage with you and even to the point where they actually sometimes wanted to even just touch my skin.”

Todd adds, “We became total celebrities with taking pictures with families and with kids. And once you start taking the picture with a certain family, then you have, like, other families, seven other people taking pictures, and like, oh, I want to get a picture.”

Damon and Todd have been together for over 20 years now, but could only get married when California passed a law allowing same sex marriage in 2005. They spoke of their difficulties before that, with little thinks most married couples take for granted; being able to get health insurance together through work, visitation rights in hospitals, consent in medical emergencies, and so on.

Even filing taxes before their marriage was a problem. If they filed as a couple, they each had to claim a portion of the other’s income, effectively paying a tax penalty for being a same-sex couple.

After six years on the road, they are continuing to travel, but have setup a base now in San Miquel de Allende in the central mountains of Mexico. Although they also loved Thailand and considered that country as a base, once again it was the issue of gay marriage that decided things. Thailand did not recognize same-sex couples at the time, but Mexico did.

As Todd explained, “We were surprised, especially in a lot of the Catholic countries, how accepted we were. Even when we got our residency in Mexico, the lady that was helping us with our residency, she was saying, ‘we are proud to have you be here as a married couple’. And that was also something that was like, wow. We were just as shocked to hear that, and it was very pleasing to the ear to hear that. So we were happy that that was the response that we got.”

But things are looking up – outside the US, at least. Thailand for example recently changed their laws and now accepted gay marriage. Ecuador, which did not when we first arrived there in 2013, now also has modernized their laws.

Todd and Damon tell several stories about how complete strangers have opened up their lives to them and invited them to parties or even into their own homes, something they say you generally never see happen back in the States.

Damon’s parting advice for those looking to travel outside of the US: “I would want to share with other people of color that are interested and maybe doing something different and traveling. Get out there and do it. Don't be afraid because it's so easy to get caught up in being afraid and wondering, will I be accepted? Will I not? I think that you will have one of the best experiences if you allow yourself to just go out there and see the world."

"I mean, we're six years into this crazy journey that we started, not knowing what we were going to do, and it has been an amazing journey. So whether you're Black, whether you're gay, whatever, they get out there and experience it and see the world because I guarantee that things will open up for you in a way that you would never have thought. And we have made more friends and more resources of meeting people all over the world and it's something that we would not trade in for nothing. The six years that we've been doing it, that has been the highlight of that. It's the amount of people that we have met that have been so kind and welcoming to us.”

For me, one of the most powerful statements from Damon was during our pre-interview discussion. He told me, “When we go to other countries, they don’t see me as a black American, they just see me as an American. It’s only when we are in the US, that people make that distinction.”

Wouldn’t it be great if we could ALL just be considered “Americans” here at home, without any other adjective that separates and divides us?

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