With recent progress in legislation, some governments are in an effort to protect the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) citizens. Unfortunately, 80 countries around the world still maintain laws that make homosexuality illegal. In countries such as Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen, as well as parts of Nigeria and Somalia, homosexual acts are punishable by death. Criminalisation of homosexuality remains strong in many African countries where gay people face persecution and violence from police, employers, hospitals and community organisations.

In fact, negative attitudes towards homosexuality are quite common even in areas where it is legal, for instance in some European countries hate crimes toward LGBT individuals continue to occur due to strong religious traditions in many places. As such, LGBT equality is severely threatened and the laws fail to protect LGBT individuals from homophobia. In the UK, although homosexuality is not considered as a criminal offence for many years and the Civil Partnerships Act has been introduced in 2004 to legalise same-sex union-ship, young LGBT continue to face homophobia in their everyday lives particularly in schools. In a 2010 public opinion poll, 43% of Americans who participated believed that gay and lesbian relationships are morally wrong despite the support of many religious communities by opposing homophobia.


Many LGBT people are forced to conceal their sexuality, for fear of the negative reactions and consequences of coming out particularly in a homophobic culture. Even with a simple realisation that they might be gay can cause many young LGBT to be grappling with shame stemming from negative messages that they are sick, disgusting or sinful. It is very uncommon to feel fully at ease with being open with one’s sexuality or expressing same-sex affection.

Young LGBT people are subjected to severe homophobic bullying at school particularly when they do not act in line with gender stereotypes. Words associated with homosexuality are often used as standard insults, reinforcing the conception that it is highly undesirable to be gay. Naturally, this stops young LGBT from exploring and understanding their gay feelings; the fear of cruel homophobic torments from family and friends push them to the point that they have to pretend to be heterosexual or join in homophobic taunts – purely to protect themselves. There are many different homophobic threats experienced by the LGBT people almost on a daily basis; all of them are destructive, prejudice and discriminative such as malicious gossip, name-calling, intimidating looks, internet bullying, vandalism and theft of property, discrimination at work, isolation and rejection, sexual assault, or even being sentenced to death.


The identities of LGBT have become increasingly a global phenomenon. In Asia, the recognition of this ‘new’ gender/sex culture has become more apparent as a result of the increasing international cooperation on HIV/AIDS prevention programmes; such preventative measures can only be effective if they are developed according to the lifestyle of every target group – hence the importance of recognising these gender/sex minorities.

Some of the major developments in Asia in recent years regarding homosexuality and human rights indicate that liberal thinking is spreading aggressively in this region; in December 2007, Nepal has created laws to protect LGBT rights and change existing laws that are tantamount to discrimination; in July 2009, the Indian government has taken a significant action to address the severe persecution of LGBT people living in India by abolishing the law that criminalises homosexuality; in April 2011, Pakistan has introduced a third gender category on its national identity cards for the transgender community; the number of openly gay politicians are increasing such as Tsai Ing-Wen in Taiwan, Vincent Wijeysingha in Singapore, Taiga Ishikawa in Japan, Penny Wong in Australia and Sunil Babu Pant in Nepal.

Some researches have suggested that gay culture is more tolerated in Asia than in other continents. For example, China has a history of being tolerant to homosexuality where Confucianism does not condemn homosexuality as some religions do. In fact during the Song dynasty, it has been documented that homosexuality was considered fashionable for both men and women. Several emperors were reported to keep male consorts. Kang You Wei, a renowned scholar in the 20th century apparently proposed same sex marriages. It is estimated that gay men and women constitute between 1 and 5% of the Chinese population, which means there could be as many 60 million homosexuals in China [Source: China Daily]

The economic, social and technological advancements in the context of tourism have acted as the catalyst in accelerating the movement of human around the globe. The purchasing power of LBGT community (also described as the “Pink Money”) is very significant because some gay and lesbian couples do not have children to support, meaning they have substantial disposable income and therefore they have high propensity for unique, exotic and fascinating travel adventures.

There is no doubt that the power of pink money is constantly growing in Asia as more countries are beginning to accept gay culture. Inline with the changing socio-political climate, many gay couples are becoming more open and relaxed about their sexuality. This encourages development of new products and services that help the gay community to express their self-actualised individuality such as airlines, destination resorts and other travel-related businesses. Exotic countries such as Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand are offering comprehensive travel guide for LGBT visitors, in the hopes that the pink market will provide a steady and reliable source of income to the local economies. There are also a couple of online gay travel planners, specialising in pink market such as Purple Dragon and Utopia-Asia.


The gay scene in Malaysia is thriving; although it is still mostly underground, it is basically tolerated by the “live-and-let-live” attitude of the locals.

From travel industry’s perspective, Sabah has all the important qualities to successfully develop Pink Borneo; Sabah has outstanding quality of flora and fauna, and the natives have rich and diverse tradition and culture. Most visitors find that the locals in Sabah are generally friendly to all visitors regardless of their cultural background or sexual orientation. Sabah’s hotel industry is also booming and this provides a wide range of accommodation to suite everyone’s budget and preference. There are also several gay-owned or gay-friendly establishments to support the development of Pink Borneo, ranging form backpacker hostel, pub and club, restaurant, spa centre, hair-salon, boutique, photography, event organiser, etc. Since all major destinations in Sabah such as Sepilok Orangutan Centre, Selingan Turtle Island, Tabin Wildlife Sanctuary, Danum Vally Research Centre, etc. are well documented; visitors find it easy to enjoy their special interests. Finally, with the increasing number of direct flights coming to Kota Kinabalu, Sabah has become accessible to travellers from all over the world.

Based on LGBT global research study by OutNow, gay travellers will continue to travel for the following reasons; more LGBT enter into civil partnerships and they are looking for exotic places for honeymoon or to celebrate their union-ships. Apparently, most LGBT prefer to take long-haul destinations as they are looking for new adventure and travel experience. Typical activities of LGBT travellers while on vacation include diving, golfing, visiting historical landmarks, experiencing new culture, etc. According to OutNow, LGBT market represents all ages; young adult, professional, middle age and retired who are well educated and enjoy nature-based activities.

In order to develop realistic, achievable and sustainable vision and mission of Pink Borneo, the above information has been taken into consideration during the development process and the followings are established:

  1. The vision of Pink Borneo is to build a sophisticated LGBT business community in Sabah through tourism and to excel in the industry so it creates a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity.
  2.  The mission of Pink Borneo is to be the best facilitator of international LGBT travellers to Sabah and to create employment and business opportunities to the local LGBT community.
  3. Pink Borneo is promoting “Conservation Through Ecologically Responsible Gay Tourism” in Sabah where all tour packages offer high quality of travel experience and support Responsible-Tourism programmes such as scuba/island trips, flora and fauna appreciation, nature adventures, cultural experience and voluntary projects.
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