How to work in/move to a gay supportive country where same-sex marriage is legal?
June 18, 2012 5:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to work in/maybe move to, a country where same-sex marriage is legal and gay people are treated equally. Any recommendations? Any advice from expatriates? I've been in a committed and loving relationship with my partner for over 6 years. Looking forward, I would like to move to a country where I can get married, live, work, raise a family and be openly gay in a country with as much respect from the law and the community as everyone else.

I'm lucky to be well-qualified and am considered talented in my work, with a Master's, several published papers, and a Bachelor's from an Ivy League university in Electrical Engineering and Physics, and 6 years of work experience as an expert on solar energy and semiconductor technology. I've business consulting experience and am trilingual, in English, Mandarin and Cantonese.

Unfortunately I also grew up in a place where most gay people are closeted at work and society. Most gay people face heavy and regular discrimination and ignorance in most major areas of life, from the law, society, employment, family, to the government. It's a daily toll to be closeted, and it's very difficult to have a home of your own if you're gay, not to mention raise a family.

I would like to work in a city/country where I can be out, equal, and have my children proud to tell their schoolmates they have two mothers. Of course, I would like to be able to have my partner join me as soon as possible.

Preferably this is a place where, while same-sex marriage is legal, gay people are treated the same as straight people, and it's easy for new people to fit in. A place where people don't avert their eyes when you hold hands with your partner in public, don't blink when you tell them you're gay, and you and your partner are invited, as a matter of course, to straight friends' homes. It'd be good if it's a city or place open to different races and cultures.

What would your advice be? What cities, places and companies to work for would you recommend?

If you've moved cities or countries before with your partner, what was your experience? How did you secure a job in a new city? What did you do to make new friends and get used to a new culture? How did you and your partner make such a huge life change as easily manageable and successful as possible?
posted by Firegal to Work & Money (34 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Same sex marriage is legal in the whole of Canada, and our charter of rights and freedoms recognises sexual orientation to be protected like gender.

Tolerance varies by location, as with any country. But I believe it is relatively high in the larger cities. The cities are also very diverse; Toronto is about 50% visible minorities (non-white, non-Native).
posted by jb at 5:58 AM on June 18, 2012

Toronto, Canada would be my recommendation.
posted by Jairus at 6:07 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, I live in Toronto and grew up in rural Canada. The big cities in Canada are very much like you describe. Be warned though that the vast (VAST) majority of Canada is not city and the attitudes in the hundreds of small towns that make up the meat of the country is much less forward thinking.

The Netherlands is a another option. English is almost universally spoken except in the most rural parts of the country, and tolerance and inclusiveness are a core part of Dutch national identity (though they can have strange, accidentally insulting, ways of showing it at times).
posted by 256 at 6:09 AM on June 18, 2012

Dovetailing onto jb"s answer, all of the languages that you're trilingual in will serve you well in Canada's two biggest and world-class cities, Toronto and Vancouver (aka Hongcouver for all of the Hong Kong expats). Good luck!
posted by Pocahontas at 6:09 AM on June 18, 2012

Best answer: Same-sex marriage is legal in the Netherlands, and most people view homosexuality as normal. The population is mainly ethnic Dutch, but cities like Amsterdam and The Hague are relatively diverse. Immigration isn't easy for a non-EU citizen, but it's not impossible, especially for people who qualify for high-paying jobs. And you can live and work in the Netherlands without first learning to speak Dutch.
posted by neushoorn at 6:13 AM on June 18, 2012

Best answer: Nthing Netherlands, very open and tolerant and cultural diversity is part of everyday life. From what I hear from friends, there's also a good chance to get a job in the field of alternative energies. Just hearsay though. It's easy to learn Dutch if you already speak English (compared to other languages, at least). Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Den Haag; or Venlo as a smaller border city to open the chance for employment in Germany or Belgium. I know many people who live in Germany or the Netherlands and work on the other side of the border. Venlo is within 1 - 2 hours by car to both Amsterdam on the Dutch side, and the Ruhr area, Cologne, Bonn and Düsseldorf on the German side, so from an employment angle, that would be the best starting point to keep all directions possible.
posted by MinusCelsius at 6:22 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

The legal situation isn't perfect (real gay marriage is apparently coming soon but it's civil partnerships that are totally legally equivalent for now), and sometimes I wince at what sounds to gay american ears like a very dated form of casual homophobia on the radio (comedy shows etc), but my wife and I moved from Los Angeles to London three months ago, and our day-to-day experience has been like night and day. We are very glad we did it.

People are shocked to hear that because they assume that LA is like the world capital of tolerance of everything, but especially since we had our son, we were facing almost daily weirdness. People in coffee shops acted weird and asked dumb hurtful questions like "who's the real mom?" I got in a screaming match with a women who ultimately yelled "WHO BIRTHED THE BABY!!!" after I tried politely to deflect her. Even our friends, a bunch of politically active, queer-friendly, people weren't all that great. A couple said things like "Good on you for saying "fuck you" to society and having a kid" which, um, wasn't our intention. Oh, and everyone and their mom asked creepy stuff about "artificial insemination" or the donor they assumed we had. Trying to deal with any official situation or with doctors sucked massively, and the law was rarely on our side in any situation.

Our living situation is really different here, we're out and about a lot in the day, mostly in a very suburban area of London, so we meet lots of stay-at-home parents and retired people. No one has been weird with us in three months, literally no one! Sometimes people ask us who's the baby is (because they assume we're a mom having coffee with her friend or something) and when we say "he's ours" they either say nothing at all, or something like "lucky you to have two mummies!". No hassle at doctors or the hospital, and no weirdness with our recent immigration experience either. I'm sure it's coming eventually, but the experience of our gay friends here has been good, people don't really understand why we would feel we had to be on guard.

I don't think our experience would be quite so great in most places outside London (London is more like other western world cities than like the rest of the country it's part of) but I wouldn't be scared to go there like I would be scared to take my kid to Kentucky.

In LA we felt like criminals trying to get away with something, in London we feel like boring thirty-something moms with only one head each! Honestly, I'm so used to fighting and being on guard all the time it's requiring a major adjustment. I have lots more to say about jobs and general life adjustment, some good and some bad. We've had an easy time making friends so far because we're new moms who can go to stuff with other lonely new parents, and because we're pushy americans who aren't scared to ask. There are also tons and tons of other people here who aren't from here originally. Feel free to message me. I am so glad we did this for us and our kid, we loved our lives in LA but I really feel like we escaped in some significant sense.
posted by crabintheocean at 6:22 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

I think Vancouver, BC is the place for you. Your language skills will be a huge asset and its a very open city (though the cost of living is quite high). It sounds, from your post description that you will have no trouble qualifing for Permanent Residency. Either through an employer or by applying directly on your own before moving. I am Canadian, so I am biased, but I think you could have a wonderful life here in one of the big cities (Vancouver or Toronto). Having lived in both, I would pick Vancouver *every* time.
posted by saradarlin at 6:34 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Amsterdam is particularly gay-friendly.
posted by entropone at 6:39 AM on June 18, 2012

It's not 100% perfect, but I think you could make a nice life in Brooklyn.
posted by valeries at 6:52 AM on June 18, 2012

Come to Canada! Beyond what has already been said, being gay just isn't a big deal in the major cities (and most of the rest of the country too). Any time the smallest bit of homophobia pops up in the media or culture, its condemned by the majority so quickly.


In Toronto last year, a church group stood outside a house that a gay couple had moved into in the neighbourhood of the church and "prayed" for them. The neighbours drove them away.

Toronto's small-minded right wing mayor said during his campaign, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman, but I also believe people can do whatever they want." He has gotten some really bad press for not attending Pride. His views isolate him.

Even in Alberta, by far Canada's most conservative province, the Wild Rose Party lost an election, after seeming to have a dead lock on victory with two weeks to go, when their candidates started gay-bashing (and being racist).

Also, Ontario just became the first province to fully legally recognize the rights of Trans people. And it was a total non-story.
posted by dry white toast at 6:56 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Vancouver is my home and it's a great place. However, Its tech/EE sector is fairly limited. Intel has a small test lab here, and PMC Sierra is a large-ish employer, but I can't think of any others off the top of my head. There are various energy and renewables firms around but they tend to focus on things like energy auditing (e.g. Pulse Energy) rather than hard engineering. I don't think anyone is doing solar/semiconductor work outside of the universities. My sense is that most of the "tech" in Canada is in the greater Toronto area, and around Waterloo and Ottawa. I can't speak specifically to solar/semiconductor things but my gut says you'd have more luck in Ontario career-wise.

Or, California, which is where your career options are probably strongest. Silicon valley / San Francisco / Bay area. It may not be paradise especially because the state government is not always friendly, but there are places in that region that tick all the boxes in your list.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:03 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The large cities in Canada are a good choice. My wife and I live in Montreal, with our two children. There are still some irritations (one of us is always identified on school documents as the father for example, though we are picking away at the school board to change this) but our family is legally protected. We are both listed as mother on the birth certificates. People rarely blink at our family, at least in the city. There is a very strong advocacy group here. We are going camping with a bunch of other queer families next weekend :)

As others have noted the other large Canadian cities are also very welcoming to gay families. Montreal might not be a good choice for you if you don't speak French, although one extra thing it does have going for it is that the government will cover two courses of in-vitro fertilization, if needed. Fertility clinics are open to all, of course. Maternity and "paternity" (available for the non-birthing partner) benefits are decent across the country and more generous in Quebec.

You are getting tons of responses for Canada, but these maps will give you a sense of where it is legal for same sex couples to marry and/or adopt. This is a good indication that these places are welcoming. Maybe some Mefites in Europe will chime in a bit later in the day. Of course, the situation in the USA varies greatly from state to state with some places being very open and others a total nightmare.

If you have any questions about Montreal, or Canada, or gay parenting here feel free to contact me. I grew up in Vancouver and it is a gorgeous city. Everyone who doesn't live in Toronto likes to take swipes at our largest city but it is very cosmopolitan with some great neighbourhoods.
posted by Cuke at 7:18 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also vote for Toronto, Canada. Vancouver is great too, but I think job opportunities would be more plentiful in Toronto.

I'm sure the Netherlands is fantastic as well, but you won't need to learn any new languages if you move to Toronto.
posted by barnoley at 7:20 AM on June 18, 2012

It's not 100% perfect, but I think you could make a nice life in Brooklyn.

Of course, the situation in the USA varies greatly from state to state with some places being very open and others a total nightmare.

My experience in the US has been that the national media, political debate, and general culture created a general sense of oppression and insecurity, and in more queer friendly cities of living in a bubble where we were "lucky" to be accepted for our strangeness, rather than just being normal. As a younger person I could mostly deal, but it's hard to raise a kid when you feel marginalized, and I did not want to have to explain it all to our son. I also felt like the laws might change any time, up to or including laws that could prevent us parenting, or that we might find ourselves in a terrible situation when traveling.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:32 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Have you ever lived in Brooklyn, crabintheocean? I'm sorry you had a bad experience in LA.
posted by valeries at 7:43 AM on June 18, 2012

I don't want to derail this, but no I haven't lived in Brooklyn. I lived in the DC area and in LA, and spent significant time working in about 10 other states. My point is a general one though - that especially with a child, I did not find local acceptance in our day-to-day lives to be any substitute for living in a country where the government, press, and wider society don't constantly debate whether you're a valid human being who should be allowed the same life as anyone else.
posted by crabintheocean at 7:52 AM on June 18, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I immigrated to Canada as an adult and I live in Toronto. I can definitely endorse it as many others have above, with the caveat that right now we have a really terrible right-wing mayor who makes me cringe pretty regularly. (Having said that, the terrible bullshit mayor has yet to do anything that impacts my daily life.)

How did you secure a job in a new city?

We had a modest savings account and for a time, my then-husband worked in a shoe store, even though he has a PhD. That was a really brief interval though -- he found a job in his field within a few months. I nannied while I waited for my residency application to process and then I got a great job in my field after about three weeks of serious looking. I'm an editor and I had to adapt to editing Canadian English instead of American English but even that was basically a non-issue.

What did you do to make new friends and get used to a new culture?

I have to admit that it took a good three years for me to feel like I had a good group of local friends. It's really hard to make new friends as an adult and this was probably the most difficult aspect of moving to Canada.

How did you and your partner make such a huge life change as easily manageable and successful as possible?

The paperwork for my application was insane, and I used to lay in bed in the mornings and think about how great it would be if I could just somehow not do it. But I was young (relatively speaking -- I was 24) and unfortunately, in an unhappy marriage with the person I moved to Canada with. If you have a good partner and a stomach for paperwork you'll be fine. And Canada, honestly, is amazing. I'm happy every single day that I live here.
posted by kate blank at 7:59 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

My vote is for Amsterdam. Even among the many diverse and welcoming cities you find in northern Europe it stands head and shoulders above the rest.
posted by londonmark at 9:19 AM on June 18, 2012

Yes to Canada. Putting in a minority vote for St. John's, Newfoundland (my home/current city of residence). My LGBT friends are quite happy here, the people are lovely, and the unlike many other places, the economy is doing quite well.
posted by futureisunwritten at 9:53 AM on June 18, 2012

Any major city in Canada will work for you. People might try to dissuade you from Calgary (if it's so socially conservative I'd be curious to know why it elected a young progressive Muslim as mayor and a female human rights lawyer as premier), but it's consistently booming and offers myriad opportunities for engineers as the center of the oil & gas sector (with China making big inroads into Alberta.)

Also consider Ottawa, which is extremely livable, has normal home prices, and has a gay mayor.
posted by fso at 10:17 AM on June 18, 2012

Also, Ontario just became the first province to fully legally recognize the rights of Trans people. And it was a total non-story.

Not only that, but the legislature, a third of which is made up of the right-wing party, voted unanimously to make this change.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 10:36 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might like to keep an eye on England. Same-sex legal unions with the same rights as marriage already exist, and at this very moment the government is reviewing a change which would remove even the distinction of wording. As with anywhere there are certain cities and towns where it is more accepted than others. And although the employment situation is pretty tough right now, there are still shortages for highly-skilled and -qualified workers so you'd have a much better chance than most of getting a work visa.

As for adjusting, if you memail me I'll get some anecdata from my sister in law who grew up in Canada but is actually Scottish and has lived here for around 15 years.

That said, the Canada situation does look more gay-friendly than here, for which I applaud them.
posted by fearnothing at 11:31 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes to Canada. Putting in a minority vote for St. John's, Newfoundland (my home/current city of residence).

St. John's has the nicest people of anywhere I have ever, ever lived. If it wasn't so bitterly cold in the winter I think I would already live there.
posted by Jairus at 12:01 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

...uh, and by 'ever, ever lived' I meant 'ever, ever been'.
posted by Jairus at 12:01 PM on June 18, 2012

In case you decide to opt for The Netherlands: I don't know how gay friendly Venlo is (compared to, say, Amsterdam), but I do know I'd never move there if I'd want to keep my options open for jobs in Amsterdam or Rotterdam. Especially Amsterdam is 2,5 hours one way during rush hour, and for Dutch standards, 5 hours of travel time per work day is insane. That will seriously hurt your chances to have a social life at all. However, Eindhoven (close to Venlo) is a good area for jobs in the semi conductor technology field.
posted by Ms. Next at 12:07 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: New Zealand also has civil partnerships which are legally the same as marriage except that any couple can get one regardless of gender. It's a bit of a weird cop out and they're probably not going to legalise gay marriages per se, but the name of the certificate is the only real difference. De facto relationships also have strong protections and any couple living 'in a marriage like relationship' for two or three years (can't remember which) is in one automatically.

Also, for immigration you only have to have been living together as a couple for a year (married or not, doesn't matter), so bringing your partner would probably be pretty easy. This is worth considering for any country, whether they recognise same sex relationships for immigration purposes isn't always the same as whether they recognise them in general.

Auckland is very culturally and racially diverse and your specific languages would be a really big asset. Assuming you learnt them in your home country you'd probably find a big expat community, and there are all kinds of other people to be friends with if you're not interested in that. I did find the smaller cities more narrow minded but, in general, Auckland is very accepting. I'm straight so obviously don't know for sure what it's like, but I have a few out gay friends and have never seen them treated any differently. I rarely come across homophobic comments or attitudes when I'm there and the constant low-level prejudice that was common when I lived in a small town is refreshing absent. Legally discrimination based on sexual orientation or family status is not allowed.

I'm not sure about your field exactly but engineering type areas are still doing quite well there and the big companies have trouble hiring enough top quality people. Beca is one of the big engineering consultancies (and a great place to work), there are others. Your languages and background would make you an attractive employee if you found somewhere with the right fit, and you might even find a company willing to help bring you into the country. Seek and trademe jobs are places to look for general job listings.
posted by shelleycat at 12:34 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My point is a general one though - that especially with a child, I did not find local acceptance in our day-to-day lives to be any substitute for living in a country where the government, press, and wider society don't constantly debate whether you're a valid human being who should be allowed the same life as anyone else.

I'm sorry to say that there is a backlash against gay marriage (as opposed to civil partnerships) at the moment, but mainly from the very religious right. The UK is becoming a more hostile and unfriendly place in many ways due to the Conservative government, but in London, Manchester and Brighton for example you will have few issues with homophobia (though this is dependent on area - Chorlton in Manchester would be perfect, Longsight - which is a mostly Muslim area - or Cheetham Hill - mostly orthodox Jewish - maybe less so). The advantage with Manchester is that there is a large Chinese community which would be really useful in terms of using your Mandarin/Cantonese, and a history of science and engineering innovation at the university. I'm not gay myself but there's a very openly gay area in the city centre with bars, clubs, cafes and a gay-friendly doctor - I remember when I lived there about seven years ago there were gay parenting groups and the like then.
posted by mippy at 2:55 PM on June 18, 2012

Best answer: Maybe I just scanned past it somewhere, but are you American? Or a citizen of elsewhere who went to a US university? There are lots of good suggestions here, but it's easier to live in and immigrate to some places than others, depending on your passport.

I can speak to Toronto as I agree with others it would be a fit for you. I'm Irish but was resident in the US when I got my Canadian permanent residence. Kate Blank is right (as usual), tis a lot of paperwork but also a fair amount of time - it took us about a year to get approved in 2005, and that's after the time spent gathering everything including fingerprints from every country I'd lived in. Canadian immigration is pretty transparent and you can google for the points system they use to assess permanent residence applicants.

It sounds like you may want to "test the waters" first, if so maybe the easiest way is to find an American firm who might be interested in transferring you or placing you in the field in Canada. There are lots of "branch offices" of big consulting firms of all types. And Toronto workplaces are very accustomed to immigrants and most offices I've seen the inside of are very multicultural. I know nothing about solar or semiconductors but there is a shortage of experts in many fields in TO, and I know immigrants in many professions who have negotiated some great packages. Depending where you're based flying in for a week to meet with a bunch of firms for networking or interviewing may be the best approach.

As to the general questions you're asking about moving: pack light, rent to start, join social sports leagues, be flexible, and the easiest way to get Canadians to talk to you or smile at you on the street is to be walking a dog. I can expand on that at great length via email if you like :)
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:38 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I meant to say in my second paragraph there that colleagues applying from outside the US took longer than a year to get their PR approved, much longer in some cases.
posted by jamesonandwater at 6:39 PM on June 18, 2012

I'll put in a vote for Calgary, Alberta in Canada too, I've lived here for 8 years and don't find it particularly conservative, much more cosmopolitan than the small town I was from before. I have quite a few LGBT friends who live here and enjoy it, and we certainly have jobs.

I'll second jamesonandwater about Canadians being unable to resist a dog. Calgary has a tonne of dog parks and almost everyone I know has friends they met at the dog park or in clever canines.
posted by euphoria066 at 10:12 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'll put in another vote for New Zealand. As Shelleycat said, civil unions have exactly the same status as marriages (and so do de facto relationships after two years, whether straight or gay - this also applies in the UK, by the way).

There is a campaign for to legalise fully same-sex marriage, and apparently 63% are in favour. There are plenty of gay and lesbian politicians (and NZ had the first trans gender MP in the world) including the deputy leader of the opposition.

NZ certainly isn't perfect, and it's quite small, but in a city like Wellington or Auckland I think you'd be fine. When I worked in Wellington I had plenty of openly LGBT workmates - especially in the public sector where it really isn't an issue.

(Actually getting a visa might be difficult - you've obviously got greak skills but I don't know what the demand for them would be in NZ - could be huge for all I know, though).
posted by Infinite Jest at 12:11 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This is how gay-friendly Canada is - in our most conservative province, Alberta, there was a new political party established because the Conservatives were not right-wing enough. After an anti-gay remark by one candidate, the leader of the Wild Rose party had to give a speech affirming that she was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage.

Waterloo Region, about 90 minutes west of Toronto, is a good place to raise a family and has a significant and rapidly growing high-tech sector including multiple solar energy companies.
posted by Gortuk at 8:05 AM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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