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Spain: Attitudes toward LGBT, women, conservatism compared with US

Hi everyone! I don’t live in Spain yet, but I joined this group because I’m looking to in the future - and I’m absolutely in love with everything about Spain’s vibrant culture and beautiful land alike!

May I ask for your opinions on something, from your personal experiences? I live in the US, and I hear different things about how the lifestyle and society compare in general: from some people, I hear that Spaniards overall tend to be more open/outgoing, tolerant and liberal than Americans - including their attitudes towards LGBT people and women. But, from other sources I hear the opposite - that Spaniards are in general MORE conservative and reserved than Americans, expecting more formal dress even recreationally for example.

I know everywhere will have individual, and regional differences in beliefs and norms of course. But what have YOUR experiences of the general differences been, for those of you who have spent time in both countries?

Thank you so much!

Posted by
745 posts

I have a friend in Madrid who can offer his opinion on this topic. Federico Barroso is a tour guide and leads RS tours, and you can reach him at his website (

Posted by
3789 posts

I suggest you sign up for some expat groups rather than the small exposure a travel forum may have.
Like anywhere you can't narrow down to one definition of a society for a country. Part of it could be rural vs city, age, gender, all this will come into play.
Just look at your own country and the difference between California, the'bible belt', states making abortion illegal or restricting physicians' care of younger LGBT patients.

Posted by
11 posts

MariaF - Exactly! And some people have suggested that the northwest versus the Mediterranean have similar differences.

But, I’ve also heard a number of people say that Spaniards OVERALL tend to be more liberal/tolerant on average than here in the US. And I was curious if this is a common perception

Posted by
4803 posts

The whole Machismo concept is Spanish, with men being macho, and females more subservient. On 2 trips to different parts of Spain, I never encountered any forcefulness or aggression, although I was a temporary tourist, and not a resident. My biggest challenges were the later hours for mealtimes, and having to reset my internal clock. The LGBT part, I can’t provide any input.

Posted by
11 posts

Can - I’m glad you never ran into any kind of aggression! Yeah, I know that old-fashioned view of gender roles was very common in Spain in the past. It’s been suggested that it’s not really visible there so much anymore though?

Posted by
1606 posts

I spent some time with a Madrileña who had an interesting perspective. We were in a plaza that attracts alternative lifestyle types. She insisted that the Spanish have a double standard when it comes to LGBTQ attitudes because it was clear, she felt, that they were more critical of lesbians than of gays. Less accepting.

This took me by surprise because my own sense of people in the USA (these are all generalizations, take them for what they are worth) is that people rank the relative objectionable-ness of gays higher than that of lesbians -- for instance no one minds when lesbians engage in PDAs but they get a little miffed when gays do so.

Have you noted that in France, and perhaps in Spain as well, the laws tend not to support lesbian family formation?

Posted by
11 posts

Avirosemail - that’s an interesting observation. It’s almost as if the sexist prejudices trump those against homosexuality. I have noticed that - it’s almost analogous to a similar (if culturally distinct) disparity in east Asia, where a historical, relative tolerance against LGBT individuals stands in contradiction to similar laws with respect to gay families.

Though in Western Europe, the trends are opposite - tolerance for homosexuals is emerging against a backdrop of, historically, almost universal intolerance more than about two generations ago. Under Franco’s regime it would have been out of the question.

Posted by
2048 posts

ChrisC99, kudos to you for following your dreams. I've been fortunate to live in Europe for 17+ years in five countries - including Spain. One regret I've had is that I was not able to provide my kids the opportunity to study overseas. Now, I work with many parents who are doing so, and there's no doubt, it's an incredible and memorable experience. Good luck in your endeavor.

I might have a few insights to share. My son is gay and has lived with us in The Netherlands and Italy. My nephew is transgender. His grandparents are Bolivian and his ancestors are Spanish. As a result, they both are well-traveled in Europe. Because of my work today and previously in corporate American, I've attended many LGBTQ+ conferences, including the initial PROUD conference in London a couple of years ago,.

As a "protective parent" you're always sensitive to any form of discrimination or bias toward your child. Thus, when we travel, how my son would be impacted is a "forefront" issue for my wife and me. Living in the Bible belt when our son came out, he had some tough experiences-. Frankly, living overseas, he has had far fewer negative experiences. In Spain, I am not aware that either young man felt uncomfortable in their travels. (Not to say it didn't happen, but not in an overt fashion). In my overseas experiences, Europeans - as a whole - tend to be more open on social issues and conservative on fiscal concerns. In the larger cities of Spain, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, etc., you'll find cosmopolitan surroundings and perspectives. In smaller and more rural areas, it's more conservative as folks tend to be older and less transient. I lived in Madrid and in the Basque region, and yes, we found northern Spain more conservative. But again, those are generalities, so seek your own answers,

This is a travel forum and living overseas is FAR DIFFERENT than traveling overseas. You'll see many overseas posters on the RS site, and you might reach out to them via a PM. I'd also suggest - as mentioned above - that you seek out other online venues. I've joined many ex-pat sites that assisted before and after I relocated to a new country. Facebook has many and I am sure you'll find others - even students studying abroad. Your fluency in Spanish will be a wonderful asset as I moved without being able to speak Spanish, Italian, Danish, German, or Dutch. That is a huge advantage, (my Danish friends probably spoke better English than I did!).

My first move with my wife was to Rome... and we could write a book on all the mistakes we made. But that was pre-internet and it's so much easier to research relocations these days. We've moved three times in the last six years and we researched incessantly. And our moves have gotten easier and easier (Of course, we're pretty experienced with 30+ moves in our marriage). Our next move will probably be to Spain, Portugal, Italy (my choices) or back to the USA (my wife's alternative), and we'll do our research.

I like living in Europe, love the opportunity to travel (well, except lately), the cafe lifestyle, and the less-hectic pace. Sometimes you tire of constantly having to "figure things out" and the bureaucracy can be intimidating (Italy, I'm thinking of you). We enjoy interacting with multiple cultures daily as our primary friends here are Dutch, British, Canadian, and Australian. You'll find strong ex-pat and student communities - and support - everywhere. And they'll be pleased to answer your questions. Good luck with your future plans.

Posted by
3521 posts

FWIW, same sex marriage has been legal in Spain since 2005. Spain was the 3rd country in the world to legalize it on a national level.

The link below to information from Wikipedia provides an introduction to the history of the legalization which started out with 66% approval. I doubt that approval in the US is that high in 2021.

Be sure to read the Public Opinion section for details on how attitudes have changed over time and the characteristics of the people who hold those attitudes. The last sentence says, "The 2019 Eurobarometer found that 86% of Spaniards thought same-sex marriage should be allowed throughout Europe, 9% were against."

I was in Sevilla with a Rick Steves tour on gay pride weekend in 2019. We ended up at the Plaza d'España. Not many people were around when we arrived, but the flag was still flying.

Below is a link to an article about celebrations in Spain that year, including the one in Sevilla.

I know you asked about personal experiences, but I think it's useful to learn about the legal background and public LGBT activities.

I'm a woman who has traveled in Spain not nearly enough, but I have traveled solo, with my husband and with a group. Compared to at least 3 other countries, I found the Spanish to be as you say "more open/outgoing, tolerant and liberal" than many Americans I know and some with whom I share DNA.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you RnR, so much for such a kind and detailed response. Also, thank you so much for raising your family with so much support for their lifestyles :)

What you noted that in Europe in general people from the LGBT community encounter far less in the way of overt discriminatory behaviors, or outright hate crimes is consistent with what I’ve heard - and the statistics certainly seem to corroborate that. (Italy seems to be an interesting exception, with the recent hate crimes reported against trans people there - but even normalized for population, the incidence would still appear to be well below US prevalence.)

It’s interesting you note the contrast between social and fiscal conservatism in US vs EU respects, and you’re correct; what’s equally noteworthy is the investment in and relative efficacy of subsidized welfare/healthcare on the EU side despite this relative conservatism in spending. Wait times can be longer of course, but at least these options exist for underprivileged subpopulations.

But yes, I’m quite eager to see in person what the different regions have to offer! I’m glad you’ve gotten out and experienced so much :)

Posted by
11 posts

Lo - absolutely, you raise a great point that even though public opinion does tend to rise when legal measures confer legitimization and consequently a sense of ‘normalcy’ to a previously marginalized practice, the statistics of support even at the nascent stages of gay marriage legalization in Spain were likely far above what they would have been in the US 16 years ago.

This disparity is especially intriguing when one considers that Spain only emerged from an authoritarian political landscape in which homosexuality in any form was outlawed less than 50 years ago. I wonder if there have been sociological studies on the intrinsic versus extrinsic factors that accelerated the progress of their social attitudes so strikingly in that period.

Re: your closing comment on Americans ‘with whom you share DNA,’ I apologize that you’ve had to have that experience. You’re certainly not alone in that, and it is saddening how many esteem antiquated prejudices above even family bonds.

Posted by
128 posts

ChrisC99, it sounds as though you are planning to move to Spain. I am wondering if you have ever visited Spain. If not, perhaps it would be beneficial for you to visit both cities and rural areas to get a feel. I live in the Northeastern part of the US. The gay couples I've known have always tried to live in university/college towns/cities believing that higher education equates with tolerance. Their experiences have borne that out.

You might look at these links for violence against certain groups in Spain: UNHCR's website, etc. While those are reports of extreme behaviors, I believe that there are many more that are not such as ostracizing, verbal insults, etc.
I would also research what is legal/illegal regarding treatment toward gay individuals on websites such as
Aside from the legal/violence information/statistics, there is public attitude which can be the most insidious. You might want to read the following article:

I am hoping that you have a wonderful experience. Please add an addendum in a few years letting us know!

Posted by
139 posts

Spain is one of the most liberal countries in the world. I think it was the second country passing the gay marriage, and LGTB is a very normal and accepted thing, as is nudity on TV since the early 80s. The Guardia Civil accepts in a natural way gays as part of this police force and they don´t care at all about your sexual preferences. Regarding formal attire...well, we are always quite surprised to watch US movies where adults (and kids!!) wear a suit in a funeral or a wedding, practically nobody would do it here. People dress informally, casual, and suits and ties are quickly receding in use . To make a long story short...we really don´t care about your sexual preferences and (I´d swear) that nobody will tell you anything (of course, there are exceptions, like everywhere else).

Posted by
2565 posts

Born and bred here, lived in different countries, including the US. The key question: you're looking to move where exactly? That'll define a plausible answer one way or the other. As you pointed out there are 'regional differences' which, if I may, are not to be understood as "people from different geographical areas of the same cultural sphere" but literally as "people from different cultural spheres".

Spain is not a traditional country per se, but an amalgam of different cultures -each with their own language (yes, Spanish is co-official all over, but not the 'local' language in many regions), beliefs, traditions and attitudes- and quite often differences in minor things are a world apart. In fact, staying in one region or another can be sort of like visiting different countries.

If you're interested in History, I advise reading about how 'modern' Spain came to be -merely 300 years ago- and you'll understand the (often) very different ways of 'seeing life' you'll encounter, on this issue and many others, depending on which region you finally go to.

Posted by
356 posts

I may be venturing into territory I wish to stay far away from, but my guess is that Americans generally are more conservative because the US is more religious than much of Europe, including Spain, and because a high percentage of Americans who regularly attend church services belong to denominations that are very conservative.

Posted by
2074 posts

I may be venturing into territory I wish to stay far away from, but my
guess is that Americans generally are more conservative because the US
is more religious than much of Europe, including Spain, and because a
high percentage of Americans who regularly attend church services
belong to denominations that are very conservative.

And I'm going to comment on that… There might be some truth to it, but this is an area where neither Europe nor North America is homogenous. There are many differences and you can't compare Berlin to Swidnik. Just like you can't compare San Fransisco to Alabama.

But in general, the countryside is more conservative than towns and cities. And the catholic areas tend to be more conservative than protestant areas. But those are just general rules and there are many exceptions.