by Leander Milbrecht
Donovon White, Jamaican Director of Tourism, has fended off accusations that Jamaica is a hostile place for gay tourists. At a press conference back in February, he assured that gay tourists were welcome in his country. As the Jamaican news portal “Jamaica Gleaner” reported, White made clear: “We pride ourselves in welcoming everybody to Jamaica”. So you can feel comfortable in Jamaica as who you are – as long as you spend your money there?
The island in the Caribbean Sea is indeed considered a hostile environment for homosexuals. Human rights organisations even declared Jamaica one of the most homophobic countries worldwide in the past. Same-sex relationships between men are illegal and can be punished with up to life imprisonment. There have also been reports of homophobic attacks, police repression, social ostracism and even hate crimes, including murder.
In 2004, the founder and spokesman of the Jamaican LGBT-rights-organisation “J-FLAG” was stabbed to death in his home. While the police assumed a robbery, J-FLAG was convinced it was a hate crime. Since then, the organisation has been operating mostly anonymously and underground.
In 2013, a 16-year-old boy was stabbed to death by a mob – the teenager is said not to have dressed and behaved according to the gender he was born with.
In August 2017, Dexter Pottinger was found murdered in his home. The designer was a gay rights activist and face of the 2016 and 2017 Jamaican Pride Parades.
The number of unreported assaults and hate crimes is likely to be many times higher than known.
Is Jamaica a safe place for gay tourists?
According to Donovan White, there is no hostility towards gay tourists. He explained: “I do believe that we make our best effort every time to ensure that everybody that comes to Jamaica, whoever you are, that you have the same experience. And we don’t ask at the airport who you are and what you do. We expect that you will be here, and like everybody else, have a great vacation […]”
It is not an unknown phenomenon: many poorer regions of the world are often retrograde regarding laws of equality. These are also the countries that are most dependent on tourism. While homosexual compatriots are oppressed (or worse), tourists are often turned a blind eye to. If you decide to go on holiday in such a country, it is certainly a good idea to get in contact with the local LGBT community. As long as you act cautiously, both sides can benefit from such an exchange.
In the Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2019, Jamaica ranked 159th among other countries, including Russia and Ethiopia.
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