Our nation has been increasingly tolerant of gay rights. Unfortunately, a quite different situation prevails in numerous Caribbean nations, of which Jamaica is a primary offender.
That colorful place of superb beaches, reggae music and jerk chicken is one of nine Caribbean islands to retain laws that make homosexual conduct illegal. And though few such laws are enforced anymore, they create an atmosphere that has led to numerous physical attacks against gays by local gangs and hyperviolent individuals.
It is true that when confronted with these undoubted acts of violence, some gay people attempt to explain away the problem by claiming that such acts are directed only at Jamaican citizens and not visiting tourists. They argue that same-sex couples locating themselves in touristic Ocho Rios, Jamaica, are acceptably safe, in contrast with those venturing into nontouristic Kingston, Jamaica. The only caution for the latter, according to optimistic gay people, is the need to refrain from open acts of affection.
I’m not sure I agree. When asked to offer advice, I suggest that gay travelers will be far more free of discourtesy and worse in such gay-friendly places as the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic. Numerous experienced counselors also claim that gay tourists will, generally speaking, be better off in Spanish-speaking as opposed to English-speaking islands.
The same counselors, generally speaking, are critical of such allegedly anti-gay island nations as Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, St. Kitts and Nevis, the Cayman Islands and more. They approve of Curacao, but not of Aruba and Bonaire.
The power of the market – and the many dollars possessed by gay travelers – may eventually bring about a change in attitudes in such places as Jamaica and elsewhere. When tourist-seeking industries like that of Barbados learn of the business they are losing to St. Thomas and St. Croix, they may begin to act courteously and properly to gay couples.
Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.