Is Jamaica getting better for LGBT people?

| Updated March 27, 2008

Recently the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) Released an official statement regarding; the on-going atrocities against Lesbians, Gay.s, Bisexuals and Transgender people.

"In light of published news reports and first-hand accounts of growing anti-gay crimes and threats in Jamaica, the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association (IGLTA) strongly condemns Jamaica's climate of fear, hatred and hostility towards all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people."

It has been well documented in the national media the violence and intolerance that LBGT people have suffered on the Island of Jamaica. The government of Jamaica has done little to stop or protects its LBGT residents and visitors from being the target of these hate crimes. Jamaica also has some of the toughest anti-sodomy laws in the world.

In 2006 Time Magazine wrote an article about the island headlined, "The Most Homophobic Place on Earth?" Even after the Times article the hatred and hostility towards LGBT people in Jamaica continues to mount.

The Times story tells about the treatment and abuse towards homosexuals and how the government of Jamaica is doing little to nothing to clamp down on the violence and protect LGBT people in their country.

Two of the island's most notable gay advocates, Steve Harvey and Brian Williamson, were murdered. There are reports that the mob that killed Williamson celebrated over his disfigured body.

Another widely publicized incident happened in 2004 where a teen was nearly killed when his father learned his son was gay and urged a mob to lynch the boy at his school. In the same year, it was reported that the police cheered on another mob as it stabbed and stoned a gay man to death in Montego Bay. In 2006, a Kingston man drowned after a mob screaming "batty boy" (a Jamaican slur for gay people) chased him off a high dock.

A cross-dresser was severely beaten by a mob in Falmouth's Water Square last year. Police who were called to the scene had to fire warning shots to disperse the stone-throwing, stick-wielding mob. The man was admitted to a hospital. However, a police spokesman said that a group of people, who wanted to beat the man on his release, were waiting outside the hospital, which delayed his release from the health facility.

Many all-inclusive resorts, notably the famous Sandals of Jamaica, maintain strict no-gay policies. However, Hedonism II in Negril does allow gay travelers. So does the Grand Hotel Lido in Negril. Still, avoid open displays of affection-such as handholding on the streets-in Jamaica: You could be assaulted for trying it.

The US State Department issued this statement regarding safety and security in Jamaica;

"Gang violence and shootings occur regularly in certain areas of Kingston and Montego Bay. These areas include Mountain View, Trench Town, Tivoli Gardens, and Arnett Gardens in Kingston, and Flankers in Montego Bay. Some neighborhoods are occasionally subject to curfews and police searches. Impromptu demonstrations can occur, during which demonstrators often construct roadblocks or otherwise block the streets. These events usually do not affect tourist areas, but travelers to Kingston should check with local authorities or the U.S. Embassy for current information prior to their trip."

Jamaica may be the worst offender, but much of the rest of the Caribbean also has a long history of intense homophobia. Islands like Barbados still criminalize homosexuality, and some seem to be following Jamaica's more violent example. Last year two CBS News producers, both Americans, were beaten with tire irons by a gay-bashing mob while vacationing on St. Martin. One of the victims, Ryan Smith, was air bused to a Miami hospital, where he was treated for a fractured skull.

A lot of LGBT activists and rights groups have been calling for an all-out boycott of Jamaica. "It is time to hand an ultimatum to Jamaica's public officials: Stop allowing rampant abuse of gay people or your economy will be crippled." Anything But Straight, Wayne Besen.

The IGLTA came short of calling for a boycott;

"IGLTA is in complete solidarity with Jamaica's own LGBT leadership, J-FLAG. Therefore, like J-flag, it is not our intention to provoke reprisals or political condemnation in Jamaica by supporting a global tourism boycott. We understand this step could be counter-productive to making true progress in that Caribbean nation, and instead we will focus on education, publicity and market competition to highlight and help curb these terrible abuses."

J-Flag, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexual.s and Gays have been working hard to protect the rights of homosexuals even fighting to repeal Jamaica.s anti-sodomy laws. J-Flag partnered with Amnesty International to raise global awareness of homophobia and help repeal oppressive laws. In May 2004, Amnesty International began a global drive to put political pressure on the Jamaican government.

I asked John Tanzella Executive Director of IGLTA; There has been criticism about calling a boycott counterproductive, why should LBGT travelers spend money in a country that condones hostile behavior towards them? "The reality is LGBT travelers don't flock to Jamaica, so a boycott would not affect the island economy at all and would only further alienate the local LGBT community."

There are many LGBT people and their friends and family that visit Jamaica every year I believe if they knew what kind of treatment that LGBT people where receiving in Jamaica then they would choose vacations that didn't support Jamaica.

I also asked John Tanzella does the IGLTA support the decision of some LGBT cruise operators like R-Family from diverting from Jamaica due to the potential hazard their patrons may face. "Yes. We also support assisting the local gay rights group there with diplomatic discussions among their Tourism Department and Government."

Does the IGLTA think it is safe for openly LBGT people to travel to Jamaica? "Not at this time."

I don't think statements condemning the Jamaican government are going to be enough to stop the violence against LGBT people in Jamaica. I think it is time for us to come together in solidarity and boycott Jamaica. I think only then will they truly understand what an impact our tourism dollars can have on their Island. If enough people, heterosexual or homosexual stand with us then we can make an impact and force the Jamaican government to enact laws that protect people no mater what their sexual orientation is.

I also believe we cannot achieve the goal of equality from boycotting alone, I think it's going to take education and diplomatic discussion with the Jamaican government. The realty is change is not going to happen overnight. The most important thing is ensuring the safety of everyone then over time getting equal rights and treatment for everyone.

I would also like to ask that the IGLTA review its position and call for an all out boycott for the Island of Jamaica until they enact laws that protect all people regardless of their sexual orientation and repeal their anti-sodomy laws.

The Jamaican Tourism Ministry and J-flag both did not respond to my request for an interview.

U.S. Department of State 2201 C Street NW Washington, DC 20520

Jamaica Embassy 1520 New Hampshire Ave, NW Washington DC 20036

IGLTA - Caribbean 5810 Biscayne Boulevard Miami, FL 33137 Phone: +1.305.285.0516 E-mail:

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