Jamaica. Sunshine. White sand beaches. Warm clear water. Amazing fresh fruits and vegetables.
This idyllic dream is realized for most of the people who visit the resorts dotting the beautiful coasts. But for some people, it is not. Gay people, more specifically men. Jamaica has been called “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth” by TIME magazine.
Jamaica’s homophobia dates back to 1864, when the Offences Against the Person Act of 1864, which prohibits “acts of gross indecency” between men, in public or in private. (This is a very general term which can be interpreted to mean any kind of physical intimacy, such as holding hands). Lesbians and acts of lesbians, in what is clearly a law made by male-dominated society, are not prohibited. And interestingly, LGTB people are legal; it is the acts that are not. Like Americans can go to Cuba, they just can’t spend any money there.
If a male is caught with another male, under Jamaica law he may be jailed and sentenced to a term of 10 years at hard labor. If that isn’t bad enough, vigilante attacks have included beatings, mutilations, and murder. Jamaica authorities tend to look the other way, or hear the other way as reggae star Buje Banton sings about gay people “Dem haffi Dead” (They all must die”).
In 2011, the Jamaican Parliament was revised and included language that protects discrimination against race, place of origin, social class, color, religious beliefs and political opinions. There is no protection based on sexual preference, although it does call for respect for and protection of the family and privacy of the home.
This author usually writes on Human Resources, specifically New York Human Resources. My husband and I recently enjoyed a wonderful vacation at Couples Negril in Jamaica. We didn’t know the situation of this certainly human policy at the time we booked. But as the great abolitionist Fredrick Douglass said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” With that in mind, the author decided to struggle, and asked to see the Manager.
I sat with a young and exquisitely beautiful young man who exuded competence, an Assistant Manager by the name of Onique. After some pleasantries, we had the following conversation:
E: We love this resort and it’s our fifth time here. We rave about it to our dear friends Clifton and Peter.
O: Thank you very much.
E: They are a same-sex couple. I understand that Jamaica as a country is considered very unfriendly to gay people.
O. (Pause) That is true, or it has been true. It’s changing, though. But you can’t just–just–
E: Boil the ocean?
O: Exactly. Maybe start with a cup of tea.
E: Would they be welcome here at this resort?
O: Are they a couple?
O: Then they would be welcome at Couples. There’s a gay couple here now.
(We saw them several times, they seemed to be enjoying their visit)
E: Just like other guests? They would not be made to feel uncomfortable?
O: I can’t guarantee the attitude of 400 employees. But the General Manager has been very clear that all paying guests are to be treated the same.
E: I’d think, although I don’t know for sure, that gay couples are less likely to have young children and more likely to have disposable income. It’s a good business decision! (We laugh).
O: I think gay couples like to go to gay resorts. (I have no idea if that’s true).
E: Not in Jamaica they don’t! Not till there is a lot more tea in the ocean!
Onique was clearly a bit uncomfortable with the topic, but he rose to the occasion. We talked about other things, I thanked him and went back to the beach. There are several interracial couples here, and one white employee. It’s a small resort so they stand out. I do believe that attitudes are changing, at the pace of a glacier maybe, but hey, it’s a start.