A Conversation with a Resident about
Being Gay in the Turks & Caicos Islands
Eddi is a resident of Turks & Caicos Islands (TCI) who originally wrote to GlobalGayz inquiring about gay life in Bhutan, In the course of correspondence he revealed he lived in TCI. Since there is virtually nothing on the Internet about gay life in TCI, we asked Eddie to share his insights about this unknown topic.
Eddi Writes For Himself
I should state that like 2/3 of the population here, I’m not originally from Turks & Caicos Islands. The Belonger population (full citizens) is the political majority and one of the larger groups here but compared to total foreigners Belongers are a demographic minority.
(Persons having “belonger” status include those who are born in TCI having a parent who is a belonger, or born outside TCI having a parent and a grandparent who are belongers, and those who receive such status by grant from the Governor or through marriage to a belonger. Foreign nationals may also be granted Belongership by the Governor for outstanding economic or social contribution to the country.)
The ethnic Haitian population here may outnumber the Belongers (TCI is only 90 miles from Haiti, and being the highest per capita income and standard of living in the Caribbean that close to the lowest makes it inviting for hundreds of Haitian people to enter illegally every month.
So my “insider’s perspective” will come as a member of an immigrant communities here, one of many such communities. but I reside in an area that is overwhelmingly Belonger and Haitian inhabited.
Although I’m out to my family and friends and even some coworkers here, I still have to be careful about being publicly Out. There is a lot of corruption here whereby any government official who doesn’t ‘like’ a person could cause numbers of problems for them, their immigration status, their boss, their company/ organization, etc. All it takes to ruin a life here is one vindictive person with their hand on a stamp. In August 2009, the UK Government (which formerly didn’t bat an eye at the overt corruption here) declared Direct Rule as a response to the corruption.
Publicly, the homophobia is mostly of the Christian-influenced type. Pastors still quote the tired old “Adam and Steve” pun as if it’s original and genius. Anytime there’s a victory on either side of the by the widely-media publicized US political Conservative Right versus gay rights battle, there’s some reaction here (immediately following Prop 8 in California, a deposed Minister began pushing for a constitutional amendment here banning same-sex marriage).
The White Paper* (see below) decriminalizing homosexuality was all over the papers here (in 1999) and was a big to-do at the time, but things like that are forgotten here so quickly, it’s almost funny.
Now and again there will be some ranting preacher rallying up a terribly pathetic ‘protest’ when a gay-themed cruise ship comes into Grand Turk, but you can imagine Carnival ship company doesn’t stand for that sort of thing anywhere near the cruise centre and the government is sensible enough about their Carnival kickbacks not to let things get too out of control. About as bad as it gets is six Bible-bashing loudmouths holding homemade Bible-quoting poster board signs.
Now and again there will be some ranting preacher rallying up a terribly pathetic ‘protest’ when a gay-themed cruise ship comes into Grand Turk, but you can imagine Carnival company doesn’t stand for that sort of thing anywhere near the cruise centre and the government is sensible enough about their Carnival kickbacks not to let things get too out of control.
There are a few Out Belonger guys here, but I don’t know any of them well enough to know how they feel about it. They seem to be doing well for themselves. Someone from the Bahamas (similar culture) once told me that an Out gay guy will get some amount of respect because of his open honesty, while closeted guys will have a harder time if someone ‘outs’ them. Some of the closeted guys will be friendly to another gay guy in private, but in public will actually be openly and overtly hostile to them.
In the Haitian community, the gay guys are mostly closeted but won’t waste any time in making their intentions known in private. We also have a lot of Dominican Republic nationals here. As mentioned in the Dominican Republic article, the sliding scale of sexuality and flirtatiousness they have can be confusing; you don’t know whether they are being friendly or hitting on you but this is also the community most gay men who are looking to pay for sex turn to.
Questions from GlobalGayz:
If you were to ‘indulge’ in the TCI scene: where would you go;
what places would you visit and how would you describe them;
what kind of gay community is there–if any;
what ‘types’ of LGBT folks would you find (hustlers, yuppies, foreigners, Americans, Euros);
are there any native gay or gay-friendly organizations or international organizations;
what work do they do;
what HIV education is offered;
what are the HIV statistics;
is there a lesbian scene and do the women have a venue;
is there any public education or advocacy for equal rights;
have there been any pro-gay or anti-gay incidents lately;
how vocal is the homophobia and where does it come from; who expresses it;
Have you asked any of your Bhutanese friends about homosex in Bhutan.
What is the historic Belonger traditional attitude about homosexually-inclined people;
is there an indigenous ‘role’ for a feminine male, as in other countries;
has the Haitian rabid homophobia entered TCI along with illegal immigrants?
I don’t think there’s any scene here really, unless you count the handful of American and Euro expats on Providenciales Island (photo right) who have found each other but I don’t get involved in the ‘scene’ here, it’s just not something I enjoy.
There are two local guys on one smaller island who everyone more or less knows about; one had a foreign (much older) boyfriend and wasn’t at all secretive about it. Both were educated outside TCI and that probably has a lot to do with their liberated views and willingness to express themselves.
So as far as “places… I don’t know, Miami? London? –just kidding… Actually I hear that the place to go for some liberal vibes is a Dominican nightclub in Providenciales Island… makes sense, as I don’t think I’ve ever met a Dominican guy I took as totally straight, and we do have a lot of them here. Bars and hotels along Airport Road on Providenciales, I’ve been told, are the places to check (but also where to go for gigolos). Also for a while Club Med was the “anything goes” nightclub, but a stiff $90 entry fee for non-tourists means that the majority of the locals are kept out.
No gay organizations here at all that I know of; even the AIDS awareness department seems wholly ignorant of any existence of homosexuality or the connection thereto — they concentrate on women and AIDS. To be honest, that’s probably better here, as the perception of AIDS was previously divine punishment for homosexuality and preachers extolled that straight men and women don’t get it.
Luckily the AIDS education program is changing that view; though a few of the preachers haven’t let up their archaic loudmouth positions yet. Sadly, the HIV stats are extremely high here (no official numbers that I know of though) and the habit men have of having “outside families” (i.e. adultery, though it isn’t called that here) is spreading it like wildfire. Anyway, we don’t need the country’s introduction to homosexuality coming from the AIDS department, I don’t think. Bad idea.
Lesbians… well, a friend told me that there were two women in my area that one of the preachers used to always chastise from his lectern, and gossip went on about them, and they eventually moved away. That’s the only such account I heard… but there are plenty of women I wonder about, especially spinsters who drive pickup trucks and a few elderly women who are married but never had children. No idea though.
No other gay movement or education or activism whatsoever. Things are too close and corrupt for people here to stick their necks out. All you’d have to do is piss off someone, and they’d get their brother-in-law in Immigration to make sure you lost your work permit (if you’re a foreigner) or another relative in another department to deny a business license or scholarship or get you fired… so that’s why most people lay low. Not only about homosexuality, but about anything ‘different’.
The majority of the homophobia is church based. You’ll hear a lot of hellfire brimstone preaching, and a great deal of it is expressed in the newspapers where quite bad writers create grammatically appalling illogical (and endless) rants abundant with scripture quoting and eyebrow raising contradictions. These things only come up when triggered by some event.
During the local ratification of the White Paper in 1999, all the newspapers were filled with it. Politicians (we have two main newspapers, one of each belongs to each political party) on the covers described it as “an affront to our country” from England and “the sissy law” and “homo rights.”
The issue was nearly overshadowed by the protesting against corporal punishment laws, which finally made parents liable for punishment if they maimed or killed their own child by beating them. Some of the main protestors there were teachers, who were furious that they would have no other way to control their students. We’re not dealing with any great heap of pedagogical intellect in our education department, which also explains why at one point, 30% was a passing mark, and students making grades in 70%’s are considered well-performing.
But as usual, the issue passes, and a different news item grips the nation, and people forget homosexuality exists. Until another ‘gay ship’ shows up.
There is a general aversion to confrontation in the culture here, so it’s rare that a local person will actually assault someone verbally regarding sexuality, unless its out a car window or some other way they can make a fast getaway. If they do try it, a “kick to the groin” sort of come back… (such as “Why, are you interested? But you’re not my type at all, though you would be better looking as a woman”) usually throws them for a loop.
There’s no traditional role for homosexual people — we’re not dealing with an old enough culture for such to have formed, I’d guess. The true indigenous people, the Taino, were all killed or taken into slavery by Columbus’ teams and the islands were uninhabited for 200 years until the Bermudans came to start the salt industry.
Homophobia in the Caribbean, by some accounts, is derived from the practices of some slave owners or overseers who used “buggery” on male slaves as a punishment or humiliation and objectification.
There were other practices for punishment used such as making an enema of bird pepper (wild chilies) and rock salt to shove up the backside of a misbehaving slave.
The settlement of these islands by the current population only occurred in the 1650’s (Turks Islands) and the 1780’s (Caicos Islands) during the American Revolution, when English Colonials who wanted to remain loyal to the Crown but still wanted to farm in the New World were given land grants here for their loyalty, and they brought their slaves with them or from the Bahamas, or bought more illegally from Cuba. The slaves were divided into 3 classes that were pitted against one another and very little high-context culture had any chance to develop here. The majority of the ‘culture’ here is associated with survival after the British left; such as agriculture, basketry, and fishing.
Funny enough, the “rabid Haitian homophobia” seems rather muted here. Of course you now and again hear Kreyol taunts of “masisi” between them (and resulting denials and protests) but the Haitian friends I have are far more open minded about homosexuality than the local people. They don’t all seem to understand the concept or reasons, but they tend to be too polite a people to hurt their friends about it. Most of the gay (or bi) guys I could call friends are Haitian.
Now… I realize I have made living here sound like a total hell, but the truth for me is that being gay is not a significant enough part of my identity to discourage me from living here. I have the choice to live in the “liberal’ USA where I’d have to deal with exactly the same problems, coupled with a lack of acceptance into the community my own sexual identity demographic has created there.
At the moment, our legal status here is the same as the majority of USA: we can’t marry and there are no civil unions, no official hate crime protection on the national level, and no real enforced discrimination legislation.
Sure, I could move to Massachusetts, where I’d freeze to death, probably after being miserable not having the ability to garden year round! So I’m happy here. It won’t be easy to find someone here, but I kind of like long distance relationships anyway!
March 17 1999 – “Britain said on Wednesday it would right an old injustice by granting full citizenship to all 160,000 inhabitants of its remaining colonies.
“Foreign Secretary Robin Cook also said Britain would demand changes in the law of a minority of the so-called Overseas Territories which still used corporal punishment and forbade homosexual acts in private. The government’s plans were laid out in a policy paper which officials said was likely to be introduced in the lifetime of the next five-year parliament.
“Cook said he wanted those territories which ban homosexual acts between consenting adults—these include the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat and the Cayman Islands – to change their laws. He said that if they did not do so voluntarily, Britain would impose the required changes and would do the same for those territories which refused to outlaw corporal punishment.”
By Richard Ammon