Anguilla is a quiet little island of only 35 square miles located about 100 miles east of the British Virgin Islands–no discos, casinos, duty-free shops or cruise liners. Hardly anything is heard about this place other than real estate and tourist brochures and occasional news items about offshore finance or tax havens.
Homosexuality in Anguilla
Virtually nothing is ever heard about Anguilla’s LGBT community, if it can be called that. This is another one of these small island ‘villages’ in the Caribbean (like St Eustatius, Saba, Cayman Islands or Montserrat) where homosexuality is virtually a non-issue mainly because there are hardly any such folks around and/or they don’t discuss or gossip about it. Gay and lesbian life is minimal, confined, for better or worse, to the private parts of one’s mind and bedroom.
There is no community or organization, no activists (not that I could find researching this story), no rainbow flags or Pride events, no bars or clubs. There are scattered gay-friendly hotel lounges and straight bars where friends can hang and share thoughts. But no one is planning the next LGBT event or demonstration.
That said, on the Day Against Homophobia, May 17, 2011, a modest display was offered in the capital town, The Valley (pop 1300), to support awareness of discrimination and oppose fake fixes for homosexuality. A coalition of groups from Latin America and the Caribbean launched the “Cures That Kill” (Curas que Matan) campaign to oppose any so-called therapies which aim to “cure” homosexuality. The event was held on several islands on the anniversary of the historic day in 1990 when the World Health Organization (WHO) officially announced homosexuality to be a natural variety of human sexuality.
Homosexuality subsequently became legal, slowly, in most countries where it had been criminalized. In the vast British Commonwealth around the globe, the UK government urged all their subsidiary members to follow suit and do away with anti-gay laws. Not an easy task since these laws had been laid down 150 years ago by that same ruling country.
But Britain has very much changed regarding its view of homosexuality. Today it is one of the most outspoken proponents of equal rights, urging all its ambassadors to promote those rights in all the countries where they are assigned, including the Caribbean. (There are still nine Caribbean independent countries–all former UK colonies–that have laws making homosexual behavior illegal.) In those islands that are dependent ‘territories’ (not sovereign countries) the UK has ultimate legal authority.
After several diplomatic appeals to those territories of Anguilla, Cayman Islands, British Virgin islands, Montserrat and Turks and Caicos, only the Virgin Islands responded with the requested change. In the other territories no action was taken so homosexuality was unilaterally decriminalized in 2001 by a British mandate and Anguilla had to comply, along with the others. There was some grumbling and murmurs but most people took the change in stride since it did not effect them in any real way. The law had been mostly ignored for the past century. The Brits wiped the slate clean, except of course for underage homosexual (and heterosexual) child abuse. The age of consent for all in Anguilla is 16.
(A related issue was raised in a research study done in 2009 that included child sexual abuse of boys and girls. “While most victims are girls, the extent of sexual abuse of boys seems to have been largely overlooked by researchers. There is evidence that the abuse of boys was a serious problem and that, in the public perception, is an increasing problem. The growing phenomenon of the abuse of boys (both within and outside the home) was reported as a major issue; such was the extent of homophobia that the problem has been deeply hidden.) See report link below.
Regarding the enforced decriminalization by the UK, one local blogger
claimed same-sex behavior has never been illegal in Anguilla. The UK originally created a specific crime of indecent acts between consenting adults of the same gender in private. That was the outlawing of homosexual acts many years ago. But Anguilla never had this exact law. What we did have was the mid-nineteenth century offense of “buggery”. Buggery is not a specifically homosexual act. Nor is it necessarily the preferred act of affection between homosexuals. Now recently, the British were determined to remove the offense of buggery from our statute books. In so doing in a broad legal sweep some of us accuse them of trying to ‘force’ homosexuality on us in order to eliminate it! Nothing of the sort (i.e, ‘homosexuality’) was happening here.”
Another protestor came from a different perspective in his dislike of the law change: homosexuality is immoral.
“…our societies place very little restraint on degrading the sanctity of sex. Whether on the homosexual or heterosexual front, people go overboard with a lack of honor for the human anatomy. In the name of culture, they dishonor the bodies – God gave them – without shame or reservation, especially in festive events, where immorality is usually rife. …”
Gays on the Ground in Anguilla: Two Testimonies From Visitors
“You can be yourselves in many fun bars but the island is a small one (unlike St. Martin) and you will not find any gay bars as such. Hopefully however, you will find Anguilla “gay friendly” with most all locals and visitors.”
“My partner and I recently spent five wonderful days in Anguilla, truly one of the best vacations I had! Unfortunately, you won’t find any gay bars or lounges in Anguilla. It is a very quiet island. However, if you are looking for warm people, the best beaches and sunset in the world, and fantastic restaurants, you chose the perfect island! We had no problem going to places and restaurants. Definitely try Veya when you go. I only felt “weird” in one particular restaurant, probably only because there were only three other couples there, so we really stood out; but nobody was discriminatory in any way. We also traveled to St. Martin where there is not much of a gay scene either. The only gay bar there is Eros on Saturday. We didn’t go. We liked St. Martin, but I have to say, we LOVED Anguilla, partly because we stayed at the wonderful Viceroy Hotel. If you are not staying there, at least go have a drink at their sunset lounge at sunset. Believe me, you won’t regret it and you will know why we chose Anguilla.”
It should be noted that no local Anguillian LGBT people were interviewed for this commentary. We looked for them with no success; we wanted to interview them. One of the issues is the persistence of homophobia, albeit subdued, in the local populace and how this contributes to secrecy and living on the ‘down low’, married men having sex with other men–something that is common in the Caribbean.
Anguilla History and Demographics
Anguilla is a British overseas territory in the Caribbean. The territory consists of the main island of Anguilla itself, approximately 26 km (16 mi) long by 5 km (3.1 mi) wide at its widest point, together with eight smaller islands and cays nearby with no permanent population. The island’s capital is The Valley (population less than 1500). The total land area of Anguilla is 35 sq mi (91 sq km), with a population of approximately 14,000. (All history and demographics text quoted from Wikipedia)
The earliest Taino native artifacts found on Anguilla have been dated to around 1300 BC, and remains of settlements date from 600 AD. The date of European discovery is uncertain: some sources claim that Columbus sighted the island in 1493, while others state that the island was first discovered by the French in 1564 or 1565. Anguilla was first colonized by English settlers from Saint Kitts, beginning in 1650. Evidence indicates a substantial African slave presence on the island by 1683. The British governed the island as part of a consortium of Caribbean islands over the centuries, In 1980 Anguilla was allowed to secede from Saint Kitts and Nevis and become a separate British colony as a British overseas territory.
Anguilla’s thin arid soil is mostly unsuitable for agriculture, and the island has few land-based natural resources. Its main industries are tourism, offshore incorporations and management, offshore banking, and fishing. Many insurance and financial businesses are headquartered in Anguilla. In the past 15 years the island’s tourism has been severely disrupted by two hurricanes. There are regular ferries from Saint Martin to Anguilla. It is a 20 minute crossing from Marigot in St. Martin to Blowing Point in Anguilla.
The majority of residents (90%) are black, the descendants of slaves transported from Africa. Growing minorities include whites, about 4%, and people of mixed race about 5% . 72% of the population is Anguillian while 28% is non-Anguillian (2001 census). Of the non-Anguillian population, many are citizens of the United States, United Kingdom, St Kitts & Nevis, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica and Nigeria.
2006 and 2007 saw an influx of large numbers of Chinese, Indian, and Mexican workers, brought in as skilled and unskilled labor for major tourist infrastructure (hotels, roads, restaurants, entertainment venues, utilities, power, etc) due to the local population not being large enough to support these labor requirements.
Boat racing has deep roots in Anguillian culture, and is the national sport. There are regular sailing regattas on national holidays, such as Carnival, which are contested by locally built and designed boats. These boats have names and have sponsors that print their logo on their sails.
Anguilla has become a popular luxury resort destination as well as a tax haven, having no capital gains, estate, profit or other forms of direct taxation on either individuals or corporations. In April 2011, faced with a mounting deficit, it introduced a 3% “Interim Stabilization Levy”, Anguilla’s first form of income tax.
Compiled by Richard Ammon
What makes us Anguillian?
A report published by the United Nations Joint Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the World Health Organization (WHO) indicates that, in general, homophobia is widespread in nearly all Caribbean countries and that homosexuals in these countries are stigmatized (UN Dec. 2005, 53)