Illegal and Hidden
Section 23 of the Barbados Constitution provides that “no law shall make any provision that is discriminatory either of itself or in its effect” and that “no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner by any person by virtue of any written law or in performance of the functions of any public office or any public authority. ”Despite such a resounding proclamation against discrimination, LGBT individuals in Barbados face an ongoing battle for basic human rights which are denied on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Nevertheless the status of LGBT people is one of living as outlaws with the discrimination and stigma deriving from cultural, religious, and social taboos and beliefs. “It appears that any expression of sexuality outside patriarchal heterosexuality is uniformly unwelcome,” wrote one researcher. (Bajan Queens, Nebulous Scenes: Sexual Diversity in Barbados by David A.B. Murray, Caribbean Review of Gender Studies, 2009)
The long standing tradition of rejecting homosexual behavior was initiated by the British when Barbados and many other islands were small Caribbean colonies.
Ironically, it is now the British of a very different generation who are coercing all former UK territories to change course and remove anti-gay laws from the books. British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced if Barbados expects to continue receiving financial aid from Britain laws that discriminate against homosexuals will have to be reversed.
That is the conflict that all seventeen former British Commonwealth Caribbean colonies (now independent countries) now face. (Worldwide, 42 British Commonwealth states still outlaw homosexuality.) Change or lose money. Some have already altered their statutes while others are resisting the push. These seven Commonwealth countries have changed their laws: Anguilla 2000, Aruba, Bahamas, BVI, Cayman, Montserrat 2000, Turks & Caicos 2000. (In severe contrast the French Empire–including its overseas colonies–legalized homosexuality in 1791.)
Gay Life In the Streets
A gay visitor can easily walk around Barbados (not hand in hand) and not be disturbed because sexual orientation is invisible. It can only be discovered by behavior, most of which occurs out of public view (unless you are foolish enough to display your proclivity in public as the two American guys recently did on their balcony aboard a ship in Dominica). One Barbadan has claimed “in Barbados we are known to be tolerant of homosexuals although our laws say otherwise.”
In January 2012 the Huffington Post published an article outlining potentially risky or unfriendly destinations for LGBT travelers. It’s misleading to pick out the ‘top ten’ of anything in today’s complex and varied world. The ones chosen here (including Barbados) do have laws against same-sex affection and behavior but I would not call most of them ‘dangerous’, except for two: Nigeria and Jamaica. There you can get killed for being queer if you are found out.
But virtually all tourists are exempt from this threat–deportation if often the worst punishment. The real danger is for native citizens in these places to be exposed with the most serious threat coming from one’s family or acquaintances. Gay murder (honor killing) is not common but it does happen in certain situations such as mob hysteria that can erupt quickly and unpredictably, as it has in Jamaica. Death can also come from an extremely disturbed family member, such as happened to my friend Ahmet in Turkey when his father murdered him in 2009 for being gay.
(I would list Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Palestine as serious danger spots for gays, followed by Nigeria, Somalia, Eritrea and numerous small west central African countries such as Cameroon, Gambia, Guinea). Again, it is the native gays who suffer most while tourists can skip in and out without being noticed.
Around the world the situation for LGBT people is very uneven and very unfair at this time. Both Christian and Muslim influence (and leftover European laws) embedded for generations, refuse to progress to more modern civil rights thinking.
Known But Well Hidden
Barbados is also conservatively Christian due to the many missionaries and monks who landed after the British military took over in the 19th century. The prejudice here is deep and mostly silent but rears its ugly head on occasion such as the torching of a house owned by a known gay man. “Mr Darcy Dear of United Gays And Lesbians Against AIDS in Barbados fears someone will try to burn down his house again, just as they did five years ago with his three-bedroom house. “That was another hate crime against gays because gay guys were renting there.”
It’s therefore no surprise that gay life is mostly underground and discreet. There are gay friendly venues that do not mind LGBT customers but even here you will not see anything overtly gay such as rainbow flags or posters for upcoming parties. Such parties do happen on occasion at different locations throughout the year. One man said it’s sort of like a secret circuit party, very discreet, and the venue can change with little notice but word gets around quickly by word of mouth (cell phones and e-mail).
Despite the generalized homophobia on the nation-island, there is (perhaps) pushback from the presence of Barbados Gays & Lesbians Against Discrimination (BGLAD), an “unofficial group of concerned citizens”.
I say perhaps because their website has not been updated since 2003 which raises the question of their current existence. This organization has or had a mission of being: “dedicated to the promotion of human rights for all persons within the Barbadian society and in particular lesbians, gays and bi-sexuals. BGLAD, through education on issues of human sexuality and individual differences, will promote the acceptance of all persons and develop a positive agenda for change within Barbados and the Caribbean region.” ( from their website http://bglad2000.tripod.com/).
Lacking any apparent organized pro-gay activists or educators in Barbados there is little hope for policy change in the near future. But given the generally calm manner of life in Barbados there is little need to raise a storm against homophobia.
More likely to continue is the following attitude: “I have at least three homosexual acquaintances whom I have known for many years. They know that I am straight and none of them has even hinted at a pass at me. They are not predators, and I suggest that homophobia in Barbados is down to the fact that many men doubt their own sexuality and even a little afraid that they, too, may have homosexual tendencies.”
However, this is an unusual semi-positive thought in a long list of highly opinionated comments on a blog called Barbados Underground that is filled with misinformation and rant which feeds into and encourages misunderstanding of human sexuality. As I read these unfortunate and misinformed replies I could not help contributing my own reaction:
“Much of what is said here about homosexuality is inaccurate and highly opinionated. It does not lead to thoughtful and intelligent understanding of the phenomenon of homosexuality. Bloggers here would do well to read scientific and research studies done in the past decade to fully gain insight about the varieties of human sexuality. Being disgusted or fearful or chosen or labeled as sin–all of these subjective approaches make little rational sense and do not lead to clear-minded examination of homosexuality.
“Homophobia is irrational and derives from this lack of clear-minded understanding of human nature in its diverse forms. Homosexuality derives from inherent nature as one of these diverse forms. It is an uncommon variant of sexuality just as left-handedness or red hair is uncommon. Becoming rigidly opinionated serves no intelligent purpose in moving a society forward into current knowledge. Life changes; knowledge changes; the human mind changes.
“The way forward is with an open mind that thrives on discovery of new phenomena and new understandings of the world around us… otherwise we would be still riding around in ox-carts, engaged in slavery, believing that pharaohs are gods, that homosexuality is evil or that men are superior to women. Awake and rise.” (end of my reply)
Links for gay Barbados
Anyone interested in the condition and circumstance of LGBT people in the Caribbean should read the report issued by the International Lesbian and Gay Association in 2011. (http://transitionsunshine.info/2011/05/homophobia-in-the-caribbean-varies-widely/)
It is a complete report that lists the gay-friendly as well as homophobic states in the Caribbean. In the following nine countries homosexuality is criminalized:
Antigua and Barbuda, (photo right)
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines,
Saint Kitts and Nevis,
Trinidad and Tobago.
Fortunately in the Caribbean there are more countries in which same-sex activity is legal. These are:
Bahamas (although with high homophobia),
British Virgin Islands ( Tortola, Virgin Gorda, Jost Van Dyke, Anegada, + others), since 2000
Cayman Islands, since 2000
Cuba, since 1979
Montserrat, since 2000
Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao (off the Venezuelan coast)
Sint Maarten, Saba, and Sint Eustatius (southeast of the Virgin Islands)
French West Indies (Guadeloupe, since 1791, St Barths, Martinique, since 1791, St Martin)
Haiti, since 1986
Turks and Caicos Islands, since 2000
US Virgins Islands (St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, Water Island), since 1984
Also, see this LGBT report on eleven Caribbean destinations that includes some gay owned and gay-friendly venues: