The situation for LGBT locals and visitors in the Bahamas is mixed. Homosexuality is legal but homophobia is high yet many gay locals ignore all that and get on with their lives. There is no public gay life to celebrate, no parades, no Rainbow flags, no activist organization, no LGBT tour promotions, no legal protections and only a few quiet gay bars and clubs downtown in Nassau.
Important update August 2014: The inaugural Bahamas Gay Pride, known as Freedom Weekend Pride in Paradise, is set to take place over Labor Day Weekend, from Friday, August 29, through Monday, September 1, at the all-inclusive Viva Wyndham Fortuna Beach. See also: Bahamas Gay Pride website.
In The Bahamas individual and small groups of homosexual tourists are left alone for the most part but boatloads of gay visitors were rallied against on three separate occasions, first in March 1998 and a month later in April 1998 and again in July 2004. Most of the noisy homophobic rant came from certain fundamentalist Baptist churches, who alleged to be Christian but are stuck in dim scriptural thinking. The stink in 1998 drew worldwide media attention to their protest and, for the first time, to the homophobic reputation in their country. (At the time, the LGBT advocacy group Rainbow Alliance, now closed, held a counter protest during the 2004 demonstrations, welcoming the gay visitors.)
As a result of the hubbub the then Prime Minister went public by issuing a long Christan-based retort to the Baptist Christian protestors and their supporters.
His press release said, “The Bahamas’ Constitution establishes that we are a nation based upon Christian principles… They include the virtues exemplified in Jesus’ life on earth – a life guided by faith, love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness… The Bahamian constitution provides guarantees for the protection of the human rights and liberties of all persons resident and/or visiting… My Government rejects bias in any form and finds discrimination repugnant… the hysteria being created by certain individuals against gay persons visiting The Bahamas and who represents themselves as the leadership of the Christian Council, is becoming irresponsible…
“Can we possibly imagine what the Gospels of the New Testament would read like if Jesus had refused to associate with the outcasts of society in his time?.. I do not believe that the future of The Bahamas will be placed in danger because chartered cruises by gay persons are permitted to continue to call at Bahamian ports… The Bahamas is not threatened by foreign persons of homosexual orientation. Homosexuality is not a contagious disease; and it is not a crime here… Whether a private sexual act between consenting adults is homosexual or heterosexual is not my business, and I do not think it is your business either. We cannot, and ought not try, to dictate or to legislate morality… Certainly it cannot be right that we reject persons, sight unseen, only because of their sexual orientation.”
This pronouncement sounds reasonably supportive, except the part where he implies we are among the “outcasts of society” deserving of forgiveness. But it was a rebuke nevertheless that helped to calm the bizarre anti-gay demonstration at the port.
That was a long time ago and the PM is long gone but the church and bigotry remain embedded in the Bahamian culture. It would be nice to think that time may have softened some hearts but subsequent disturbing events disprove that.
The independent country of The Bahamas are a former British colony with more than 3,000 islands, cays, and islets that gather together into 13,939 km2 (5,382 sq mi) of land surface populated by about 354,000 people. The capital city is Nassau with almost 250,000 residents. Of all the islands only a couple hundred are populated. The longest island island is Andros which is 104 miles long and 40 miles wide. The Bahamas were the first terra firma that Columbus set foot on in the New World in 1492. For thousands of years before that date, indigenous Lucayan people from the American continents had lived here. Subsequent Spanish occupation caused deportation and disease that virtually destroyed the natives.
“After the American War of Independence, thousands of American Loyalists and enslaved Africans moved to the Bahamas and set up a plantation economy. The slave trade was abolished in the British Empire in 1807 and many Africans liberated from slave ships by the Royal Navy were settled in the Bahamas during the 19th century. Slavery itself was abolished in 1834 and their descendants form the majority of the Bahamas’s population today.” (Wikipedia)
That is a far cry from the Bahamas of today which is measured as one of the most prosperous countries in the Americas, thanks in large part to an enormous tourist industry which accounts for nearly half of all employment. (The Bahamas does not court the LGBT tourism market.) Banking and international financial services also have brought investment and income to The Bahamas, some of which are now under scrutiny as suspicious offshore tax havens. The government is a parliamentary democracy similar to Britain with two main parties, the Free National Movement and the Progressive Liberal Party.
Homosexuality in The Bahamas
Same-sex behavior is legal, since 1991, but there is no recognition or registration of LGBT couples as unions or domestic partnerships. Regardless of the length of time together, couples have no legal standing and the criminal code discriminates against LGBT people with unequal ages of consent–18 for gays and 16 for straights.
The Constitution offers basic civil liberties and protections, but its anti-discrimination statutes do not include sexual orientation or gender identity. Efforts to include sexual orientation have been blocked for years on religious grounds; the country is virtual all Chrisitian denominations.
“The present PLP government, voted in on May 7, 2012, has the two-thirds majority in the parliament needed to change the Constitution; however, there has been no indication that a new Constitutional Commission will be established.” Marriage as a union between a man and a woman is cemented into the country’s marriage acts. (Wikipedia)
Nevertheless same-sex unions and commitment ceremonies are privately performed by certain pastors and Justices of the Peace. Strangely, the Bahamas military, prison service and police force do not discriminate against sexual orientation.
According to Wikipedia, there was a LGBT rights and advocacy organization, Rainbow Alliance of The Bahamas, in The Bahamas from 1999 until 2008. “The group was established in May 1999 during a social event hosted by members of other LGBT groups. The members of those groups, BGLAD (Bahamian Gays and Lesbians Against Discrimination) and Hope TEA (Hope Through Education and Awareness), decided it would be better to pool their resources together and create one national gay rights organization. They named it ‘The Rainbow Alliance of The Bahamas…
“At that time RAB was essentially a support group, organizing LGBT socials and the annual, low-key gay pride event. However, in 2004 when Bishop Sam Greene threatened to blow up parliament if the government had followed Canada and legalized gay marriage in The Bahamas, group members felt the need to stand up against him and other forms of bigotry and discrimination in the country. The activist arm of the group placed it in the public spotlight between 2004 and 2008.” (Wikipedia) But despite the presence of thousands of LGBT people throughout the many Bahamas islands the group eventually ended in 2008 for what was claimed as a lack of money; there is no doubt more to this story.
Today, social media has taken the place of Rainbow Alliance. Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates uses its Facebook page to speak out against homophobia. Currently it has over 1220 ‘Likes’ so someone is paying attention. See this interview with BLEA leader about gay life and homophobia in The Bahamas.
All that said, and since we are everywhere including homophobic places like Jamaica and Trinidad, there is a LGBT community in The Bahamas that mostly chooses to live discreetly beneath the radar–using gaydar instead. Gay bars have existed in the Bahamas for years, opening and closing according to the whims of commerce and the winds of gossip. Allegedly, there are three gay-owned nightclubs currently in the capital city of Nassau, a city of nearly 250,000. With a local native population that big plus an endless flow of tourists, several gay venues can be found in the downtown area. One observer said gays in the less-populated northern city of Freeport usually hang out in straight clubs.
The Struggle Between Light and Dark Goes On
Despite the 1998 Prime Minister’s address and the 2011 Government’s public support for a U.N. Human Rights Council resolution urging equal rights for all, including variant sexual orientations, “subsequent Bahamian legislators have done virtually nothing over the past decades to ensure that LGBT citizens are included in non-discrimination clauses in statute laws. Discrimination in areas such as employment, education, housing, health care, banking and public businesses on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is not illegal. Likewise, there is no national hate crime law to address violence or harassment directed at LGBT people.” (Wikipedia: Gay Rights)
As a result of the lack of confidence in the judicial system, legal inequalities and homophobia in the country, many LGBT people are in the closet–or on the ‘down-low–about their sexual orientation or gender identity and LGBT social events are often pressured to remain low key. Occasionally these secrets bubble up to the surface such as this scandalous story about a leading church leader surfaced in September 2012 when a former sex-mate came forward to denounce his hypocrisy.
The obvious driving force of homophobia is conservative Christian sects that view homosexuality and cross-dressing as signs of decadence and immorality. On the other side is the ‘evolving’ media-entertainment-human rights movement in the adjacent Americas (and UK) that influences modern life thought and opinion. Fearful and hysterical religion-based efforts will eventually lose ground to science-based modern reality.
Currently politicians have been weak-willed in support of LGBT-rights legislation and, as a result. there have been several public high-profile disturbing events, as mentioned before, involving blatant discrimination and harassment directed at LGBT citizens:
-In March 2006, the Bahamas Plays and Films Control Board banned the American gay-themed movie ‘Brokeback Mountain‘.
-In 2007, a jury acquitted Troyniko McNeil who was accused of the slaying of handbag designer Harl Taylor. At the time, Rainbow Alliance of The Bahamas, launched a public campaign against discrimination and participated in talk shows on the subject.
-In a 2009 case, a jury acquitted another man charged with murdering a gay, HIV-positive male. The defendant used the so-called ‘gay panic defense’, claiming that the gay male attempted to rape him.
-In 2010, in a similar gay panic defense, a convicted killer received a very lenient sentence in the shooting death of a gay man. The convict claimed the gay man had made a “homosexual advance” towards him. Joan Sawyer, the President of the Court of Appeal, was quoted as saying, ”One is entitled to use whatever force is necessary to prevent one’s self being the victim of a homosexual act.”
-July 2011 a gay photographer was murdered in his home with the crime at first being called robbery but later considered a targeted or revenge killing.
However, more recently there has been a crack in the homophobic wall in The Bahamas. In a highly symbolic case, in June 2011, The Bahamas Plays and Films Control Board attempted to block the showing of the Bahamian-produced, gay-themed movie ‘Children of God’ in the public square in downtown Nassau. However, despite the 2006 ban on ‘Brokeback Mountain’, the government overruled the Board and allowed the movie to be shown.
Sources for the above:
Generally speaking, The Bahamas is increasingly gay-friendly. Although full protection is not yet ensrhined in law, there is still a groundswell of public support for equal rights for all people. Many gay people visit or live here, and while the country once had strict anti-homosexuality laws, things are changing fast.
–http://bahamianglad.tripod.com/ (LGBT news and comments 2004-11)
–http://vimeo.com/42516513 One-hour video of Members of Bahamas LGBT Equality Advocates (BLEA: Bahamas Les-Bi-Gay Equality Association), Mindell Small (journalist and director of BLEA) and Travis Johnson and Mesagi Wright (non-gay friendly), writer and activist, appeared on Guardian Talk Radio 96.9 FM on May 16, 2012 to talk about homophobia in The Bahamas. The talk show was one in a series of shows conducted by BLEA to mark International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), May 17, 2012. IDAHO celebrations in The Bahamas were a collaborative effort between BLEA, UNAIDS and the Ministry of Health.
Photo Gallery for The Bahamas
Story editor, Richard Ammon
September 20, 2012