Jamaica Insists Gay Tourists Welcome, Despite Horrific Anti-LGBT Violence

Gay men have been stoned in the street, but Jamaica's tourism minister claims "It’s 'tourism for all' in our country."

Tourism boards the world over want LGBT vacation dollars: We travel more often, spend more money, and hit more exotic locales. Now Jamaica wants to cash in, too, despite a history of homophobic violence and discrimination.

“LGBT travelers should feel relaxed traveling to Jamaica,” beamed tourism minister Edmund Bartlett to eTurboNews in November. “It’s ’tourism for all’ in our country, regardless of gender, religion, handicap, or sexual orientation.”

But Bartlett’s sunny statement contradicts a history of rampant homophobia in the former British colony, where consensual homosexual sex is still a crime and anti-LGBT violence is endemic: Gay men have been beaten, shot and stoned to death because of their orientation. Just this year, LGBT activist Dexter Pottinger, dubbed the “face of Pride,” was murdered in his home.

Some young queer Jamaicans rejected by their families are forced to live in the sewers.

Grace Phelps/Planting Peace

Little wonder a 2006 Time story asked if Jamaica was “The Most Homophobic Place on Earth?”

But Bartlett would have us turn a blind eye to all that, since it doesn’t directly impact European or American visitors to the island.

There are efforts at changing the dynamic: an inaugural Jamaica Pride event was held in Kingston in 2015 (though security concerns meant there was no parade). In a 2012 report, the Jamaican government insisted “there is no legal discrimination against persons on the grounds of their sexual orientation,” despite the law against homosexuality. “[We are] opposed to discrimination or violence against persons whatever their sexual orientation.”

Those are the right words, certainly. But they don’t line up with the reality.

Click here to contribute to Planting Peace’s fundraising campaign for homeless Jamaican LGBT youth.

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.