LGBT-friendly travel options in the Caribbean
By Hollie Mantle
Obviously the concept of ‘gay travel’ shouldn’t exist. Why does travel have to be ‘gay’, when it’s never described as ‘straight’? Travel should just be ‘travel’, open to all.
Unfortunately, the concept highlights how attitudes about same-sex relationships aren’t changing fast enough. On the straight side of things, it’s taken for granted that there is no need to search for heterosexual-specific hotels, to research difficulties a straight couple may face in particular cities due to antiquated laws, or to fret that PDA (public displays of affection) between a man and woman may provoke public outrage or discrimination.
Same-sex couples, on the other hand, frequently face these issues. Gay couples are often still unable to express affection in public or act outwardly ‘gay’ in an overwhelming number of countries worldwide, as though the PDA police are on crackdown and a loving hand stroke between two people of the same sex is indicative of an inner evil.
Gay is Different
We’re still encouraged to think of being gay as being different, by television advertisements which omit gay couples, by politicians who advocate criminalization of homosexual acts, and by backward thinking religious zealots who promote ideas of ‘unnaturalness’.
In reality, two people fancying each other does not do the world any harm, and our validation of that fact should not even be considered requisite for people to continue with their romantic interests as they please.
In countries where such logic and rational thinking has yet to prevail, it can be difficult for LGBT travellers to understand where their relationships will be welcomed and where they will be greeted with ‘would you like us to book you a twin room?’, ‘that will be extra’ and disdainful glances.
The Caribbean, where strict laws are rife and sexual liberalism is still something that occurs behind heavily curtained windows, can be a difficult one to maneuver when it comes to establishing which country thinks what. With this in mind, where is gay ok?
Jamaica = Least Gay Friendly
The laid-back, reggae loving stereotype often held of Jamaicans runs at odds with the social prejudices, anti-gay music and harsh laws still present in the country in 2014. Although it would be an unfair generalization to suggest that travelers to the island would face discrimination or feel persecuted for their sexuality, there is always the chance that local indoctrinated nutjobs will spring from the bushes and spout anti-gay threats.
(Or perhaps less dramatically, they will experience occasional homophobic slurs from hotel staff and waiters). For peace of mind, the LGBT traveller would be better off seeking gay-friendly travel options when booking island guides or accommodation.
Trinidad and Tobago = On the fence
In Trinidad and Tobago the situation is slightly more ambiguous. While laws do criminalize homosexual activity, there is a ‘gay scene’ with night life centered in Port of Spain. The situation in this country seems to be a case of ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, and while a large number of residents are in support of gay rights, it is not overtly publicized. Travelers from very liberal, gay friendly countries may find the repression slightly uncomfortable, in which case they might think of looking at alternate Caribbean islands.
Cuba = Much more open
In Cuba, for example, anti-discrimination laws have recently been implemented. Like any country, the odd homophobe will of course rear their ugly head on occasion, but for the most part the island is in support of gay rights.
The daughter of President Raul Castro, in particular, is very active in the struggle for equality. There is no need to search for gay-friendly accommodation options in Cuba, as regular hotels will (or at least should) be perfectly accommodating towards all paying customers, regardless of sexual orientation.
(Although it might be helpful to read reviews just in case previous customers have been at the receiving end of anything untoward). For beach trips, Playa Pesquero is ideal, whereas city-dwellers may prefer the convenient comforts of Havana.
Puerto Rico = Gay bar Haven
Although LGBT travelers are not necessarily seeking gay-centric holidays as much as, like anyone else, a relaxing and exotic getaway, some travelers may feel more at home if they know that they’re going to be free to act however they please on the dance floor.
For the fan of energetic and bustling gay bars, Puerto Rico has the liveliest gay scene in the Caribbean. In particular, San Juan is host to a gay beach neighborhood where LGBT travellers and friends can gather together in multitudes to party on gay-friendly beaches, enjoy the weekly drag shows and visit gay-owned bars and restaurants. (There are welcoming straight-owned versions too, of course).
Saba = LGBT diving paradise
Finally, Saba is the only place in the Caribbean to have legalised same sex marriage (although Cuba is looking to head in that direction). The teensy island is home to a significant gay and lesbian population, and has several gay/lesbian-centric diving operators, such as Undersea Expeditions, pictured above.
So while it’s not particularly pleasant and shouldn’t be necessary, checking out holiday destinations before you go could save the LGBT traveler a whole world of hassle.
The most important thing is not to put yourself in a situation where you may end up feeling persecuted or insulted as, after all, a holiday is meant to be your chance to get away from any troubles and relax.