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social sciences

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Puerto Rico and the Caribbean  
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The British Islands

Numerous islands in the Caribbean are part of the British Commonwealth. Many were settled in the early seventeenth century. Others were acquired later through treaty or conquest.

The Cayman Islands and Jamaica lie south of Cuba. Commonwealth islands in the Lesser Antilles include the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla, Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Antigua, Dominica, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Grenada. The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands, north of Cuba and Hispaniola, respectively, Barbados, east of the Windward Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago, north of Venezuela, are generally considered part of the Caribbean group because of their geographical proximity.

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The islands of the British Commonwealth are among the least hospitable to glbtq people. The cultural climate is particularly hostile in Jamaica. (Ironically, Jamaica was a place where gay playwright and actor Sir Noël Coward was able to find a peaceful haven from the 1940s until his death at his home, Firefly, in 1973. The house, donated by his life partner, Graham Payn, to the Jamaica National Heritage Trust, is now a museum.)

Homophobic violence has caused some Jamaicans, especially men, to flee to other countries for asylum. Hundreds have been attacked and beaten, sometimes fatally. Amnesty International reported in 2001 that Jamaican police were party to the harassment, participating in or permitting beatings of gay men and effecting "arrests and malicious detentions."

In a 2002 interview Michael Wynter, the head of the Jamaican Constabulary's Office of Professional Responsibility, claimed to have received no complaints from gay men about police conduct but admitted that Jamaica's law against sodomy may have discouraged them from coming forward.

The Offenses of the Person Act criminalizes same-sex relations. Being in a "compromising position" can be enough to bring about arrest. Those convicted face up to ten years in prison at hard labor.

Virulent expressions of homophobia can be found in Jamaican reggae songs, some of which suggest that "batty boys" and "chi chi men"--two pejorative terms for gay men--be killed by various means. Activist Peter Tatchell protested the homphobic lyrics at the Mobo (Music of Black Origin) awards shows in London in 2002 and 2003 and was set upon by angry reggae fans. Subsequently three reggae singers defended their lyrics, claiming that "homophobia is part of Jamaican culture." The Jamaican glbtq rights group J-Flag reported that "there has been a wave of homophobic assaults and murders coinciding with the release of anti-gay records."

J-Flag (The Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays), founded in 1998, has been working to improve the lives of glbtq Jamaicans by providing counseling, advocating constitutional revisions to eliminate discrimination, and helping to document the cases of people seeking asylum in other countries.

Discrimination remains alive and well in Jamaica, however. The island's popular Sandals resort chain (which also has hotels in St. Lucia, Antigua, the Turks and Caicos, and the Bahamas) unapologetically accepts only heterosexual couples as guests.

The Cayman Islands, too, have discriminated against glbtq travelers, in 1998 refusing a cruise ship carrying some 900 gay passengers permission to dock. Thomas C. Jefferson, the Cayman Islands Minister of Tourism, defended the action, saying, "Careful research and prior experience has [sic] led us to conclude that we cannot count on this group to uphold the standards of appropriate behavior expected of our visitors." The "prior experience" proved to be a 1987 visit by gay men from a charter cruise, some of whom publicly displayed affection, which, according to Jefferson, "offended" and "disturbed" local residents.

The scheduled arrival in 1998 of a cruise ship carrying gay tourists to the Bahamas also engendered protests led by Pentecostal Bishop Harcourt Pindar. Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham condemned the homophobic statements and said, "Homosexuality is not a contagious disease, and it is not a crime in the Bahamas"--neatly parsing his words because while consensual relations in private are legal, public activity might bring jail time.

The British government, after a decade of unsuccessful efforts to persuade Caribbean commonwealth members to abolish laws against same-sex relations, took the unilateral step of repealing local laws in Anguilla, the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, Montserrat, and the Turks and Caicos, effective January 1, 2001, since the statutes were in violation of human rights agreements to which Britain subscribed. Clerics in the Cayman Islands Ministers Association denounced the action.

The consecration of Canon Gene Robinson as Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire also met with opposition from Anglican bishops in the Caribbean, who condemned his ordination at their 2003 synod. Patrick Manning, the Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago, also announced his opposition to Robinson's elevation.

It is clear that progress on glbtq rights in the British Caribbean will have to overcome serious obstacles before equality is achieved.


The history of the islands of the Caribbean has generally not been favorable for glbtq citizens, nor is the current situation among the best. Nevertheless, some strides have been made, permitting hope that with the work of committed activists and people of goodwill more will be to come.

Linda Rapp

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social sciences >> Overview:  Anglicanism / Episcopal Church

The Anglican Communion, of which the Episcopal Church in the U. S. A. is a part, has dealt with issues of sexuality in complex ways, not all of them favorable to its glbtq membership.

social sciences >> Overview:  Cuba

Although one cannot speak of a gay community in Cuba, one can speak of a homoerotic environment for meeting and socializing in Havana that is constantly moving and reshaping itself.

social sciences >> Overview:  Evangelical Christians

Evangelical Christians, who tend to be fundamentalists and socially conservative, have not been welcoming to glbtq people.

social sciences >> Overview:  Latin America: Colonial

Same-sex sexual practices among the indigenous peoples of Latin America were seen by their Spanish and Portuguese conquerors as evidence of their cultural inferiority and were repressed through both religious and civil means.

social sciences >> Overview:  Latina/Latino Americans

Latina/o glbtq communities in the U.S. pursue multiple visions, diverse politics, and a variety of struggles for identity and liberation; their efforts have helped shape the meaning of what it means to be queer and Latina and Latino in the U.S. and transnationally.

social sciences >> Overview:  Roman Catholicism

Historically, the Roman Catholic Church may be the institution most responsible for the suffering of individuals involved in same-sex sexual relationships.

social sciences >> Overview:  Santería and Vodou

Santería, Vodou, and related belief systems comprise a complex of religious ideas, practices, and imagery whose origins can be traced to West African traditions.

social sciences >> Overview:  Sodomy Laws and Sodomy Law Reform

Sodomy laws, which provided the legal basis for police harassment of sexual minorities, were conclusively overturned by the United States Supreme Court in 2003, after more than half a century of efforts at reform.

literature >> Cliff, Michelle

Jamaican-born writer Michelle Cliff explores issues of race, class, and sexuality in her prose and poetry.

arts >> Coward, Sir Noël

Accomplished playwright, actor, composer, and lyricist, Sir Noël Coward was also a singer and cabaret performer; he dominated the British stage between the world wars, then reoriented his career in the direction of America.

arts >> Martin, Ricky

Singer Ricky Martin, whose good looks and sensuous stage performances fueled an extremely successful career in pop music, avoided answering questions related to his sexuality until 2010, when he came out publicly via a Twitter announcement.

social sciences >> Tatchell, Peter

British activist Peter Tatchell, a vocal proponent of glbtq rights since the early 1970s, is controversial figure even within the glbtq community.


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_____. "Gay Haiti 2003." Global Gayz.

"Britain Scraps Islands' Anti-gay Laws." The Guardian (London) (January 6, 2001): Guardian Home Pages, 7.

Chestnut, Mark. "Decision in Puerto Rico; Making Room for Lesbian and Gay Issues in a Time of Transition." Gay Community News (Boston) 18 (October 13, 1990): 7.

Dogget, Scott, and Joyce Connelly. Dominican Republic and Haiti. 2nd ed. Melbourne, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 2002.

Fineman, Mark. "Gay Cruise Fuels Debate in Bahamas." Toronto Star (March 7, 1998): G25.

Gay Times.

Gonzalez, David. "As AIDS Ravages Caribbean, Governments Confront Denial." New York Times (May 18, 2003): 1.

Graves, Amy K. "Outbound; Different Isles, Different Attitudes toward Gay Travelers." Boston Globe (February 23, 2003): M14.

J-Flag Jamaica.

Lewis, Linden. "Caribbean Masculinity: Unpacking the Narrative." The Culture of Gender and Sexuality in the Caribbean. Lewis Linden, ed. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003. 94-125.

McDowell, Edwin. "Gay Cruises Draw Hostility in Caribbean." New York Times (May 10, 1998): 5, 3.

Murray, David A.B. "Between a Rock and a Hard Place: The Power and Powerlessness of Transnational Narratives among Gay Martinican Men." American Anthropologist 102 (June 2002): 261-270.

Neufville, Zadie. "Jamaica: Facing Violent Homophobia, Gay Men Seek Asylum Overseas." Global Information Network (New York) (December 2, 2002): 1.

Nkonde, Mutale. "Another Gay in Paradise; Rampant Homophobia in Jamaica Led One Man to Flee His Home and Seek Asylum in the U.K.—But He Intends to Return and Fight." The Voice (London) (February 24, 2003): 16.

Peffer, Randall. Puerto Rico. Melbourne, Australia: Lonely Planet Publications, 1999.

Porter, Darwin, and Danforth Prince. Frommer's Caribbean 2004. Hoboken, N. J.: Wiley Publishing, 2003.

Ramírez, Rafael L. "Masculinity and Power in Puerto Rico." The Culture of Gender and Sexuality in the Caribbean. Linden Lewis, ed. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2003. 234-250.

Rohr, Monica. "U.S. Grants Asylum to Gay Man, Rules Dominican Faced Threat at Home." Boston Globe (September 5, 2003): B3.

Serrano, Pedro Julio. "The Face of Gay Puerto Rico." The Advocate 905 (December 23, 2003): 10.

Tatchell, Peter. "The Reggae Lyrics of Hate." New Statesman (London) 16 (September 29, 2003): 16.

Zarcone-Pérez, Teresa. "Marketing to Gay Community Heightens Ire of Legislator." San Juan Star (May 12, 2004): 38-39.


    Citation Information
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Puerto Rico and the Caribbean  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2004  
    Date Last Updated February 3, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
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    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2004, glbtq, inc.  


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