There’s no way to sugarcoat it: LGBTQ rights in Jamaica aren’t great. It was the first country to constitutionally ban same-sex marriage, and, in 2006, Time magazine dubbed it “the most homophobic place on Earth.” But area activists say the situation has improved in recent years, and that the answer to the question, “Is Jamaica safe for LGBTQ travelers?” is now yes, as long as certain measures are adhered to.
Though fellow UN members regularly pressure the island nation to expunge its problematic laws, Jamaica defiantly keeps colonial-era “buggery” statutes on the books. The regulations condemn “gross indecency” — including innocuous hand-holding — and prescribes a 10-year-long prison sentence for sodomy.
In 2019, Jamaica’s two main political parties denounced same-sex marriage, gay adoption, and blood donations from LGBTQ individuals. But most disturbingly, the country’s anti-gay climate transcends social and rhetorical spheres. Members of the gay and lesbian community regularly field death threats, and activists have been murdered as recently as 2013.
In a 2016 poll of Jamaican residents, 88 percent of respondents said they disapproved of homosexuality, citing “highly devout” Christian beliefs. Moreover, Rastafarianism, another popular regional religion, also condemns same-sex intimacy - although several prominent Rastas have defended gay rights in recent years while advancing a “one love” platform.
Jamaican politicians regularly remind freedom fighters that homosexuality, in itself, isn’t illegal, and only concomitant acts are criminalized. Additionally, legislators argue that it has been over a decade since courts have convicted anybody under the controversial statutes, which is a promising development for LGBTQ rights in Jamaica.
Even in socially conservative countries, capital cities are usually more progressive, cosmopolitan, and gay-friendly, a maxim which half holds true for Jamaica’s capital, Kingston. While there is no gay area in Kingston, a few restaurants and bars are known as safe spaces for LGBTQ individuals and groups, and act as places to support and gather the local LGBTQ community.
Yet this information still begs the question, is Kingston safe for LGBTQ travelers? Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as welcoming as other Caribbean cities, especially ones in the British Virgin Islands. That said, if you follow certain measures and remain discrete, a visit to Kingston could be an eye-opening and fulfilling experience.
LGBTQ travel in Jamaica may seem like a bleak proposition, and you may think that it is extremely unwise for gay or lesbian travelers to visit the country. Yet, activists insist things have improved. So ultimately, is Jamaica safe for gay and lesbian travelers? A lot of people would in fact now say, “yes, it is.” After all, in an interview, Javevian Nelson, Executive Director of Jamaican gay-rights advocacy group J-FLAG, links a recent “public awakening” to improved conditions, and he admonishes the Time’s sobriquet as “an unfair label.”
If Montego Bay Pride is a litmus test for growing tolerance, Nelson’s view may be winning. In its first year, 2015, the event drew about 150 participants. By 2018 a little over a thousand people joined the festivities, including some Hollywood celebrities. Unlike prides in other countries, however, Jamaica’s celebrations don’t feature a parade because it’s too risky. Additionally, in an attempt to mitigate clashes, pride week event locations aren’t disclosed to the general public.
When weighing gay, lesbian, and trans rights in Jamaica, in addition to the pros and cons of a gaycation on the island, consider how great it would feel to bolster Jamaica’s LGBTQ community by supporting their businesses. You can do that by using misterb&b, a leading LGBTQ-travel website that lists gay-friendly guest houses and hotels in Jamaica. With this context in mind, why not consider a trip to the storied Caribbean isle, famous for its reggae music and ridiculously good food? By booking accommodations via misterb&b, you can support gay, lesbian, and trans Jamaicans while possibly making lifelong friends in the process.