Is The Bahamas Safe For LGBT Visitors?
Last week, a subscriber to my YouTube channel, This Bahamian Gyal, asked me a question that serves as the inspiration for this week’s column.
The subscriber in question is an American transgender woman, who wants to travel to The Bahamas this summer for her 30th birthday.
She reached out to me after she saw a video I did on The Bahamas and wanted to know whether she would be safe in the country.
It’s not the first time I’ve been asked that question. Americans often ask me if The Bahamas is truly safe for gay and transgender people.
It’s a valid question considering the Caribbean’s checkered past with the LGBT community.
I told my subscriber that The Bahamas was indeed safe for gays and transgender people who are visiting. However, there was a whole lot of fine print in my response. I wasn’t about to pretty up the situation because she was asking me this question on a public forum.
The Bahamas Is Safe For Trans Visitors, But Not Tolerant
Firstly, I explained that she needed to be mentally and emotionally prepared to deal with some Bahamians who would likely stare at her or make off-colour comments. And secondly, I noted that Bahamians tend to have a bit more tolerance for gay and transgender visitors than they do for Bahamians who are gay or trans.
Many Caribbean countries have been criticized for their homophobic and transphobic stance against the LGBT community.
Jamaica, for example, is seen as one of the most homophobic and transphobic countries on the planet.
A 2014 Human Rights Watch report noted that Jamaican LGBT youth were “taunted, threatened, fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, beaten, stoned, raped and even killed” because of their sexual lifestyles.
To make matters worse, there are no human rights protections in place to guard against discrimination.
While The Bahamas may be nowhere near Jamaica in terms of violence towards gays and trans people, our country’s reputation is stained.
In 2017, Adrian Brown, a gay tourist from Atlanta reported being attacked during the Junkanoo Carnival festival. Brown told reporters that he was dancing by himself when some men threw water at him. The US Navy worker said when he confronted the men, they attacked him.
“I was dancing by myself to the music when I felt a splash of water on my back. I turned around to see what had happened. When asked why the water was thrown on me, they responded, ‘You’re a sissy battyman’,” he said at the time.
That incident made international news and even led to a public rebuke by local gay and trans activists. Sadly, our attitudes have not changed.
We Treat Our Own People Badly
A lot of gay and transgender Bahamian face discrimination and judgment over their lifestyle choices. Over the years, I have interviewed many gay, lesbian and trans people who have detailed the difficulties they encounter every day just being themselves.
Things are so bad, in fact, that dozens of Bahamians have abandoned The Bahamas altogether in favour of a life in Canada, the United States or the UK. Those countries are attractive because they are not only more tolerant, but offer more protections to their community.
In the US for example, there are state and federal laws that protect against hate crimes.
Several years ago, journalist Karissma Robinson did a documentary for ZNS called The Underneath that detailed what transgender people go through on a daily basis in The Bahamas.
In that documentary we witnessed Bahamians unabashedly voicing their opinions about the LGBT community. And it’s not pretty.
The documentary also featured a young transgender woman who said she was forced to escort to earn a living because she couldn’t find a job. Another transgender woman talked about being laughed at when she submitted an application for a job. She said Bahamians look at trans people as “a joke.”
One of the common themes I witnessed in that documentary was how trans women and men were bullied in school or physically attacked in their adult lives.
It was embarrassing, not to mention hurtful, for me to tell that American transgender woman that she would be safe knowing that I could not say the same for local trans women.
I have interviewed many gay and trans activists who talk about the treatment gay, lesbian and trans people receive when they go to police stations or the hospital. They often report being laughed at, ignored or taunted. And sadly there are no repercussions for those unprofessional officers or hospital workers.
If Bahamians think the wider LGBT community is going to be ok visiting a country that welcomes their dollars, but doesn’t want them, they are sadly mistaken. LGBT visitors are not going to be ok knowing they are going to be safe, but Bahamian members of the community aren’t.
The Bahamas Needs Every Visitor Now
The Bahamas, like most of the world, is struggling financially, due to the impact Covid-19 has had on our economy.
Many visitors, particularly North Americans, are staying close to home, fearful of getting sick or stuck in a foreign country. Travel restrictions and requirements are also discouraging travelers. So, The Bahamas needs every visitor it can get.
We should be doing everything we can to make our country inviting for all types of guests, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a previous column, I noted that The Bahamas should target pink dollars. According to LGBT Capital, the community’s purchasing power is estimated around $3.7 trillion globally.
The LGBT community has proven time and time again that it has serious economic power and they support the countries and businesses that value them.
Below, you will see my YouTube video on this very topic. Be sure to subscribe to my channel today!