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Impoverished, Jamaica still rejects gay tourism dollars

Rainbow colors of sarongs in Jamaica (Photo by Steven Gruber courtesy of Pinterest)
Rainbow colors are on display in Jamaica in sarongs, but not in tourism. (Photo by Steven Gruber courtesy of Pinterest)

Jamaica was recently selected to chair the United Nations World Tourism Organization. Ironically, our homophobic laws and practices cuts the country off from a very lucrative segment of global tourism, namely gay travelers. Together, the estimated spending power of this group is about US$140 billion annually. Just a portion of that sum could effectively eliminate Jamaica’s national debt, which currently stands at about US$20 billion.

Jamaica’s financial situation has steadily worsened since its independence 51 years ago. Recently our dollar, which was worth more than the U.S. dollar at independence, crossed a psychological barrier and now values less than 1 U.S. cent.  Thanks in part to our spiraling debt and worsening economy, we have had to enter into yet another painful agreement with the International Monetary Fund. Incidentally, we had bid farewell to the IMF a few years ago with much bravado. Now we are back with our tails between our legs begging for assistance.

Recognizing the tremendous value of the “pink” tourist dollar, many Caribbean nations are now aggressively marketing themselves as gay-friendly destinations. For example, Curacao will be holding its first-ever national gay Pride this year and the event is being supported by the government.  Even countries with anti-gay laws like St. Lucia and Dominica have welcomed gay cruises.  Many taxi-drivers I have met in these countries claim that gay tourists are “huge” tippers and craft-vendors rejoice as their exquisite souvenirs fly out of their stalls. An amusing story was told to me by one store owner in Dominica who said she loved gay tourists as they always bought out her entire stock of sarongs!

Despite this potential windfall, the Jamaican government desperately clings to an archaic British-imposed colonial law as a sign of our “independence.” This act of national suicide is being carried out to appease the island’s powerful fundamentalist religious groups whose leaders live palatial lives from the tithes and offerings of an increasingly poor and struggling Jamaican populace. But, at least they have the “luxury” of their bigotry!

The whole situation would be hilarious, if it weren’t so desperately tragic.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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