Will economic motives boost LGBTI rights in Caribbean?

What is the role of economic incentives, perhaps including boycotts, in encouraging homophobic countries to recognize the human rights of LGBTI people? Jamaican/Canadian activist attorney Maurice Tomlinson and A.C., a reader of this blog, discussed that issue in the following interchange.

First, excerpts from a blog post by Tomlinson on May 11, 2015:

Will tourist-dependent Barbados risk staying anti-gay?

Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of International Planned Parenthood Federation)
Maurice Tomlinson (Photo courtesy of International Planned Parenthood Federation)

… [Barbados] is overwhelmingly religious and depends heavily on high-end tourism from countries with strong protections for LGBTI people. At the same time, the World Bank recently stated that the island’s economy is struggling, with a lower growth projection than Haiti. Let that sink in. …

I suspect that the opening up of Cuba will be particularly difficult for Barbados. This is because Cuba will be much less expensive but equally exotic. Even more impressive is the fact that the communist state is becoming very LGBTI friendly. For example, the daughter of the Cuban President held a symbolic mass gay wedding last weekend, as a hopeful precursor to full marriage equality on the island. This is happening at a time when gay tourism is estimated to be worth US$2 billion annually. Other islands in the Caribbean, such as Curacao, are therefore making a play for gay tourists and our allies, by marketing themselves as inclusive….

Barbados can either a) try to become more tolerant of LGBTI people and thereby remain a viable player in a lucrative tourism market, or b) reject human rights for gays … and suffer the economic consequences.

A.C. responded to Tomlinson in a comment on that blog post:

Don’t threaten Caribbean nations over LGBT rights

While I support your efforts for LGBT rights in the Caribbean, I don’t think anyone should be holding any Caribbean state to ransom by basically stating that we need to embrace the LGBT community or your economies will suffer because the LGBT tourists will stay away or go elsewhere in the Caribbean. This sends the wrong message, and many people in the Caribbean will resent this statement no matter how true. We should repeal anti-sodomy laws and be more tolerant and accepting because (1) Discrimination in all forms is wrong and (2) It’s the right thing to do.

Tomlinson thanked A.C. for his comment and then stated:

I do believe in positive provocation

Barbados Pride flyer
Barbados Pride flyer

Please note that I have never called for a boycott of any Caribbean country over their stance on LGBTI rights.  In fact I am encouraging LGBTI persons and our allies to visit Barbados for Pride that I am helping to organize on Nov. 27-29.

Please see the flyer for this event [at right], as well as the one [below] for Montego Bay Pride on Oct. 25.

However, I do believe in positive provocation and I encourage persons to stay at Truly Inclusive Resorts (see an article which I wrote to that effect) while sending a message to anti-gay establishments as to why they are losing business.  I am also trying to get cash-strapped Caribbean states to realize that in addition to the obvious human rights and health arguments for repealing these odious anti-gay laws, there is a financial incentive as well.  Barbados in particular could benefit, as seen from this article that I posted: “Story with a moral: 2 gay tourists, 1 anti-gay merchant.”

The practicalities of social justice mean that we sometimes have to appeal to self-interest if we want to achieve change.

Flyer for Montego Bay Pride in Jamaica
Flyer for Montego Bay Pride in Jamaica

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, and editor / publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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