Sunday, January 23, 2011

Opening up 2011 on the "Wide Open" Seas

I started the New Year with a vacation. There were a few reasons for the timing but one of the biggest reasons was that I found a remarkable deal on a 10-day cruise leaving from New York City.

I’ve traveled quite a bit but this would be my second cruise. The first was some fifteen years ago and one word to describe it would be forgettable. But this time would be different. My research was exhaustive. There is a plethora of information available online about cruising to the point it was almost overwhelming; however, I found a site that was not only comprehensive but it also had a message board for a variety of communities, including a fairly active board for its LGBT members. So the spoiler here is – this blog posting is NOT about my marvelous Caribbean adventure but more about a posting I responded to on this LGBT message board.

This board was incredibly resourceful. And for someone fairly new to the “cruise world,” it was beyond helpful with respect to all the areas it covered – from what to take and how to pack, to which cruise lines were more gay friendly, the difference between gay/lesbian cruise lines versus the alternative to what destinations to consider. Things were fine until the destination question popped up and there was considerable discussion about the island of Jamaica.

We all know that the world is not free from homophobia. And Jamaica has had its share of the spotlight due to its roster of reggae artists whose lyrics are rift with homophobic sentiment to a rash of violence inflicted upon its own alleged LBGT citizens. So I was not surprised to see the topic was raised on this message board regarding how unsafe the island was to LGBT tourists. Many spoke of their uncomfortable experiences while at port – everything from taunting and verbal humiliation to one poster suggesting that “a female prostitute grabbed his crotch.” While I agree that Jamaica is not the friendliest destination to those of us in the LGBT community but I was taken aback by the vitriol of some of the postings - for example, one poster made an off-color comment about Rastafarians and their “scent” and dare someone mention that their own experiences on this Island nation were far more pleasant than others. Clearly, Jamaica is not alone in its sheer ignorance with it's continued legacy of discrimination that seems to go unchallenged. And I felt that I had to post my own personal feelings on the subject:

With respect to the deep seated discrimination and homophobia within Jamaica specifically and what was suggested in other regions of the Caribbean - I am in complete agreement that these areas should be avoided and these countries should not benefit from "gay $$$" until some high level corrective action is taken in safeguarding LGBT tourists but also, measures should be taken and enforced to protect the rights of their own LGBT citizens. The taunting and harassment experienced by LGBT tourists is not as severe as the treatment experienced by the natives/citizens of these countries - treatment that often ends in the violent rape of lesbians and trans-gender individuals but also the murder of LGBT citizens - crimes that are rarely investigated/rarely prosecuted. Although this fact is obvious to some of us - it only serves to remind as that as US citizens - the fight to eradicate this type of persistent behavior through the years has been largely successful in this country with quite a distance to go I may add - however, the war to do so in other areas of the world, specifically in developing nations, is in its infancy (code word here: 'developing') and dare I mention the word “colonized” nations.

Sadly, discrimination is not something easily fought/eradicated and is something rather complex. I remember "coming out" back in the eighties and although I understood then that the great US of A wasn't necessarily the most accepting place for many, women and blacks specifically along with other groups who continue to fight for basic human rights. The homophobia I would face within my own community was another daunting issue inside of a community that was having its own growing pains just a couple of decades after the civil rights movement. But what I wasn't prepared for was the discrimination within the LGBT community itself and when I say discrimination I am speaking distinctively about racial discrimination. That was something I will never forget whether it was something as superficial as an awkward visit to a gay/lesbian bar to not seeing myself reflected in gay publications, literature, media, art etc. These days when the 'community' speaks of diversity, it is referring to Bears versus Chelsea/Muscle Queens versus Drag Queens versus economic/class differences versus political preferences, etc - often not necessarily referring to racial or gender diversity. Apologies for being long-winded but in other words, what I'm trying to say is no group is exempt from prejudice/discriminating/discrimination - and this is a somewhat vicious reality. What's going on in Jamaica needs to stop - without question - and threatening this nation by not giving them the “gay dollar” is not nearly enough because trust me, they wouldn’t miss it. But it’s been over twenty years since my coming out and although some things have improved for many within the LGBT community - to me it's obvious that some things remain the same for others.