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Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Gay tourism: Has just slandered four countries?

By Paul Canning

One of the UK's top travel websites, cheapflights UK, has issued a press release about the best and the worst places for LGBT tourists.

There's little surprise that top of their list of the worst places for the gays to visit is Jamaica and their PR made the news in Jamaica, whose press seems concerned about its image abroad but constantly rehashes claims by Jamaican police that actually the problem is those 'batty boys' bashing each other, the phrase 'lover's tiffs' being a constant.

Cheapflights 'top five' also includes Fiji, Poland, Nicaragua and Mauritius. Their PR makes reference to sodomy laws but homosexuality is only illegal in Jamaica and, kind of, Mauritius. Some of the other countries have - legally speaking at least - been far more advanced than either the USA, which got rid of sodomy laws through a Supreme Court decision in 2003 or the UK which only adopted anti-discrimination in employment and services law in 2007.

'Worst places to visit', really?

Take Fiji for example. This was one of only two three countries in the world which has included protections against discrimination on sexual orientation grounds in its constitution (the others are Bolivia and South Africa). However the 1997 constitution which did this has been abolished (the country is currently run by the military and expelled from the Commonwealth) and in 2005 there was a high profile arrest and jailing of an Australian tourist but the following year the government announced a new policy of no arrests.

One of the common sources for information on otherwise ignored countries like Fiji is GlobalGayz. That carries two negative and one positive story about being gay in Fiji. A Fijian wrote to them seeing the negative stories saying "I definitely don’t agree about these negative views about Fiji and how they deal with gays."

He did say that "in the small village areas here I would advise visitors to be cautious due to cultural sensitivity. Fijian villages are very conservative and respected places therefore I believe it is fair to show mutual respect to village beliefs and traditions." And the removal of all remaining vestiges of discrimination in criminal codes by the Fijian government since 1 February this year did cause the Women’s Action for Change group in Fiji to express concern over a possible violent public backlash.

The Foreign Office does not provide country-specific travel information and the company told me that "the research was done through Cheapflights editors and obtained from various online sources.  It wasn't specific user feedback."

Well according to numerous online sources, Fiji hosts a number of 'gay-friendly' resorts.

Having a (monthly) ball in Mauritius

Although, according to ILGA, a sodomy law remains on the books in Mauritius, there is also an active gay movement represented by the Mauritian LGBTI organisation, Collectif Arc-en-ciel. There have been Pride marches and there has been serious discussion around anti-discrimination laws with the government including sexual orientation in its 2008 discrimination bill.

~ Mauritius ~Image by KhayaL via Flickr
Nicolas Ritter, Collectif Arc en Ciel Vice-President, told LGBT Asylum News: "if by “gay destination” you mean a place where you can find saunas, gay and leather bars, gay hotels and nude beaches, well in that context you are right. There are no such things in Mauritius. Mauritius is not and will never be a place like Sitges, Mikonos, Sydney or San Francisco."

There is "an old Victorian law" but it's not enforced and police don't bash gays. They're onto their fifth Rainbow Parade and fourth LGBT film festival - only South Africa in the African continent also features such events. Mauritius even signed the UN declaration against discrimination related to sexual orientation - which South Africa did not.

On the Island there aren't gay bars "but you will find gay people in all popular bars. We don’t have gay beaches but if you are a single man (or even a couple of men) lying on a beach, you will be approached but our local gay boys VERY quickly.

Every month his group hosts a 500 strong party.
"Classifying Mauritius as part of the top 5 worst destinations for gay tourists is really exaggerated and actually…not true! In fact, I would even go as far as saying that Mauritius is among the top five BEST Gay touristic destinations… least in our part of the world!"

Poland has sexy plumbers, says their Tourist Board

Poland, as a member of the European community, does not have sodomy laws. In fact it hasn't had them since 1932.

As a Catholic dominated country, there has been a movement against further recognitions of gay rights, particularly of same-sex couples, although here there has been progress such as their recognition by Warsaw's Municipal Transport Authority, and LGBT have faced problems such as in organising Pride parades. But discrimination has been banned on grounds of sexual orientation since 2003, four years before the UK got around to it.

After nasty attacks on the “Polish plumber” by French anti-EU campaigners, the Polish National Tourism Office came up with this advertising response (the laissez passer part of the slogan is a response for EU freedom of movement, )
There has been some reporting of gays fleeing Polish persecution but others saying it's actually economic.

Polish gay activist Lukasz Palucki told us: "Of course migration was economic. Polish gaylife (found in Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan, Lodz and Gdansk) is much smaller than in Berlin but MUCH better than in all eastern European countries - clubbing in Warsaw is better than Stockholm."
"Poland had had four gay monarchs. It is one of the very few countries in the world where homosexuality was never a crime (!). In fact, medieval Polish has a word for today’s ‘gay’: mężołóstwo and this neutral word is 800 years older than 'homosexual' or 'gay'."

Gay Pride in Managuga runs to a fabulous salsa beat

Nicaragua does not have sodomy laws either, though they were only abolished in 2008. It also has a hate crimes law which includes sexual orientation.

After the Sandinista revolution in the 1980s many cities actually had official LGBT Centres as the revolutionary insurgents included many openly LGBT people. However since their demise the Catholic-dominated country has faced a backlash against LGBT rights. President Ortega, a former Sandinista, has kow-towed to the church, most notoriously with the world's most restrictive abortion law.

Despite all that Pride parades have taken place in the capital Managua, here's the one in 2006 (which looks like a lot of fun).

Nicaragua has gay bars and gay hotels operating openly. Which is more than you can say for Iran or Iraq or most of North Africa.

As a piece of PR aimed at attracting gay interest, Cheapflights have scored a big fat zero (do a Google search). What struck me though is the assumptions and perfunctory research behind it, western assumptions, all too often seen and lying behind them the assumption that, for gays and lesbians, there can be no better place to be than the 'West'. True for much of the world but far from all of it.

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