Tuesday, May 6, 2008

No gay kissing allowed in the Cayman Islands?

It's clear that queers in Canada enjoy a bit of an oasis, an open-minded paradise in a world still largely homophobic and hostile to our human rights. It's easy to take that for granted, only to occasionally be reminded of different, more hateful attitudes still prevalent in many other places. Take the Cayman Islands, a place I wouldn't have assumed would be so homophobic. But this incident last week seems to have shone a rather negative light on the British territory.

Twenty-three-year–old Aaron Chandler from Amherst, Massachusetts was dancing at a local club, the Royal Palms, with his partner last Wednesday night. His partner’s sister and brother–in–law also came along to the popular nightspot. The two gay men were showing each other some affection on the dance floor and, to their surprise, were asked to stop.

"I do display affection when I’m with my boyfriend, publicly," said Mr. Chandler. "It’s never anything most people would consider obscene however; usually it’s in the form of holding hands or a quick kiss."

Mr. Chandler and his partner ignored the requests to stop and continued dancing and showing affection. About a half hour later – about 11pm – an unidentified woman approached the two men and asked Mr. Chandler to follow her to meet a friend. The friend turned out to be an off–duty police officer.

"He told me he did not want me to show public displays of affection," Mr. Chandler said. "He said it was against the law for two people of the same sex."

Later on, just before his party was going to leave the Royal Palms, Mr. Chandler said he kissed his partner again.

"The officer grabbed my wrist and told me he was placing me under arrest."

Mr. Chandler and his partner were detained for a while by the police, but were never charged.

You can also read about this story here and here.

Now of course any gay men who showed open affection in a place notoriously homophobic as Jamaica, Egypt or Saudi Arabia could be accused of stupidity. But Chandler and his partner were on vacation in a British territory. This story struck a chord with me due to the fact I could easily picture myself in Chandler's shoes. How would I react if strangers in a bar on vacation demanded I stop showing open affection to the love of my life and threatened to arrest us? It's hard to say.

Most gay men in Canada use a certain amount of discretion when it comes to public displays of affection. For me, I don't typically hold my partner's hand in public anywhere, except during Pride festivities once a year in the downtown Toronto core. I simply don't like the stares we receive the rest of the time, so we don't do it. Call it internalized homophobia, if you will. However, we will on occasion hug and kiss in public and no one in Toronto (or anywhere in Canada, as far as I can tell) really seems to mind such quick displays of affection.

This incident shows how lucky we are in Canada and how far the rest of the world still has to come to catch up with us. It's one thing to succumb to one's internalized homophobia, it's quite another to be forced under alleged power of law to stop showing one's partner the affection he deserves. Sad, indeed.

***************UPDATE (May 7, 2008)*****************

Good news: Aaron Chandler received this week a written letter of apology from the Cayman Islands's Director of Tourism, Ms. Pilar Bush.

"On behalf of the entire Department of Tourism, I apologise for your upsetting experience and want to assure you that the Cayman Islands is a welcoming jurisdiction to all people," Ms Bush wrote to Mr. Chandler. "What happened to you was an isolated incident, and is not representative of Cayman. We know that thousands of gay and lesbian visitors travel to the Cayman Islands every year and enjoy their vacation."


Jay said...

Never do it in Alberta. Not all of canada is as hospitable as toronto and the rest of eastern canada. I was in the vicinity of a gay bar alone in Calgary and was gang beaten. I wasn't even with anyone to be affectionate. In other words, west of Ontario, excluding southern BC is no different than the Caymans and I would even go so far to say they are as bigoted as what you find in jamaica. Nothing to be proud of as a Canadian there unless you enjoy watching ducks die in toxic sludge.

Matt Guerin said...

Very true, Jay. I don't spend much time in Alberta (any in fact) for that very reason. They're definitely the problem child of this confederation, yet thankfully outnumbered by more reasonable, progressive folk.