by Justin Perez (University of California, Irvine)
Gay and lesbian tourism companies have, in the past several years, taken a turn for the calculative. More and more, we are seeing rankings like Spartacus International Gay Guide’s “Gay Travel Index” which purport to determine which countries are the friendliest for gay and lesbian tourists, and which are not. * Belize, according to the “Gay Travel Index” is currently ranked 122nd in the world, tied with countries like Syria, Bahrain, and Haiti. Based on indicators like “locals hostile, “pride banned,” and “religious influence,” an instance like the one covered in this article could perhaps negatively affect Belize’s already low ranking on this type of list.
Yet, what do reactions to efforts at courting foreign lesbian and gay tourists illustrate (or not) about the lived experiences of sexually non-normative people in a country like Belize? In the article San Pedro resort offers LGBT bash! But anti-gay activists protest! (Milan, 2015), we see that the proposed LGBT pride event organized by a private resort hotel generated a reaction by an evangelical leader, condemning the event and offering claims that a counter-event will be organized around the same time. This reaction can certainly be understood as another instance of what Bosia and Weiss (2013) have called political homophobia. That is, as “a conscious political strategy often unrelated to substantial local demands for political rights” (Bosia and Weiss 2013:2). Although in the article the evangelical leader’s critique is masked with religious rhetoric, his vague understanding of what the event will actually entail as well as his equally vague proposals for what he plans to do, show how perhaps this is less about “morality” and “immorality,” and more about Stirm strategically capitalizing on a platform to espouse homophobia in popular online media.
Of course, this further provokes additional questions about what the existence of lesbian and gay tourism opportunities really says about the sexual rights of the people who live in such tourist destinations. This event, just like Belize’s ranking on a tourism company’s website, offers a partial vision of erotic justice in the country. For example, are gay and lesbian Belizeans assured the same protections by police as they have been assured to the foreign tourists who may be spending as much as or more than $3000 for the week-long event? While it is important to be cautious about celebrating the existence of lesbian and gay tourism and equating it with tolerance or progress, it is just as important to be attentive to the ways that homophobia actively shapes the lives of sexually non-normative people.
Bosia, M., & Weiss, M. (2013). Political Homophobia in Comparative Perspective. In M. Weiss and M. Bosia (Eds.), Global Homophobia: States, Movements, and the Politics of Oppression (pp. 1-29). Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield: University of Illinois Press.
Milan, A. (2015). San Pedro resort offers LGBT bash! But anti-gay activists protest! The Reporter Newspaper. June 19. Retrieved from http://www.reporter.bz/front-page/san-pedro-resort-offers-lgbt-bash-but-anti-gay-activists-protest/