I want to go to Belize but I'm gay.
April 18, 2013 7:54 PM   Subscribe

So Belize has some pretty backwards laws regarding gays and who can and cannot enter their country. Is this something that we should *actually* to worry about? Or, what are some alternate travel destinations we should be considering?

So I've got a good amount of travel miles saved up, enough that I can have a free flight to somewhere in Central America or the Caribbean, and my husband and me are looking to plan a tropical vacation in the semi-near future, most likely backpacking-style. Belize is the destination that immediately sprung to mind. I've been before (albeit "closetedly"), and absolutely loved every moment of those six weeks. It wasn't until later that I learned, you're not supposed to go there if you're gay.

Is this something that is actually.. enforced? What are the risks and consequences of traveling to Belize while gay? What are some things we should be mindful of?

I definitely noticed, on the odd occasion, slight instances of homophobia and whatnot while I was there before, thought nothing scary or threatening (I was traveling with a group that included another gay guy, and met other gay travelers while there). But at the same time, I don't really feel like the people there spend the time and energy speculating whether or not someone might be gay or worrying about silly things like that. This is all going back 5+ years now. Have attitudes there changed since then? For better or worse?
My husband and I are not often assumed to be gay dudes even here at home (in fact, we are more often mistaken for brothers, or twins even, wtf). Obviously, we would know to be "discreet".

And what about getting through customs? Are they able to "tell" in some way that two dudes with Canadian passports are actually legally married (with different last names, and I don't even think the passports show the same address) if we don't tell them?


All that said, I'm not even that set on going back there yet, and I wouldn't mind giving my tourist dollars to a more hospitabe country, so I'm also wondering about some more gay-friendly destinations in Central America or the Caribbean that would offer some of the same things.. rainforest, beaches, caves/cenotes, ancient ruins, snorkeling, culture, and friendly people. I'd like to avoid Mexico. Costa Rica strikes me as expensive and a bit touristy (feel free to try and change my mind). How are El Salvador and Nicaragua? Jamaica is obviously out, but Cuba has crossed my mind. Any other Caribbean destinations we should be looking at?

Thanks!
posted by wats to Travel & Transportation around Belize (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
And by "not supposed to go there", I mean the country's official policy states that "Foreign homosexuals are prohibited from entering Belize." Like, c'mon, right?
posted by wats at 7:57 PM on April 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Puerto Rico is where you want to go. Not much gay-bashing, gender preference is protected by US law from discrimination by local businesses and gov't, and some great backpacking.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:30 PM on April 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Haven't been to Belize, but I've been through customs in Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Honduras and Panama, and I can't imagine you're going to run into any problems. They mostly care if you're wanted for a crime, have drugs on you and in Costa Rica and Panama, that you have a forward ticket to leave the country.

PDA's are something that are going to be risky for you in any rural areas (mostly catcalls from people, not so much violence, I don't think), but in many urban areas, a lot less risky. Leon, Nicaragua, has a pretty thriving gay scene from what I could tell -- a girl that I was dating down there took me to a gay bar, and it didn't seem very different from the more casual ones in the US. In general, the more touristy the area is, the fewer problems you are likely to run into. Also, as a couple you're less likely to run into problems than if you are hitting on locals. (which is also true for straight people, for what it's worth).

If you stay in resorts or in your more backpacker/party-oriented hostels, you're really unlikely to have any problems at all. I met a lesbian couple in a rural part of Guatemala who was doing a homestay with a family and even that was fine, though they kind of kept it kind of on the DL-- they held hands in public and that didn't cause any problems for them that I know of.

I can give you specific travel advice about those countries if you like, just memail me.
posted by empath at 9:30 PM on April 18, 2013


Data point: friends of mine who are women went there on their honeymoon a few months back--had no problems at all and/or didn't mention any issues. Could be that lesbians are less discriminated against there, I dont know!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 9:31 PM on April 18, 2013


And re: the police -- in all of those countries, the police are incredibly corrupt. If they are going to fuck with you, they will find a reason to do it, and it's usually just to extract money from you. Just avoid the police in those places in general.
posted by empath at 9:34 PM on April 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


I went to Guatemala for a few months last year with short trips to Belize and Honduras. I'm bisexual, hadn't heard about this (other than assuming that not being too obvious was a good idea) and it never came up in any of the official, customs type interactions.

In Guatemala, it was mixed. I had a few discussions (without coming out) with some educated, urban people and they were uncomfortable but had a sort of don't ask/don't tell feeling. On the other hand, I was part of a group that included a large number of very rural men and I wouldn't have discussed it with them and one of them who was possibly gay got harassed. It would be really unlikely that you'd be in a similar situation though (part of an archaeological dig that's not open to the public).

If you're okay with keeping is discreet, I think you'd be fine.
posted by raeka at 9:52 PM on April 18, 2013


I'm not gay. But 15 years ago I travelled briefly through Belize as a backpacker with a male friend. We shared a room, went out for dinner, took a boat ride together etc. Because it never crossed our minds we could be perceived as anything other than pals we did not perceive any risk.
posted by MuffinMan at 11:11 PM on April 18, 2013


Now is a good time to plug the U.S. State Department's new website with information specifically for LGBT travellers, available here! Obviously, much of this information would apply to Canadians, as well.
posted by whitewall at 2:38 AM on April 19, 2013 [8 favorites]


I'm gay and visited Belize with my girlfriend last year without event -- we had a great time. We were recognized as a couple only once, at customs actually. The officer asked us if we were traveling together and then made a comment something like, "Belize is very accepting" which was sort of weird but nice. (We had no idea "foreign homosexuals" were excluded -- is that true? I don't believe the comment was sarcastic.) We kept PDAs to a minimum and slept in rooms with two queen beds for the most part so we were inconspicuous. We were treated as good friends by our guides. I can't say what your experience would be, but ours was great. I agree that if you are discreet it will almost certainly be a non-issue.
posted by reren at 6:14 AM on April 19, 2013


I was recently in Costa Rica and I thought it was great. The touristy areas are a bit touristy - but area around Antonio Manuel Park is actively gay friendly. There are are laws on the books that protect from discrimination - and even though it's a Catholic country, the local seem relaxed about everything, but I would expect that descretion is still important.

We were in the areas around Playa Protero and Uvita which are less developed and it was awesome. We had beaches to ourselves many times. What was great about Costa Rica was that it was not Poverty Tourism. The locals have a very high standard of living and education. They were friendly and engaged with us and eachother on a very egalitarian basis. True - it meant things were not super cheap - but I was glad for it.
posted by helmutdog at 7:06 AM on April 19, 2013


Here's a very broad way to think of such matters. So many things in life come down to...money. A country or city whose life blood is tourism is going to be very protective of that economy, and arresting or harassing North Americans, the main source of tourist dollars for those tourism economies in the Caribbean and Central America, would be harmful to the livelihoods of so many people who depend on tourism dollars to feed their families. So you know what, I think anyone who harassed you there would actually be at risk of being lynched (figuratively) by the rest of the locals because harassing you could scare off more tourists, which in turn would mean less money coming into the local economy. So as long as you are a money-spending tourist, it would seem to be totally against their self interests to do anything short of making you feel fully welcome.
posted by Dansaman at 7:51 AM on April 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


I haven't been to Belize, but as a general rule of life, I would be very careful of any place where the official policy runs against you.

If a country's official policy was "It is illegal for Jews to come," I would not go there on vacation, no-how. Even if actual human beings said, "C'mon, that's just for show."

I see it as an upside / downside thing. Upside, Belize is one of many lovely tropical destinations. Downside, you're arrested and imprisoned because some official decided today was the day to crack down on the homos.

(Also, why would you want to support their economy?)
posted by musofire at 8:36 AM on April 19, 2013 [6 favorites]


I poked around a little and see nothing prohibiting entry to gay people. The prohibition seems to be in reference to immigration, not visitation. On the other hand, sex between men is illegal.
posted by reren at 9:41 AM on April 19, 2013


Slap*Happy: "gender preference is protected by US law from discrimination by local businesses and gov't,"

Just to be clear, there is no federal protection from discrimination on the basis of gender preference or sexual orientation in the U.S. Some states and localities have such protections, but not at the federal level.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:53 PM on April 19, 2013


My sister and her girlfriend have been to Belize together several times, always staying at a resort that caters to gays and lesbians. You should have have no trouble. If you have any further questions, I'd imagine the folks at Gay Travel Belize can help you.
posted by item at 2:57 AM on April 20, 2013


Haven't been to Belize, but have traveled a lot around the English speaking Caribbean. Two men traveling together shouldn't raise any eyebrows - most people travel with friends. Tell the locals you are a couple of guys who have heard the tarpon and bonefish fishing in Belize is great. That should explain the lack of wives. When approached by local pimps and whores, say you have wives at home and you are a good Christian. It works.

Homophobia is built in strongly to the culture, and if you are foreign and hanging with locals in a country rum shop you may be asked a bit about your culture's acceptance of certain sex practices - specifically oral or anal hetero sex - and your local friends will most likely not be thinking that you are Gay. In such cases, its easy to play prudish in conversation ("That would be disgusting! I have heard about some people doing that... but EWWWW!") This usually works wonders and establishes you as "normal." (Almost everybody I know who has been to Jamaica has been in this conversation.)

You may have to stoically bear a lot of night club sessions that are booming reggae songs about "battymen" and seem like no, it doesn't annoy you in the least. People can be very upfront about any outward display of less than aggressive masculinity. I was actually told by Island friends not to wear a pink t-shirt because it looked Gay.

In no situation, however, would you want to admit publicly that you are Gay, or even tolerant of any suggestion that you are Gay.

If this is acceptable to you, then enjoy the trip. If not, perhaps it might be better to visit Brazil or some place with an established Gay culture.
posted by zaelic at 4:49 AM on April 20, 2013


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