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Jamaica's beaches beckon everyone, but queer travelers need to exercise caution (Photo: Kyle Valenta)

7 Ways LGBTQ+ Cruisers Can Stay Safe in Jamaica

Jamaica's beaches beckon everyone, but queer travelers need to exercise caution (Photo: Kyle Valenta)
Troy Petenbrink
Ryn Pfeuffer
Senior SEO Editor
Kyle Valenta

Last updated
Apr 26, 2024

Read time
6 min read

Jamaica's stunning beaches, vibrant music, irresistible cuisine and rich culture make it a must-visit destination on Caribbean cruise itineraries. However, alongside its incredible spirit and landscapes, the island's reputation for homophobia and discrimination is a longstanding concern, with consequences for gay locals and travelers alike.

Statistics show that there are still serious dangers and concerns about safety for LGBTQ+ Jamaicans, though local groups are working to change laws and perceptions in the country. With that in mind, we've put together seven tips to help gay and queer travelers find their safety comfort zone while visiting Jamaica.

If you're looking for cruises that take these kinds of concerns into account, check out our round-up of LGBTQ+ cruises that cater exclusively to members of the community.

What Is the Safety Situation for LGBTQ+ People in Jamaica?

Jamaica's culture and landscapes are amazing, though the situation for LGBTQ+ folks can be dangerous (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

In Jamaica, conservative religious attitudes and laws continue to harm queer-identified locals with discrimination, violent assaults and worse.

A large survey released by the U.N Development Programme in 2023 showed that 83% of LGBTQ+ Jamaicans named violence as a major concern, while over half of respondents knew a queer person who was killed because of their identity. The same report indicated that even in healthcare settings or shopping and entertainment venues, large percentages of LGBTQ+ Jamaicans have experienced discrimination.

While local Jamaicans bear the brunt of these attitudes, foreign tourists aren't immune from threat. According to the U.S. State Department, Jamaican law contains specific prohibitions against "acts of gross indecency" – generally interpreted as any kind of physical intimacy – between persons of the same sex, in public or private. Punishment includes up to 10 years in prison. Dating apps have also become a means for targeting LGBTQ+ locals and tourists.

Additionally, Jamaica criminalizes sex between men with a colonial-era law that has yet to be eliminated. While attitudes vary – lesbian couples may encounter slightly more acceptance than gay men, and sex between women is not criminalized – harassment and violence persist and have affected tourists in the past, prompting cautionary travel advisories.

Local Groups Are Trying to Change Laws and Attitudes

Ocho Rios, as seen from a cruise ship (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

While progress is slow, change is underway for LGBTQ+ residents of Jamaica. Organizations like the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG) spearhead advocacy efforts, including a push to repeal archaic anti-gay laws and increase safety for queer people in Jamaica. The first Pride celebration in Jamaica took place in Kingston in 2015, and late in 2023, the first vogue ball was held by ConnekJA. The latter group hosts events in New York City and Jamaica to foster liberation actions for queer people both on the island nation and in the diaspora.

There have been calls for travel boycotts, but the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association (IGLTA) advocate informed travel over blanket bans. "We don't ever say, 'Don't go,'" said John Tanzella, President/CEO of IGLTA. "That's a personal choice. But we do say, 'Be an informed traveler.' Do your research in advance to find the places in Jamaica that will be safe and welcoming, or consult with a travel adviser or tour operator with experience with LGBTQ+ travel to Jamaica."

Safety Tips for Gay and Queer Travelers Visiting Jamaica

Consider a resort day pass if you're concerned about safety issues in Jamaica(Photo: Kyle Valenta)

If you're part of the LGBTQ+ community and your cruise includes a stop in Jamaica, here are some essential tips to ensure your safety while you explore the island's sights. Many are the same as you might take in other ports of call and involve general streetsmarts while traveling, but others are a more specific to the community.

1. Book your excursions through the ship.

Explore Jamaica safely by booking an excursion through the ship – major cruise lines partner with licensed, reputable operators who understand the repercussions of any homophobic incidents. You'll also have a local with you that knows the ins and outs of the local scene. Plus, you won't get left behind if the tour runs late. We've rounded up the best things to see in Jamaica to help you out if your cruise stops here.

2. Stay alert when traveling independently.

Book your own excursion? Look for LGBTQ+-friendly operators with solid reviews. Stick with group activities to feel safer and more connected. Traveling with a partner? Stay cautious. For women, expect stares if you look butch or masculine-of-center. Similarly anyone playing with gender identity might experience staring or being called out. Keep PDA to a minimum outside port and hotel areas. Stay aware and street-smart for a smooth trip.

3. Book a day pass at a resort.

Many all-inclusive resorts provide day passes for cruisers seeking a convenient pool or beach day during their port visit. Services such as ResortPass, Daycation, DayPass, and Resort for a Day offer the opportunity to purchase day passes at selected hotels and resorts, granting access to their amenities for a fraction of the cost of an overnight stay. It's important to note that each service varies in terms of pricing, amenities, and restrictions.

4. Be careful when using meet-up and dating apps in Jamaica.

While Grindr, Scruff and Tinder can be great for meeting new people while traveling, LGBTQ+ travelers should be wary. Some apps will warn LGBTQ+ travelers about local dangers posed due to discriminatory laws when you open them in Jamaica and other conservative destinations. There have been worldwide incidents where users have been scammed, entrapped or far worse, and that includes Jamaica. You'll even see warnings when you sign into some apps noting the safety situation for queer people.

5. Drink responsibly when you're on land.

In Jamaica, renowned for its beer and rum cocktails, you should monitor your alcohol intake. With the risk of crime and violence, impaired judgment is a genuine concern. Also, remember that drug possession is illegal despite offers from locals and what you might think about Jamaican attitudes about marijuana. Stay mindful of what you consume.

6. Respect Jamaica's local laws.

As outdated and harmful as Jamaica's laws on homosexuality might be, they're still the law and it's best to play it safe and abide by them. Sure, you might feel the urge to make a statement, but getting detained by Jamaican police for something as simple as holding hands probably isn't worth upending your vacation. Understanding Jamaica's laws for tourists can help ensure a safe and enjoyable visit to the island. If you're keen on making a positive impact, consider supporting organizations doing the work to change attitudes and policy in Jamaica, like J-FLAG or ConnekJA, when you're back home.

7. Stay on your ship if you don't feel comfortable.

Travel decisions for many queer travelers need to consider both your personal safety comfort zone and what's important for enjoying your own voyage. It's important to note that this applies for all destinations that are less tolerant of LGBTQ+ people around the globe. If you're not up for compromises, staying on your cruise ship is more than fine. It can help alleviate concerns about safety (and lets you enjoy the ship crowd-free). It's your decision – think about what safety in Jamaica looks like for you and go with what suits you best. To help you feel better about staying onboard, we've rounded up the reasons why skipping a shore day can be great.

Publish date November 13, 2019
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