Rowell: Cayman’s homophobia has British roots

As a queer Caymanian woman, I was happy to hear the news of Justice Smellie’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage in Cayman. Rights gained for our community should be celebrated, and I am so grateful for the other LGBTQIA+ people in Cayman who made this possible, including Chantelle Day, Vickie Bodden Bush, and those working with Colours Cayman.

However, I am disappointed with the community’s response to the ruling, both those in favour and those against alike. More specifically, it is ironic that so many allies continue to ostracize Caymanians and our culture from a pedestal when queerphobia in Cayman is undoubtedly a legacy of British imperialism. For example, “buggery” laws criminalizing homosexuality were carried by Britain to its colonies in the 16th century, and although Britain decriminalized homosexuality over fifty years ago, these laws haunt former (and current) colonies to this day. Moreover, it is clear that for many Caymanians, homophobia is rooted in Christianity, another export of the British empire.

Little can be understood about Cayman without accounting for British colonialism and how it lives on today. Part of the reason the anti-LGBTQIA+ movement is so strong in the Caribbean is that it serves as a populist stance against imperialist forces. Although I agree homophobia and transphobia has no place in our community, if we look at the current political climate through the lens of Cayman’s colonial history, it is understandable that Caymanians are worried by changes that they view as imposed by outsiders. And the origins of queerphobic attitudes should come as no surprise.

In discussions surrounding the recent ruling, British expats in Cayman fail to account for their motherland’s influence. They call Caymanians “uncivilized” and complain about the religiosity the British themselves imported. They complain that “developed” countries do not have these issues, that they are more progressive, without realizing that “developed” countries have accumulated their wealth by exploiting the people and land of their former colonies. And supposedly we’re the ones who are backward.

To our British allies: please understand and be accountable for the fact that homophobia in the Caribbean has a colonial legacy. I am tired of seeing British allies approach homophobic Caymanians with an ahistoric superiority. Rather than pointing fingers and using racist tropes to shun Caymanians for homophobia (i.e. calling us “uncivilized”), think more critically about the ways you approach allyship and the ways you can support queer folks in your daily life. Also, be aware of colonial power dynamics and the racism that runs deep in our community.

To other Caymanians still grappling with the recent ruling: I deserve to live regardless of whether or not you think I’m going to hell.

Madeleine Rowell




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