Voices From Afar: Engaging and Empowering the Jamaican and Dominican Diaspora on LGBT Issues pt2
By Courtney Thomas
Part 2: Dominican Republic
“Being gay in the Dominican Republic is kind of a taboo,” a Dominican-American told me recently.
The Dominican Republic is one of the few Caribbean islands that do not criminalize homosexuality, but LGBT Dominicans face severe discrimination. For decades, activists have been leading the charge to advance the human rights of LGBT Dominicans. While they have made meaningful strides, there is more to be done. Engaging the diaspora community in the United States could help secure progress and shed light on the human rights problems LGBT Dominicans face.
To test this theory, I spoke with 10 members of the Dominican diaspora. I learned that the diaspora has tremendous influence over politics in the Dominican Republic. Dominicans living abroad have the right to vote in presidential elections, and in some cases can even hold political office. The people I spoke to visit their home country often, but they are more engaged with the culture and economics of the nation than the political scene. Crime, immigration, and social welfare are prominent concerns for the Dominicans interviewed, whereas LGBT policy issues are not a top priority.
Many of the people I spoke with explained that derogatory terms for LGBT people have become normalized in Dominican culture. LGBT issues are rarely discussed; when they are, many view this as the west imposing its values. Religion is the driving factor behind adverse attitudes toward the LGBT community. One participant said, “I have never really heard of an atheist Dominican.” I was happy that the people I spoke with did not share the negative views of many Dominicans. Instead, almost every Dominican acknowledged the injustices that LGBT people face in the country and encouraged fellow diaspora members to speak out and get involved in these types of human rights debates.
Despite hopeful prospects, it is unclear whether the Dominican diaspora will come together to help create meaningful reform on LGBT issues. No one I interviewed knew anyone involved in LGBT advocacy efforts, and many explained that engagement on this topic was extremely uncommon. However, the recent arrival of U.S. Ambassador Wally Brewster has brought national attention to the LGBT movement, and his presence has spurred a much needed dialogue on the human rights of LGBT people.
The Dominican diaspora has a powerful voice in their community both in the United States and abroad. They should contribute to a positive dialogue on LGBT issues and support the work of activists in their home country. By encouraging members of the diaspora to speak up on the human rights of LGBT Dominicans, we can work to change the hearts and minds of the Dominican people.