The gay-friendly islands?


I live in Jersey in the Channel Islands and was shocked just before Christmas by a local headline from our sister isle of Guernsey about a children’s entertainer whose dog was maimed in a homophobic hate crime. It took five days for the incident to reach the national pink press and it was reported thus. The national report ends with the following statement:

“Guernsey currently does not have civil partnerships, or same-sex marriage, and gay couples cannot adopt.

“Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity has been banned in Guernsey since 2004.”

While this is true, it gives a somewhat skewed impression of the islands. Jersey does have civil partnerships and gay couples can adopt. We have just passed discrimination legislation based on race, which will come into force in 2014, and legislation regarding discrimination based on gender, sexuality, etc is expected to follow shortly. So, both islands are taking steps to bring their laws up-to-date and in line with UK law. This is not unusual and is not indicative of endemic homophobia. It always takes the islands a little longer than the mainland to legislate on any issue.

I don’t remember the last time there was an incident of a homophobic attack in either island, which is why this attack before Christmas was so shocking. It is a sad fact that in certain countries the attack in Guernsey would go unremarked because attacks like it, and worse, are so commonplace. The fact that this attack made the news is testament to its uniqueness. Whether the attack was truly the work of homophobes or whether, in fact, it was a group of disturbed idiots who decided to attack the entertainer’s dog for other reasons and “bolted on” the homophobic graffiti to make headlines in the local press, we may never know. Either way, I hope the Guernsey police make an arrest and prosecute the criminals to the full extent of the law for what they did to the dog.

The LGBT community in the islands, although small and quiet, is not hidden. The islands are, by and large, a place that accepts diversity with a shrug that says, “as long as you are contributing to the island, you’re welcome here”. We don’t have an annual pride parade but I’m not sure we need one. (If we did, we’d have got around to organising one – we’re pretty good at doing big summer festivals that attract tourists across the islands.) The reason a parade seems redundant is that 99.9% of the time we can be out and proud every day with no fear of reprisals for being who we are. I see gay and lesbian couples walking down the main high street hand-in-hand on my way to work every morning and kissing their partners goodbye without other commuters batting an eye. True, we have only one gay pub/club in Jersey and Guernsey doesn’t have any, but this is not due to bricks being hurled through the windows of such establishments. It’s simple economics; there just isn’t a big enough gay population to make a pub viable. So, our nightlife is the island’s nightlife, which means we are totally integrated.

When we brought in discrimination legislation in Jersey this year, there was much debate in the office where I work about whether it was needed. The general feeling was that legislation will not stop discrimination; education is the only way to really stop it. If someone wants to discriminate, they will find a way around the law and will lie about their reasons for hiring or firing employees, denying someone goods or a service, etc. As I said, on the whole, islanders are tolerant people and I don’t think that it is any coincidence that our standard of education and average grades are markedly higher than the UK’s every year. I believe that it is this fact, above all others, that makes the islands gay-friendly. The fact, therefore, that the islands lag behind the UK in their legislation on gay issues is not necessarily a benchmark for an anti-gay society. It may simply be a case of not needing legislation as urgently as the UK.

It’s the time of year when people think about holidays. If you are wondering where to go this year, there are worse places than Jersey for a mini-break. So, don’t let one isolated incident in Guernsey put you off.

(Update on the Guernsey case here: it is still a little unclear exactly what happened but Guernsey police have stated that the entertainer has withdrawn her allegation of a homophobic attack. It appears that the dog was injured by another animal or in a road accident, and not by a hammer attack. I am relieved by this turn of events as it confirms what I have experienced and always felt about the relaxed nature of the islands.)

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