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Study Finds Different Attitudes to Homosexuality in St Lucia

Attitudes towards homosexuality and experiences of homophobia in St Lucia are vastly different between the north and south of the Island, according to new research.

Psychologists found that as a result, some people were adopting different identities to suit which part of the Island they were in, as a mode of self-protection from abuse.

In addition, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) people reported how they faced more or less tolerance depending on their skin colour.

Jimmy Couzens, a Psychology PhD student at the University of Worcester, and two of his PhD supervisors, Dr Berenice Mahoney and Dr Dean Wilkinson, have carried out the first ever experience-based research about homophobia in St Lucia and the first study of regional disparities in tolerance towards LGB people in Caribbean Islands.

LGB participants reported experiencing greater levels of homophobia in the southern region of the Island compared to the north - which those interviewed perceived as much more tolerant of LGB people.

This disparity was linked, by participants, to the lack of capital investment in tourism, education and social development in the south compared to the north.

In keeping with these differences, the findings suggested that LGB people living in or traveling to the south of St Lucia often experienced anxiety and distress due to overt displays of homophobia and the worry they would face abuse and hatred.

“They reported they didn’t feel safe in the southern region and being in the south made them feel very anxious and distressed,” said Mr Couzens.

“Many LGB people moved to the north of the island because they felt safer there.”

Those spoken to revealed how LGB people would often shift between a heterosexual identity in the south and an LGB identity in the north.

This is also one of the first studies to explore the concept of racialized and skin colour-oriented homophobia – the varying levels of tolerance towards LGB people based on their race and skin colour.

The study results found dark skinned LGB visitors and locals report experiencing greater levels of homophobia than their lighter skinned and white peers in St Lucia.

The interviewees spoke of dark-skinned LGB people supressing and concealing their LGB sexual identity to avoid the racially targeted homophobic tension on the Island.

However, this suppression and concealment of their true sexual identity had led to sadness and depression for many.

Mr Couzens said: “This study found that dark skinned LGB people often suppressed and concealed their sexual identity to protect themselves from hatred and abuse, whereas their light skinned and white LGB peers are often able to openly express and explore their true sexual self and identity. Dark skinned LGB people’s suppression and concealment of their true sexual self and identity can often induce depression, anxiety, and stress - secondary to the worries of others finding out their true sexual identity and the abuse that would accompany this.”

The study identifies education as central to bringing about change for LGB people travelling to or residing in the Caribbean and argues for the re-education of local educators in order to tackle homophobia, a view reiterated by many of the participants.

The research was recently published in the Frontiers Cultural Psychology Journal.