Column: Being Queer in the Dominican Republic

Credits: Photos By Ramongs

Columnist Angelo is part of the lgbtqia+ community and has been staying in the Dominican Republic since last year. In today’s column you can read all about his experience on the island. Curious what life is like for someone like him there? You can read about it in this article. 

I very often get the question or the comment: you went to live in a country with so many people with closed minds, why? Or, “aren’t you afraid they’re going to hurt you?”. So I decided to write a column about it. 

You should know that there is a double standard in the Dominican Republic. This is probably one of the few (for me), but biggest, drawbacks of the island. People behave completely different in public than in private. The Dominican Republic is a religious country, but that is why it is so striking that there is a double standard. God is worshipped on high and in the same breath there is partying and cheating. Not to mention the attitude towards LGBTQIA+. Women who are too loose or too open sexually can also face discrimination. That while more than half of men listen to music that encourages sexually transgressive behavior.

Couples consisting of LGBTQIA+ persons unfortunately do not have the same rights as straight couples here. There is – thankfully – no legal prosecution or penalty for being in a same-sex relationship, having sexual relations with someone of their own sex or being cross-dressed. But same-sex marriage or union is not recognized in any form. So in other words, of all the legal benefits, there is no question. Should I fall in love with a man here, I cannot get married here. Nor would I be able to get a residency permit here as a result of marriage. For that, I would have to get married in Belgium. But obtaining a visa as a Dominican to get married abroad is also a challenge, I’ll keep that story for a future article. 

Free to be myself

In terms of the recognition of homosexuality, transsexuality or any other form that is not heterosexually conforming, there is certainly still work to be done. But, I have to say right away: apart from the strange looking from a distance, I personally have noticed little negativity. People always look at something strangely that they wouldn’t do or wear themselves. But I think that has little to do with whether someone is straight or gay. Even straight people who are dressed too flashy or too elegantly get looked at. 

Still, here in the Dominican Republic I feel freer to be myself. This may be due to the fact that here I have less contact with clients. Everything I do is done online. And in my free time I can be myself, however colorful and striking I want to be. I don’t know the people here anyway, I think! And if they have a problem with how I look, it probably has more to do with them than with myself.

I also think that the fact that I am white and European plays a huge role. I do hear a lot that for people who did grow up queer in the Dominican Republic, life is a lot different. Foreigners are often viewed with a different set of eyes. Tourism and the income generated from it are a major source of the island’s prosperity. That’s exactly why I think I can get away with a lot more or people judge less. 

If I may add: I was attacked in broad daylight in Belgium (in our capital Brussels) together with a friend.  I have also been called names many times in Belgium because of my orientation or how I am dressed when I go out. Here in the Dominican Republic, I have not experienced that once. It’s funny because my outfits here are more striking than they have ever been in Belgium. 

Events and parties 

Coming to the Dominican Republic on vacation and hoping that as a queer you will come across a party where you can be completely yourself is easier than you think. Cities like Punta Cana, Santo Domingo and Santiago are known for their vibrant nightlife, even for the LGBTQIA+ community. Also in cities like Cabarete or Las Terrenas, where you would not immediately think that there is a real gay scene, you will find clubs and parties with surprising themes. Sometimes you have to search for a club that is really meant for queers, and not just a gay friendly bar. Because there is a big difference. 

My favorite place in Santo Domingo is 717 in the Zona Colonial. I went there in February for the first time and fell in love with the place and the people. Even in Belgium I’ve never been to a place where I could express myself as freely as here. No judgement and be 100% you, is the core of this location. That is one of the reasons why I am very proud to call myself their brand ambassador. In the meantime, I am busy with the organization of my own event that will take place in July this year.

I also went to the Festival Isle of Light. For the Belgians reading this; you can compare it to a small version of Paradise City in Brussels or WeCanDance in Zeebrugge. There is something about festivals all over the world that brings people together and even makes them forget that they have an opinion about others. Isle of Light was no exception! It was the perfect mix of fantastic artists, a dazzling setting and a runway full of unique and striking looks. 

Even outside of parties or clubs, queer people find each other; they either get together at home with friends or have fun somewhere in a park. 

Credits: Adrian Bisono

Social Media 

If there is one place where people like to give their unsourced opinions, it is social media. Social media is easy because you can comment on someone you don’t know, without that person ever having to meet you. So you don’t have to take responsibility for it either. That’s the dark side of social media; everyone thinks that everyone is waiting for an opinion. 

And it doesn’t matter whether you live in a country like Belgium or a country like the Dominican Republic. So in that respect I don’t notice much difference. Although I might even say that people here are more open to, for example, posting a selfie that is somewhat revealing. You notice that a Latin American country is much more ‘caliente’, so posting a (half) nude on Instagram is not so shocking. In Belgium people tend to draw wide eyes or judge more quickly. And I just love my body (I train hard enough for it) and creating content that lives on the edge of art and sex. It’s my creative outlet where I can really let myself go. And I get an extraordinary amount of love and support in return from my fans here in the Dominican Republic. 

I started posting on TikTok since early March and my community has grown to almost 8k followers in the meantime. Most of my followers are Dominican. I post very openly about my sexuality and also get asked the question often in my lives. I don’t often notice opposition or hate. On the contrary, I get a lot of positive reactions. Occasionally there is a bad apple in the mix, but even then my community stands up for me. The support on TikTok is really heartwarming.

Huge side note: there is still a serious underrepresentation of queer personalities in the local media. There are radio stations and YouTube channels where topics can be discussed, but they are not big enough or known well enough nationally. As a result, a large part of the message, which actually more people should hear or see, is lost. Unfortunately, this also means that there are too few role models that young children can look up to. Or where they can see themselves in and realize that everything will be all right.

So the next time someone asks me why I live in the Dominican Republic as a queer, I’m just going to refer them to this article. Because I probably can’t explain it better than this. Now I’m incredibly curious about your opinion though. If you are Dominican and queer, how do you experience life here? Do you agree or do you have a different opinion?

This article has been written in collaboration with @ANGELO VERO

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