This country constantly amazes me as you expect things to be a certain way – and they are not.
The Dominican Republic is a staunchly Catholic country, catholicism is the national religion and it is said that around 80% of the country are Catholics, albeit not all practising. In addition, in several areas you feel like you have travelled back in time, especially in the countryside where the donkey is the main form of transport, no running water and no electricity. So I expected that prejudices would also be as they were in the UK decades ago. But the Dominican people are very open, very friendly and accepting of who you are and consequently homosexuality is more prevalent here than anywhere else in the Caribbean, with perhaps the exception of Cuba. In fact the DR it is the most gay friendly country I have ever seen. However although homosexuality is legal, gay marriages are still not recognised.The capital city, Santo Domingo and especially the old part of the city known as the Colonial Zone, is especially gay friendly. There are gay hotels and gay bars and a lively gay scene. In fact throughout the country there are hotels and bars specifically for gay people, and almost all hotels are gay friendly. In addition there appears, at least on the surface, to be total acceptance by the local Dominicans.
Dominicans rarely call you by your name, but they will give you a nickname based what they see. I am slim and get called ‘flacita’ meaning thin woman or ‘rubia’ which means blonde as I have blonde hair. They call gay men a whole range of terms which are used to describe homosexuals ranging from ‘mariposa’ meaning butterfly or ‘pato’ meaning duck but as terms of affection rather than abuse.
Given the accepting nature of the country many gay expats come to live here, either alone or with their partners as they can live in peace and without the discrimination often found elsewhere.
When it comes to tourism though, things become even more interesting. I have written before about sanky pankies, who are men who go out with foreign women with the sole purpose of extracting as much money as they can out of them, by pretending to be in love with them. Well apparently more women are becoming aware of this scam, and more and more are tightening their purse strings. The result is that the previously heterosexual sankies have very intelligently adapted to the challenge and have somehow changed their sexuality and become gay overnight. They say that gay male tourists pay significantly more than the women, send more money to them and send it more often. I find it interesting that these men, and there are hundreds if not thousands, can be so ambidextrous and can change their sexuality at will. They can have girlfriends one day and a boyfriend the next.
The acceptance of people for who they are, irrespective of colour, religion or sexuality is very refreshing and I have spoken to several gay men who were surprised and delighted to find a country like this where they could live in peace without fear of discrimination.
Lindsay de Feliz lives in the middle of nowhere in the Dominican Republic with her Dominican husband, one stepson, 8 cats and 3 dogs. She was formerly Marketing Director of various financial companies in the City of London, and left the UK around 11 years ago to travel the world as a scuba diving instructor. She eventually came to the Dominican Republic on a 6 month contract, fell in love with the country and its people and stayed. Lindsay has a blog www.yoursaucepans.blogspot.com and is currently writing a book about her experiences over the last 10 years.
Read Lindsay's other Expat Focus articles here.