Queer traveler Chaya Milchtein opens up about her eye-opening visit to Bermuda with her wife, explains the truth about the island nation’s stance on LGBTQ+ rights, and reveals its safe spaces for the queer community.
There’s something magical about the sunset in Bermuda, a popular tourist destination famous for its pink sand beaches and surrounded by blue ocean as far as the eye can see. The narrow island, just two hours by plane from New York City in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, is a relaxed vacationer’s paradise — home to a population of just about 64,000.
Bermuda was indeed a change of pace for my wife and me. While we’re seasoned travelers, we enjoy a rather fast-paced and jam-packed itinerary that often includes late leisurely dinners, plays, and burlesque. But in Bermuda, most establishments were simply closed after 8 p.m., aside from a small handful of bars and restaurants wrapping up service. Tourist activities mainly center on enjoying nature and the ocean, allowing visitors to simply slow down and soak in each moment.
Flip-Flopping on LGBTQ+ Rights
In queer circles, traveling to Bermuda might not seem like the ideal vacation destination. Those sandy beaches and crystal-clear waters that seemed so tempting start looking suspicious when a quick Google search highlights Bermuda’s “uno reverse” on same-sex marriage. It was initially put to vote in 2016, which didn’t pass. Gay marriage was then legalized in the courts before being rescinded with the passage of the Domestic Partnership Act.
After going back to the courts yet again, Bermuda’s supreme court struck the law down, and its appeals court declined to review it — but that wasn’t the end of the story.
Bermuda, while self-governing, is a British overseas territory, like the British Virgin and Cayman Islands. The island’s government continued to appeal the decision to strike down the Domestic Partnership Act, taking it to the United Kingdom’s Privy Council, which ultimately agreed with their interpretation, reinstating the act and, with it, the same-sex marriage ban in 2022.
To put things into perspective, Italy, and Greece, both popular European tourist destinations, haven’t legalized same-sex marriage. The United States doesn’t include sexual orientation or gender identity in its federal discrimination protections, and many areas of the country have laws that limit the rights of queer and trans people.
In Bermuda, domestic partnerships are permitted while same-sex marriages are not. Homosexuality hasn’t been criminalized in Bermuda since 1994, with the passage of the Stubbs Act. Sexuality was added to the Human Rights Act in 2013, protecting people from discrimination based on sexuality. Same-sex couples in Bermuda are allowed to adopt children. Transgender people aren’t explicitly protected by law, and there are no laws allowing for gender marker changes at this time.
Queer PDA and Safety in Bermuda
Many articles caution queer people against public affection while visiting Bermuda. “I have never felt endangered or in danger because of my sexual orientation or sexual expression or anything like that,” said Tiffany Paynter, executive director at Out Bermuda, reflecting on her own experience living on the island. “I’m able to hold hands freely in public with my partner if I like.” Paynter expressed that she can’t speak on the safety of every queer person and every situation but points out, “I don’t think that’s the case anywhere at any given time.”
My wife and I are very affectionate, holding hands and kissing pretty much everywhere we travel – very obviously clocked as dykes even when we’re not engaging in PDA. We ventured outside the traditional tourist neighborhoods that Paynter expressed were safe for tourists. We never once encountered a single person who even looked at us with disdain, let alone said something. We danced together, wandered the streets, slept at Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa in a room with a single bed, and fed each other in restaurants, never once feeling unsafe or unwelcome.
On the contrary, Bermudians were kind, welcoming, and generous with their time. If you’re looking for a little peace and quiet, Bermuda might be your dream island destination.
Queer Tips on Exploring Bermuda
The sunset in Bermuda is best enjoyed while sipping on an ice-cold drink and dining on fresh seafood at Aurora. Known for its “ocean-to-table” cuisine, Aurora stands out among all of the other fancy meals we ate on the island. Every dish was bursting with flavors that were both bright and balanced. That wasn’t limited to the seafood. The lamb chops, cooked to a perfect medium rare, were placed on a bed of couscous and a sauce. It’s one must-try entrée when dining here.
While a Google search won’t lead you to gay bars in Bermuda, Paynter said, “There are establishments that are owned by LGBTQ people and allies that you can frequent.” If you’re in Hamilton, she specifically recommended Rock Island Coffee as well as Casey’s Lounge, which “is known as a safe space for our community.”
Helmet diving with Hartley’s Undersea Walk in the Bermudian reefs is an experience I’ll be talking about for decades. While I’m not a big beach person, I love adventures in and on the water, so helmet diving was our obvious choice in water activities. After heading into the ocean and a brief safety talk, we donned wet suits (that fit on the first try!), and into the water we went. The helmets have oxygen pumped into them and clear glass for viewing, allowing us to weightlessly walk along the ocean floor, marveling at the utter beauty of the reefs and marine life while breathing normally.
During our tour with Unchained on the Rock in Bermuda, we learned about the rich history of Black Bermudians, who make up around 54 percent of the population. The husband-and-wife team, Liana Nanang and Ajala Omodele, showed us historical remnants around the island while discussing Black liberation, slavery, and resistance throughout Bermuda’s history, including current events. The tour was truly eye-opening and provided us with a unique perspective about the island we couldn’t possibly get from any other experience.
If you want to support queer Bermudians, “Come and vlog your experiences and share with the world what it is you encounter when you visit,” said Paynter. “Come for Pride! Every year, we have Bermuda Pride at the end of August. That’s the best time of year to come. Every year, we have a huge outpouring of community support, and it’s the biggest queer event of the year. People fly home to participate in it. It’s a real beautiful coming together of our community and our allies.”