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Jamaicans Stage Milestone LGBT Pride Celebration

Celebrating Pride -- the banner at PRiDE Jamaica's opening ceremony. Public photo courtesy J-FLAG's Facebook page.

Celebrating Pride—the banner at PRiDE Jamaica's opening ceremony / J-FLAG's Facebook page.

In a first for the English-speaking Caribbean, members of Jamaica’s LGBT community made a courageous statement recently when they staged their first-ever gay pride celebrations on the island.

The week-long event included an opening ceremony that featured the raising of a rainbow flag, a flash mob in the island’s capital, and a showcase of the talents of local LGBT members:

Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) hosted a talent show as part of the island's first-ever gay pride celebrations. Public photo, courtesy the J-FLAG Facebook page.

Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) hosted a talent show as part of the island's first-ever gay pride celebrations / J-FLAG's Facebook page.

Although Jamaica has an international reputation for general intolerance towards same-sex relations, there were no reports of violence related to the pride celebrations. Strategically scheduled between Jamaica’s observance of Emancipation Day and Independence Day, the celebration, though muted, won the support of some local politicians.Kingston Mayor Angela Brown-Burke gave her support to the event during the opening ceremony:

I’m here this afternoon to support the LGBT and ally community in celebration of their resilience, in celebration of their reaching out over the last decade and more.

Justice Minister Mark Golding called on Jamaicans to refrain from violence against the LGBT community:

I support the right of all Jamaicans, including members of the LGBT community, to express their opinions through lawful means […]

As the LGBT community embarks on a week of activities to build awareness of the rights and needs of their members, I urge all Jamaicans to respect their right to do so in peace.

The event also attracted international endorsements: Canada-born Hollywood actress Ellen Page lent her support in person. Page, who “came out” publicly last year, participated in the flash mob organised by J-FLAG.

Latoya Nugent, the organisation's associate director, thought the event was a turning point for members of the Jamaican LGBT community, since so many people never thought they would see the day when a gay pride parade could take place on the island—especially without incident:

I think we will look back on this and see it as a turning point because many persons thought that it would never actually happen.

Dane Lewis, Executive Director of J-FLAG, speaking at the opening ceremony of the island's inaugural gay pride celebrations. Public photo courtesy the J-FLAG Facebook page.

Dane Lewis, Executive Director of J-FLAG, speaking at the opening ceremony of the island's inaugural gay pride celebrations / J-FLAG's Facebook page.

Dane Lewis, J-FLAG'S executive director, added:

The LGBT community remains committed to ensuring that efforts to squash our freedoms, silence our voices, restrict our agency, and derail our progress regarding the recognition, protection, and promotion of our rights will fail. We continue to demonstrate our resilience as a community, our emancipation from oppression, and our right to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people living, working, raising families, and doing business in Jamaica.

The hundreds of posts about the event on Twitter and Facebook were a mixed bag. Some Internet users believed the festival was simply too dangerous to be worth it:

By the time the pride celebration was complete, many people could celebrate a second time that no violence occurred:

Facebook user Martin Carroll expressed his delight at seeing Jamaica “growing up”, and Amandee Mendez questioned calling Jamaicans homophobic, in light of the success of the pride celebrations. Michael Stewart called for a “live-and-let-love” approach, where Jamaica’s LGBT members are left to do things their own way.

There were also many unsupportive comments, often written by individuals who justified their disapproval of gay rights with religion.

A country with strong religious sensibilities, Jamaican society's intolerance of gays has long been regarded simply as part of the island's cultural expression. There is a history of violent crimes against the LGBT community, and colonial-era “buggery legislation” is still on the books. Today, there appears to be a lack of political will to  enshrine equal rights for gays constitutionally.

Despite this legacy, what was recently unthinkable is now a reality in Jamaica—it's hosted a genuine LGBT pride event. Might it happen again? Whatever the enduring prejudices, there are proud Jamaicans willing to risk a great deal for their freedoms and right to be recognised.

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