PRiDE Jamaica – celebrating resilience and triumph
PRiDE Jamaica 2015, organised by J-FLAG and observed during the country's emancipendence celebration from August 1-6, was phenomenal for LGBT Jamaicans and the country at large. The theme - The Pride of a People: Breaking the Rules of Oppression - resonated with LGBT people in every nook and cranny of this island as they reflected on the struggles they have faced because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, and celebrated their resilience and triumph in different spheres of their life.
I doubt many of us have grasped the tremendous impact the pride celebration has had and will have on the country. It was well executed and, thankfully, incident-free.
Can you imagine we live to see the day when there are local and international news headlines that are not about Jamaica - 'the most homophobic place on earth' - or that someone has been savagely beaten or murdered because of who they love or their inability to perform the gender roles society decided for them? Jamaican attorney Melissa Simms shared she was happy "to have seen the positive images and stories, [because] too great a platform is given to those who chose to misrepresent the issues". The media have not been very open to promoting the (little?) positive aspects of Jamaica's LGBT community and movement over the years. But it's difficult to ignore the euphoria that swept across Jamaica last week.
Kudos to Latoya Nugent, J-FLAG's education and training manager, and Simone Harris, her PRiDE Ja planning committee co-chair and face of pride, who conceptualised the week of activities. Their committee members and hard-working volunteers who worked tirelessly must also be thanked. Special commendations to the persons, including the Minister of Justice Mark Golding and Mayor of Kingston and St Andrew, Dr Angela Brown Burke, who so boldly and courageously showed their support. Big up Tea Tree Creperie, Susie's, Chillitos and Opa, who provided 'pride discounts' for the period. You have all made history! Jamaica is indebted to you all. Your dedication and bravery have not gone unnoticed.
PRiDE Ja 2015 was significant because many LGBT Jamaicans believe they must live a lie all their lives because all they see are negative stories about people who identify similarly or are perceived to be LGBT. You hardly see, hear or get to know someone who is LGBT and doing something positively for the country - someone you can look up to and be inspired by. Instead, you are subjected to alienating yourself to live. Showing LGBT Jamaicans - young ones especially - that, though not commonplace, there is another reality is, therefore, a necessity. They need to know it's not all a death sentence.
a great disservice
We have done our young people a disservice by making them believe life - regardless of the label(s) you bear, gay or straight - is only possible overseas (read USA). We have done our young people wrong by not promoting the positive aspects of the LGBT community more. While I agree it is important to raise awareness about the prevalence, and impact, of homophobia, we must appreciate that we cannot continue to do so at the expense of ignoring the community's resilience and how they are achieving and progressing to make 'Jamaica the place of choice to live, work, raise families and do business'.
We should (continue to) invest in positive narratives about our country. It is an obligation. Sharing the experiences of those who have been victims is very important, but we must also recognise that it doesn't do much for the oppressed. It silences them. Narratives of hopelessness, discrimination and violence get people riled up (for various reasons) but it often silences and 'invisibilises' the very people we are trying to help.
As Dane Lewis, J-FLAG's executive director said in January 2013, in a release launching its self-affirmation We Are Jamaicans campaign, "the diversity and the complexity of Jamaica's LGBT community is masked by media and advocacy narratives that too often focus on sex, victimhood, crime and HIV. These themes are not identity-affirming and they sometimes further entrench the marginal position of LGBT people in the society."
J-FLAG has managed to use PRiDE Ja 2015 to do what the We Are Jamaicans Campaign was able to achieve minimally - 'interrupt prevailing discourse on LGBT realities in Jamaica [and create opportunities] for Jamaicans to see and hear about the experiences of LGBT people.'
Let us never forget that there is a lot of struggle for the vast majority of LGBT people. Notwithstanding, I believe we can also celebrate and use what's good about Jamaica to improve the situation for the lives of LGBT Jamaicans.