It was an extraordinary Emancipation/Independence holiday in Jamaica, in more ways than one.
It was a “first.” One could even say that history was made. J-FLAG, the non-governmental organization that supports and advocates for the Jamaican LGBT community, held its first “Pride” celebration under the theme: “The Pride of a People: Breaking the Rules of Oppression.”
I would really recommend an excellent, detailed three-part series by the Antillean Media Group (AMG), which includes an interview with the marvelous Latoya Nugent – a dynamic, focused and extremely hard-working woman whom I spoke with a few months back (when she first mentioned plans for a Pride celebration). By the way, Latoya was almost unrecognizable in her full “Pride” costume! Part One of AMG’s series is here: http://www.antillean.org/emancipendence-and-pride-jamaicas-first-official-lgbt-celebrations-signal-turning-tides-876/ I will just add a few of my own thoughts…
There were doubts. Some Jamaicans told me they thought it was a most inappropriate time to have a Pride celebration, since the holiday is about tradition, about celebrating Jamaica. But Pride was intended as a “positive” event, too – recognizing the achievements of the LGBT community so far, acknowledging the successes, and reinforcing the national motto “Out of Many One People.” The word “Oppression” in the theme is heavy, but quite appropriate in the context of Emancipation.
So, on Emancipation Day morning, a group of young J-FLAG activists staged a “flash mob,” danced to soca music and enjoyed themselves for fifteen minutes under the watchful eyes of armed policemen, next to the statue on the corner of Emancipation Park in New Kingston. The statue has become a convenient, suitable spot for protests and demonstrations by Jamaican citizens (usually with more police than demonstrators). Most passers by are motorists, who cannot usually stop for long, but who can toot their horns or shout out of their window. The few pedestrians who might pass by are usually wandering visitors, who aren’t going to be greatly concerned, some of whom might want to take a photo or two of the lumbering statue on the corner. It is not a busy spot, and Jamaican demonstrations/protests are generally very well-behaved!
Some journalists were there. Much of the local media did not appear to know about it in advance, and media coverage was not extensive either before or after – with one or two media houses noting there was going to be a Pride parade – a report which J-FLAG immediately corrected; there were never any such plans. There was a touch of Hollywood, though; movie star Ellen Page was there, garnering more overseas attention.
So that was the public part of the celebration. The Opening Ceremony was that same evening (a heartfelt thank you to USAID for their support once again). It was attended by the Mayor of Kingston Angela Brown Burke (and enormous kudos to her). There were several other musical and social events throughout the week, by invitation only. Due to my illness, which has kept me at home for ten days now, I did not attend any of the events, so I did not really get a “flavor” of them, at all. So I will leave you with some of these wonderful photos, which demonstrate the exuberance, the optimism, and the sense of progress.
By the way, Minister of Justice Mark Golding also put out a statement endorsing the Pride events and calling for greater tolerance. This is excellent and quite unprecedented for a government minister, I believe (although one must always bear in mind that politicians always have their agendas – but it doesn’t hurt!)
The Jamaican LGBT community has come a long way. There is still a long way to go. One step at a time. As the very bright media person Joi Ito said: