It has to be said, and I have to put it on record: PRIDE 2016 was a tremendous success in Jamaica.
Last week’s series of events was “incident free” (as the media would say). There was no harassment; no stone-throwing crowds appeared on the horizon. No bad behavior, just pure fun, with a bit of serious stuff that kept everyone focused on their purpose.
Executive Director of J-FLAG (organizers of PRIDE) Dane Lewis and his young team are still on a bit of a “high” from last week. The numbers were “impressive,” said Lewis – over 500 for the opening Sports Day, for example. The events – ranging from social get-togethers to volunteering to meetings with a more serious theme – were extremely well organized and flawlessly executed, while losing none of the spontaneous enthusiasm that is the spirit of PRIDE the world over.
So what was significant about the second ever PRIDE event in Jamaica? Here are some key points:
- Some years ago, J-FLAG was seen as an “elitist” uptown organization that was hesitant to reach out to less privileged members of the LGBT community and the wider society. This has steadily changed. The affiliate WE-Change (a young team, just over a year old, serving Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) Jamaicans) is also a member of the 51% Coalition. WE-Change has helped to expand its reach and invigorated the organization with a range of dynamic and focused programs. Members of the Colour Pink Group are also included.
- The week demonstrated the power of partnerships. Representatives of non-governmental organizations and government agencies attended many of the events. The support of some diplomatic missions was also unequivocal and highly visible: The U.S. Embassy lit up in rainbow colors quite beautifully; the Canadian High Commission also added its flair and hosted the launch as Tropical Storm Earl approached; Ambassador Jean-Michael Despax was happy to raise the rainbow flag outside the French Embassy; and the European Union delegation in Jamaica tweeted a series of supportive messages. This is not just token support; throughout the past few years, J-FLAG has hosted a number of events on a range of topics that have attracted similar support – and active participation – from organizations like UN Women, and a faithful (and growing) band of allies.
- The success of all the events showed that the LGBT community is now visibly showing its support for J-FLAG – and for each other.
- There is a sense that times are changing. Simple as that. The LGBT community wants to be able to participate on an equal footing as Jamaicans, with and for Jamaicans. That is the so-called“gay agenda.” The gay agenda is equality, as citizens of Jamaica.
In Dane Lewis’ words:
“The community showed up and came out in a big way, which says a lot about how much trust there is for the organization – knowing we will do everything to create safe spaces for us to celebrate ourselves and our community. But truth be told : J-FLAG, and all we do, is about a movement. It’s heartwarming to see the community coming along with us to be part of the shift in consciousness, showing that we can celebrate who we are despite what people say or think or do. As one friend said – no more parties in the shadows way up in the hills. We not hiding anymore. The business community is coming along with us as well and this is heart warming.”
When I asked him what is the biggest challenge going forward, he simply told me: “Being able to follow 2016 with something even bigger and better!”
Congratulations to the hard-working team at J-FLAG on a happy and successful PRIDE celebration. I look forward to PRIDE 2017!