Commentary: Why Jamaica Pride is important

In the following commentary published today in the Jamaica Observer, J-FLAG leader Dane Lewis explains the importance of Jamaica’s first Pride celebration. See also:

Why Jamaica Pride 2015 matters

By Dane Lewis

Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG (Photo courtesy of J-FLAG)
Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG (Photo courtesy of J-FLAG)

I am ecstatic that after seven years as the head of Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), we can stage our first pride celebration under the theme ‘The Pride of a People: Breaking the Rules of Oppression’.

PRiDE JA 2015 is being celebrated because, in spite of all the challenges, we can demonstrate our resilience as a community, build a sense of pride and belonging in being LGBT Jamaicans. We will use the occasion to increase our visibility as a people, showcase our talents, and allow ourselves to talk about where we are and where we must go.

For many, the label of Jamaica as one of the most homophobic countries worldwide is told through the daily experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Jamaicans. Just two years ago, transgender teen Dwayne “Gully Queen” Jones was murdered in St James on July 22, 2013. Last year, 80 incidents of discrimination, threats, physical attacks, displacement and sexual violence, among others, were reported to the organisation. And, in the last six years, over 100 reports of displacement and homelessness were reported to us. These incidents are perpetrated in public spaces, educational institutions, health care facilities, at the workplace, and in many other spaces.

Our crisis intervention manager has also seen an increase in the number of people seeking crisis support from J-FLAG from 298 people in 2013 to 448 in 2014. However, despite the realities, Jamaica is changing slowly and moving in the right direction to make the country a more hospitable place for LGBT Jamaicans. More entertainment and cultural spaces are being created for the community, by the community; several key government ministries have taken steps to seek to improve the human rights situation for LGBT people, particularly LGBT youth; there are several capacity-building initiatives for duty bearers regarding how they treat with LGBT people; and more and more people who identify as LGBT are using their agency in their communities, places of employment, church, civic activities, and social spaces to advocate for, and claim the right of every LGBT person to be.

Promo for symposium about coming out in Jamaica, which is part of PRiDEJA 2015.
Promo for symposium about coming out in Jamaica, which is part of PRiDEJA 2015.

#PRiDEJA2015 is therefore a time for us celebrate as a proud, resilient LGBT people who continue to break the rules of oppression as we strive for equality, equity and justice. We are using the occasion to celebrate LGBT life and culture in Jamaica. The ways in which we have come together to celebrate our community has been part of the ways it survives; allowing a space for people to get away from the negatives and live. LGBT Jamaicans are becoming bolder and braver, more visible and actively participating in different forms of advocacy in a variety of spaces all with one aim: equality for all.

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.

I invite you to join us as we celebrate PRiDE JA 2015 from August 1 to 8 to showcase the lives of LGBT Jamaicans in the spirit of community, love, and unity as we continue to challenge discrimination and exclusion, and instead replace with equality, respect, and inclusion.

Dane Lewis is executive director at Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG). Send comments to Observer or [email protected]

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]


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