News from Montego Bay: Walk for Rights goes ahead, cultural centre battle goes on

Activists in Montego Bay, Jamaica, held their second annual Walk for Rights this week under heavy police presence. Meanwhile, Montego Bay Pride continues to challenge a ban on the use of the municipal cultural centre.

Pridegoers at start of Montego Bay Pride Walk for Rights
Pridegoers at start of Montego Bay Pride Walk for Rights


Submitted by Maurice Tomlinson

On Sunday, October 20, Montego Bay Pride held its second LGBT Walk for Rights as part of its annual Pride celebrations.  This year the Walk included representatives from the US, Canadian and EU diplomatic missions as well some tour operators that cater to the LGBT travel market who had been invited to Jamaica on a familiarization trip organized by the Jamaica Tourist Board.  

About 50 persons walked from Sunset to Dead End beaches under heavy police protection.

The atmosphere was joyous and attracted much curiosity from onlookers who were using the two popular bathing beaches. 

Sharlene Kessan-Duncan, coordinator of Montego Bay Pride, stated that the Pride committee was pleased with the level of professionalism of the police and gave special commendation to Superintendent Vernon Ellis.  “Superintendent Ellis supplied helpful advice after the mayor’s decision to ban us from the Montego Bay Cultural Centre whipped up significant homophobia in the city and threatened our entire Pride events. Thanks to his constant reassurances that under his watch the police would respect and protect the human rights of all residents of Montego Bay, we were confident enough to proceed with our plans for the Walk despite initial concerns. Thankfully, none of our fears materialized and the Walk went off without a hitch!”

Maurice Tomlinson, founder of Montego Bay Pride and the person who sued the mayor for banning the group from the Centre, also expressed satisfaction with the outcome of the Walk. “For me, the best sign of success of our Walk was the number of smiles on the faces of both participants and onlookers.  And there were smiles aplenty, especially from the guests in the hotels along the Walk route. Even the few detractors were drowned out by happy Pridegoers. It was exhilarating to see LGBT Jamaicans walking with police protection along one of the most popular routes in Montego Bay. It gave us a true sense of belonging.”

Montego Bay Pride is already planning for its next annual festival and will be reapplying to use the Cultural Centre to host some of its week-long events.”

‘Prejudice, not permits’: Activists continue opposition to Cultural Centre ban

Montego Bay Pride was barred from using the publicly owned Cultural Centre to host our events because the city’s mayor said that our presence would violate the “sacredness” of this secular space.  This bizarre allegation was made because, among other things, we intended to host a public forum under the theme: “Is Jamaica ready for same-sex marriage?” When we sued the mayor for violating our constitutional rights to freedom of speech, etc., his lawyer claimed that we were not able to use the space primarily because we did not have a permit.  This new assertion by the mayor is disingenuous at best and patently false at worst.  These are the facts:

  • The website of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre makes it clear that all applications to use the venue must be made directly to the Centre, not the city. We followed this procedure and had confirmed bookings for our events. We have used the Montego Bay Cultural Centre on multiple occasions and were never advised that we needed to apply for permits from the city.
  • Even so, the regulations for a city permit seem to suggest that an application cannot be made more than a month before an event. However, the mayor’s statement banning us from the Cultural Centre was made more than a month before Pride, so we had no chance to apply for the permit.
  • When we contacted the Cultural Centre’s management, they told us that based on a meeting they had with the mayor, we could no longer use the venue.
  • On Oct. 14 we won a court injunction allowing us to host our events at the Centre and then immediately applied for the city permit because we had an event scheduled for Oct. 16.
  • It appears that a permit can be processed in one day for an urgent gathering, similar to the impromptu Kanye West concert at Emancipation Park this weekend. However, before our permit could be issued, the Court of Appeal stayed or halted the interim order and it was subsequently overturned.

Therefore, we can conclude that the mayor of Montego Bay banned us from using the Cultural Centre due to prejudice not permits. He should have the guts to own his bigotry.

We were denied our Constitutional rights, including freedom of expression, on a technicality.  However, we will now reapply to use the Centre using the process that the mayor now insists upon. Hopefully this time we will be treated fairly.


Written by Ruby Pratka

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