Jamaica: Price rise puts an end to Montego Bay dispute

A $100,000 increase in the rental rate for the Montego Bay Cultural Center has led Montego Bay Pride to drop plans to use it — and also to drop its lawsuit seeking the right to use it.

Montego Bay Cultural Centre (Photo courtesy of MontegoBayCulturalCentre.org)

The organization issued this press release today:

Montego Bay Pride no longer interested in Cultural Centre

200% rental fee hike uneconomical.

February 27, 2020 — Following a dramatic 200% increase in the rental rate for the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, the Montego Bay Pride Planning Committee has decided to look elsewhere to host its future events. Today at the hearing of the case challenging the mayor’s ban on our use of the venue in October 2019, we also advised the court that we will be discontinuing the matter as there is now little point in proceeding.

Last October Montego Bay Pride was banned from using the Centre after mayor Homer Davis objected on the grounds that our activities would violate the “sacredness” of the space. Former mayor and current councilor, Senator Charles Sinclair also claimed that one of our activities, a public forum on whether Jamaica is ready for same-sex marriage, would go against the Constitutional bar to the recognition of any form of same-sex unions.

Montego Bay Pride through our founder and development coordinator, Maurice Tomlinson, sued the mayor for breaches of, inter alia, constitutional rights to freedom of expression and assembly.

Montego Bay Mayor Homer Davis: “We must not do anything to disturb the sacredness and purpose of why that building is there.” (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Gleaner)

The Supreme Court granted an interim injunction on October 14 allowing Montego Bay Pride to use the venue pending the full trial, but this was overturned two days later by the Court of Appeal citing a technicality that no municipal permit was issued for our events.

On November 27 at a case management conference in preparation for today’s hearing the judge suggested that a simple way to resolve the matter was for Montego Bay Pride to reapply to use the Cultural Centre and at that time mayor Davis and Councilor Sinclair should recuse themselves from the decision about the permit, since they had already expressed their objections to Montego Bay Pride using the venue. The judge also stated that the constitutional rights of all Jamaicans should be respected.

Montego Bay Pride therefore wrote to the Cultural Centre and identified a possible date for our public forum in February 2020, but we were advised that the rental rate for the venue had skyrocketed from $50,000 to $150,000 as on January 1, 2020.

As Montego Bay Pride is a small grassroots festival this rate is beyond our budget, especially for a two-hour public forum meant to accommodate no more than 50 persons. We will therefore be looking at other options to have this critical discussion.

We also discontinued our action against the mayor as we feel that we have made our point, as noted by the judge at the case management conference: ALL Jamaicans must be granted equal access to public spaces. This is regardless of sexual orientation or other factors.

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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, and editor/publisher of Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at [email protected]

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