JAMAICA– Last year J-FLAG executed the first ever public LGBT PRiDE celebrations in Jamaica, a feat that many thought could never be accomplished in a country notorious for anti-LGBT sentiments. Building off the momentum of a successful and safe staging in 2015, J-FLAG is now putting the finishing touches on planning the second PRiDE JA. I spoke with Neish McLean, one of this year’s co-chairs, to get his perspective on the return of Jamaica’s LGBT celebrations and how it has expanded for even greater community recognition, celebration, and success. This is Part II of the interview.
Sherine: How did J-FLAG come up with this year’s theme of “The PRiDE of A People: Celebrating a Community of Love”?
Neish: Every year IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia) is celebrated worldwide on May 17th. As part of that worldwide celebration, J-FLAG undertakes several initiatives leading up to and following May 17th. One of our flagship events during this period is the Annual Larry Chang Human Rights Symposium, named in honour of one of the founding members of J-FLAG, Larry Chang. The symposium is a themed event, and this year the focus was on love in intimate relationships.
Often when people talk about LGBT people within the context of intimacy and relationships, it is characterised largely by promiscuity and instability. By celebrating love in intimate relationships we are able to reframe ideas and challenge negative stereotypes about how LGBT people experience love. We are a diverse community of love, with people who have fears and dreams and make sacrifices, people who love deeply and commit to each other in their intimate relationships. We wanted to show what love really looks like for LGBT persons, that there’s diversity in our relationships, and that contrary to populist views, we do have successful, long-term relationships.
The theme resonated well with the community and general public, and we decided that PRiDE would be an excellent space for us to delve even deeper into to the theme and explore love even beyond intimate relationships. Love is a powerful theme, and we are excited to celebrate it in families, among friends, among colleagues, and in the arts. We especially want to show that there are families who do love and support people in the LGBT community, and that we too have created our own support groups and our own family units with love at the centre.
Sherine: Do you have any interesting details to share from your planning sessions this past year?
Neish: The planning of PRiDE is quite consuming. It’s almost as if all other ‘unrelated’ work has kind of stopped. Everything has to be put on pause for PRiDE. But what else can you expect? PRiDE is the biggest celebration in Jamaica for the LGBT and ally community for the entire year! And the staff is fully aware of this, so we put in all the hours needed, we sleep less, but we have fun! It has been a really great atmosphere at the office each day since planning commenced.
We come together every two weeks for ‘Wednesdays on the Deck’ to talk about what each member of staff has been doing in keeping with the initiatives outlined in our annual work plan. It’s an initiative geared towards strengthening the relationship among staff. One Wednesday we had a PRiDE-themed edition, and it was heartwarming for me as one of the co-chairs to see the staff dedicate so much of their time and skill to making PRiDE a success. The committee is very grateful. I think what excites me the most is the competitive spirit of the staff for PRiDE JA Sports Day. Most staff members are on two of the four teams, and the camaraderie/rivalry has been real interesting.
Sherine: What’s one way you’re building up support for PRiDE JA 2016?
Neish: Last year we had an “iSupport PRiDE” campaign. This year we have a similar campaign where people can use our ‘Celebrating PRiDE Jamaica’ frame and twibbon to show support. We have encouraged persons to place their pictures in our ‘Celebrating PRiDE Jamaica’ frame and use it as their profile photo across social media platforms. Over 200 persons have done so to date.
Neish: Our first event for PRiDE will be our Sports Day on August 1st. It has really taken on a life of its own, with much buzz on social media, although it has been one of the hardest activities to coordinate. We will have four teams vying for the PRiDE JA Sports Day championship trophy and sectional prizes. To increase early interest from the community, we opted to use One Drop (team yellow), Needle Eye (team green), Bruk Back (team red), and Raybans (team blue) as team names, given their popularity in Jamaican Dancehall at the moment. Each team is led by a captain and will have 50 athletes plus supporters. We are expecting at least 500 persons to attend and/or participate. Our feature sports will be netball, volleyball, football, track and field, and cheerleading. We will commence at 9:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m.
On that evening we will have our official PRiDE JA Opening Ceremony, focused on acknowledging the importance and value of PRiDE to Jamaica; launching the week of activities; and awarding members of the LGBT and ally community, businesses, and organisations that have tremendously served the community. It is also a time for us to reflect on what we have achieved as a community since PRiDE JA 2015 and have a good time. This is where we will have the raising of the Rainbow Flag, the cutting of the rainbow cake by a couple from the LGBT community, and certainly some live performances. This is our smallest event, and it can accommodate a total of 100 persons.
On August 2nd we will be hosting our Open Mic Nite simultaneously in Montego Bay and Kingston, featuring spoken word and music performances. The community really enjoys this kind of vibe as it gives them the opportunity to express themselves in a safe space and showcase their talent. Collectively, we are expecting over 500 persons to attend.
Wednesday, August 3rd will be our symposium. Since the theme of PRiDE this year is “The PRiDE of A People: Celebrating a Community of Love”, the theme for the symposium is “Love in Families”. We are expecting over 300 persons to attend this event.
The Museum & Art Gallery and Trade Show will take place on Thursday, August 4th. We will be premiering Rainbow Revolution, a 48-minute documentary produced by Kaneal Gayle about the first public PRiDE Celebration in the English speaking Caribbean: PRiDE JA 2015. We will have three screenings of the documentary throughout the day.
Our gallery will be showcasing artwork created by members of the LGBT and ally community including several pieces from Larry Chang’s collection. The gallery will also feature several images of the ‘Face of PRiDE’ – Dexter Pottinger, images from our staff photo shoot and PRiDE JA magazine, and a few photos from the WE-Change Her Legacy photo shoot that was done by photographer Jean-Pierre Kavanaugh and creative director Suelle Anglin in partnership with Mary Seacole Hall, UN Women, and Jamaica Money Market Brokers.
There will also be a timeline of Jamaican LGBT history displayed in graphic form laid out along the walls. We hope this will be an opportunity for people to learn more about our local LGBT history and track our progress as a community. We want to take time to reflect on the movement and honour the persons who have made it possible for us to be where we are today.
The Trade Show will be showcasing LGBT-friendly businesses. It can be a bit difficult for us to get into certain spaces, so we value the support of LGBT-friendly businesses and the impact they have had on our ability to lead successful initiatives. It will be a networking and marketing opportunity for participating businesses, and we will be providing this space to them free of cost.
On August 5th we will focus on the J-FLAG Cares Initiative to feed 5,000 Jamaicans in need, across 10 parishes. This is a part of the work that we do at J-FLAG toward building civic pride through volunteerism. Our over 100 volunteers will be instrumental to the success of this initiative.The feeding initiative targets ALL persons, not just the LGBT community. J-FLAG recognises the intersections of different types of vulnerabilities, and as much as possible, we try to give them due consideration in our work, which is increasingly multifaceted and multisectoral.
Saturday, August 6 will be our Black Tie Gala. This is a red carpet-type premium drink-inclusive event, and guests are expected to come garbed in gowns and fashionable suits, in what one of our advisors calls ‘LGBT sophisticated elegance’. The Black Tie Gala is the only event that has a cost attached to it at JMD$3,500 or USD$30. Tickets are available from our PRiDE Planning Committee members and via our ticket hotline at (876) 354-9971.
The final PRiDE JA 2016 event will be on Sunday, August 7th: our Family Picnic! We’ll have some food and fun and play some games. This will serve as our cool down event for the week of activities, as well as our coming together as a community celebrating love.
Additionally, we have endorsed HALO POP (Power of the Pink) Week, brought to you by HALO Events. During PRiDE week patrons will receive a 10% discount from some of Kingston’s finest eateries: Susie’s Bakery & Coffee Shop, Tea Tree Creperie, Chilitos, and Opa!
We have endorsed two major LGBT parties: Major Key happening on July 30th and Summer Sizzle happening on August 5th. We are also sponsoring LGBT Jamboree, one of the most anticipated parties in Jamaica on the LGBT events calendar. LGBT Jamboree is also one of the PRiDE JA kickoff parties happening July 31st.
Sherine: What are you most excited to see/experience?
Neish: I’m a sports junkie and very competitive, so I’m most excited about the Sports Day. The sports day offers a different landscape, and I am excited to see how it will come together.
I’m also excited for the entire week in general, to know that we had a successful PRiDE in 2015, and it set a standard for us to have a great event this year. Last year was incident free, and because of that this year people are more comfortable in coming out and participating.
I’m really honoured to be a part of a process that encourages young people to come out and live their truth and have a safe space to come together as a community. We’re saying it’s okay to be a member of the LGBT community, it’s okay to love, it’s ok to have community because this is important to us.
Many thanks to Neish McLean and J-FLAG
This is Part II of an interview with Neish McLean, co-chair of this year’s PRiDE JA. See Part I here.
To see last year’s coverage of PRiDE JA 2015, visit here.