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.
Sherine: Hi Neish! Can you tell us about what you do and who is a part of the planning committee for PRiDE JA 2016 this year?
Neish: I’m one of the co-chairs for PRiDE this year. I’m also the co-founder of TransWave, which is an organization that promotes transgender health and well-being. I also serve as a Senior Programme Officer at J-FLAG, the organisation leading the PRiDE JA initiative.
I’m especially pleased with my partnership with Nicolette Bryan in co-chairing this year’s PRiDE. Her role at J-FLAG comprises managing the volunteer component of the Youth Project and leading our J-FLAG Cares initiative focused on community mobilisation and outreach activities geared towards protecting the environment, building civic pride, and engendering a culture of service among youth. Nicolette also played an integral role in the planning and execution of the first public PRiDE celebration in the English-speaking Caribbean – PRiDE JA 2015.
Coming from the momentum from PRiDE JA 2015, we’ve had an influx of young people 19-30 who are enthusiastic and committed to making PRiDE JA bigger, better, and bolder. Our PRiDE JA 2016 Planning Committee is a mixture of staff and influential persons within the LGBT and ally community: Elton McDuffus, Jherane Patmore, Latoya Brown, David Isaacs, Shawna Stewart, Khalicia Christie, and Abby-Sade Brooks, and is advised by Latoya Nugent and Jaevion Nelson, who are Directors at J-FLAG.
Sherine: What is this year’s theme?
Neish: This year’s theme is “The PRiDE of a People: Celebrating a Community of Love”.
Sherine: What will be some of the biggest differences between this year’s PRiDE and last year’s?
Neish: For this year’s PRiDE we have bigger venues and have further diversified our activities. We will open PRiDE celebrations with our Sports Day, on August 1, and close the week of events with a family picnic at the beach. There is a perception of LGBT people as not family-oriented, and many LGBT folks are not thought about as mothers, sisters, aunts, brothers, fathers, nephews, grandmothers, or grandfathers, and PRiDE JA is challenging that narrative.
This year, we will host one activity in rural Jamaica and provide shuttle service for some of our events being hosted in Kingston & St. Andrew. Last year, all events were hosted in Kingston & St. Andrew, and shuttle services were not offered for persons living in rural Jamaica. Because of our J-FLAG Ambassador Programme, we have been able to expand our reach and enhance the quality of our engagement with LGBT persons living in rural Jamaica. Additionally, we have targeted a total of 10 parishes that will benefit from the J-FLAG Cares Initiative to feed 5,000 Jamaicans on August 5, 2016.
Last year we hosted most of our events at Rainbow House, but this year all activities will be hosted at different venues, given we anticipate larger numbers.
We have also exponentially increased our social media output and engagement with the community and wider population. And our volunteer numbers have more than tripled!
Sherine: What are some challenges that you have had with planning so far?
Neish: We have more public support, and though not widespread, we continue to build and strengthen relationships with our allies, the private sector, media entities, government agencies and officials, and non-governmental organizations.
We have also experienced challenges with funding and it has been difficult to find venues that meet our criteria in terms of cost, amenities, and accessibility.
Sherine: Why is it important to have PRiDE celebrations each year?
Neish: Because of the success of the first year, we have every reason to make PRiDE JA an annual celebration!
PRiDE gives the community hope, and it is a narrative-changing experience that reinforces that it is possible to make Jamaica the “place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business” for all people.
We are not where we want to be just yet, we know things aren’t perfect, but it allows us to celebrate our strides and reflect on our resilience as a community.
Sherine: Do you think the Caribbean region as a whole can get to a point where all countries celebrate PRiDE and do it at the same time?
Neish: If Jamaica can do it, other countries can do it as well. I know that there is interest regionally to have PRiDE. We’re very open for civil society organizations to reach out to us, and we can give feedback on how to execute it and make it work.
Having PRiDE at the same time is not something that is as important. It’s more important that it’s actually done. And it might not be around the same time in each country, because other countries might have time frames that might be more impactful for them. The time we chose, Emancipendence week, is significant for us. Whichever date other countries choose is something that we’d be more than willing to support, and we can also go to other countries’ PRiDE celebrations if the time is different.
Sherine: Is there anything additional you’d like to share?
Neish: One of the successes that has been helping to create such a great buzz about PRiDE is the relationship we’ve been building with LGBT event promoters. They have quite a few parties and lymes throughout the year and have come on board to support PRiDE JA, and the team at J-FLAG is touched, inspired, and grateful. Our LGBT event promoters have played a critical role in increasing community buy-in, building trust, and gaining more visibility, particularly on social media, which has enhanced the planning experience. We really have to say thanks to them.
Many thanks to Neish McLean and J-FLAG
This is Part I of an interview with Neish McLean, co-chair of this year’s PRiDE JA. See Part II here.
To see last year’s coverage of PRiDE JA 2015, visit here.