KINGSTON, Jamaica, August 11, 2015 (AMG) —First dubbed by Time magazine as “the most homophobic place on Earth” in 2006, Jamaica’s evolving attitude towards sexual minorities has, by 2015, caused even Time to question whether the country is turning around.
Last week, the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), an organization that self-identifies as “the foremost organisation advocating and lobbying government and policymakers for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons”, made history with the unprecedented staging of Jamaica’s first-ever LGBT Pride celebrations from August 1-5. Five days of well-planned events to celebrate the LGBT community and its allies took place during the period between Emancipation Day (August 1) and Independence Day (August 6), a symbolism that J-FLAG said was deliberate “to celebrate our freedom, independence, and pride as LGBT Jamaicans”.
This is the second part of our interview with Latoya Nugent, J-FLAG’s Education and Training Manager, who provided deeper insight into the impact and future of PRiDE JA 2015.
AMG: It seems that the celebrations were deliberately low-key and clandestine. Could you speak more on this?
LN: This is the first Pride here, so of course there was lots of uncertainty around the activities from the get-go, even when it was going to be a one-day affair. We made the decision that we would be very careful about how and when we would disclose event locations.
At the end of the day, this is Jamaica. Any Jamaica can show up on any day. There’s a friendly Jamaica, a hostile Jamaica, and an in-between Jamaica. You don’t know which one will show up.
We used email and social media and the talents of some key persons who are very good at mobilizing people. We wanted to ensure that at the end of PRiDE JA 2015, we didn’t have to report incidents of discrimination and violence. We had to do things low-key because some persons are still quite fearful, and reasonably so. We don’t know how many persons will pass by and what the reaction will be.
There was a bit of nervousness in that regard, but I was pleasantly surprised. We ALL were. We were wondering if this was really Jamaica. All of the events were incident free, even the flash mob.
I always said to persons in my dialogue with them that advocacy is a balancing act. You have to be mindful of the attitudes and perceptions that people have towards the community, because we don’t want to put people’s lives at risk. Some people are willing to be brave, and we are amazed by the boldness coming out of the community. But not everyone will have the space and agency to be like that about their membership in the community or their support as an ally.
AMG: What are some examples of the support and reactions on social media?
LN: The support has been very good, very strong, and the feedback has been more positive than negative. One of the photos that we posted on social media was a rainbow colored hummingbird. A lot of people loved it and were excited about it. And one of our followers commented that she would not be surprised if, five years from today, PRiDE JA becomes the standard for Emancipation celebrations because of how well it was executed with limited time and resources.
LN: The support and endorsement that we got from the Mayor and the Justice Minister will play a crucial role in terms of how society perceives the community. You will see mixed reviews on social media, as some people are not pleased with the Mayor’s or the Justice Minister’s endorsements. With Mayor Burke, it takes a very strong black woman like her to go through all of that and still be resolute in her position that everybody should be supported and everybody should have that space. She had been anticipating negative feedback because of her public endorsement, but the positive comments far outweighed the negative comments.
AMG: How will J-FLAG measure the impact of the celebrations?
LN: We intend to prepare a PRiDE JA report. We have been doing media monitoring of traditional and social media coverage of the events, seeing what the interaction has been like. Our report will be both qualitative and quantitative, looking at who attended, how many people engaged with us, etc.
Because of PRiDE JA we had to do business with entities for the first time, so we will also be reporting on those experiences. We are also making a documentary and have been doing interviews. When the documentary is ready, we will have a screening for persons in the community to come and see what has unfolded as PRiDE JA. Additionally we’ll be doing impact evaluations later in the year when we get to show the documentary.
We will also be looking at interactions and engagement by email, as we created an email address solely for communication about PRiDE JA for persons wanting details about activities or media entities wanting information and photos. We have also been looking at our Instagram account. All of those things will be captured.
Our final report will also include lessons learned, which will be discussed at our debrief session. We’ll explore how to correct mistakes for the future, what we can do differently, what we should do the same, etc. — capturing all of that to ensure that in the future PRiDE JA will be even bigger and better.
AMG: What was one of your favorite moments?
LN: The Flash mob. I remember at the end we took a group photo, and everyone was screaming and shouting “Happy PRiDE!” A few persons took their individual flags and were running in the streets. I felt extremely proud in that moment. To see that really lifted the spirit. I remember at the end, a couple of persons wanted a photo of Simone Harris and I, and I told her to jump on my back. We did a lap around the statue, and she had her flag waving.
AMG: Does J-FLAG feel like it has started a different or more progressive conversation on the rights and acceptance of LGBT Jamaicans? What do you anticipate will change as a result of the occurrence of PRiDE JA?
LN: We haven’t started the dialogue. It is increasing, as it has been for some time now. In the early years before J-FLAG, when we had Larry Chang and the Gay Freedom Movement in Jamaica, that’s where the dialogue began. But the dialogue is changing, and there has been quite a lot of progress. Not as rapidly as we’d want it to change, but it is expanding in a progressive way.
When we talk about homophobia for example, persons are understanding it is not just about murdering or physically attacking LGBT people because of their identities. It is so much more than that.
In 2015, we certainly have more allies, more visible LGBT people, more support for J-FLAG and the work that we are doing. We are coming from a stage where you would send info to media houses as a press release, and the info would just sit in the offices. But PRiDE JA 2015, we’ve had persons reaching out to us, wanting to talk about what is happening. We have reached out to a few persons, but to have media persons, not just local, but also foreign media, reaching out and wanting to talk about what we are doing for the community, it says a lot about how far we have come as an organization despite the challenges we have to battle every day.
LN: When persons heard that Jamaica (of all places) would be planning a Pride celebration, it was puzzling because Jamaica is seen as an exporter of homophobia to the rest of the Caribbean. I’ve had conversations with Caribbean people who say that some of the homophobia in their country comes from the homophobic culture that is popularly associated with Jamaica. So to hear that we would be having LGBT Pride celebrations startled quite a few persons.
What I think may actually happen is that persons in the Caribbean will realize that we can still challenge oppression and homophobia in meaningful ways to create a more inclusive society. Yes things can be and do get really bad, the situation is difficult, we are institutionally oppressed as LGBT people. But we don’t have to become comfortable with it. We can break the chains of oppression by challenging it and begin to see the difference and changes that we want to see.
I would not be surprised if more countries begin to have their own Pride celebrations as a result. I had some colleagues in other Caribbean states saying how proud they were of what J-FLAG is doing. The more this happens, the more we are going to see and feel the impact of what these events can do, especially when executed in a meaningful way. People are already saying they definitely want to come for PRiDE JA 2016. And it’s not just us in the Caribbean. People in parts of North America and other parts of the world are excited and seeing this, too.
AMG: Do you have any advice for people in other Caribbean countries that would like to stage their own Pride celebrations?
- Start small. That’s key.
- Start the planning from very, very early.
- Balance visibility and security. It’s a delicate but necessary balance.
- Engage and stay connected with different types of people on the ground on a day-to-day basis.
- Get support from your local government, as it will send a very strong signal.
- Seek sponsorship to help ease the financial burden and broaden the net of businesses that provide discrimination-free services that we engage as Caribbean people.
- Be very strategic about the day or dates that you choose to host your PRiDE celebrations. It will be more meaningful if you select a time that is more important to the community or the nation. For example, IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia), Coming Out Day, or Tolerance Day. The dates can impact how the community experiences the celebrations.
- We may try having PRiDE JA ambassadors in 2016, which can be quite useful.
AMG: Is there anything else that you would like to share?
LN: I want to applaud the work of Jaevion Nelson. He has been an awesome leader and is an inspiration in and of himself. We may be at a bar having a drink, and we will be strategizing about how we can improve things. He is always connecting the dots and ensuring that in the years to come, J-FLAG will be able to contribute in very meaningful ways to the changes that we want to see.
Also, at the opening ceremony, we presented some plaques to persons who are a part of the community and who are allies of the community. Ian McKnight, DJ David, Tanya Stephens, Tonya Clark (our current crisis officer and mother of the LGBT community in Jamaica), and Latoya Brown, one of the promoters in the community. They have all done tremendous work. The overall support for PRiDE JA 2015 has been excellent.
Image Credit: J-FLAG