By Neil Armstrong
As Jamaica gears up to celebrate Emancipation Day and the 55th anniversary of Independence, LGBTQ Jamaicans are excited about plans for the third annual Pride celebration in Kingston from Aug. 1 to 7.
They want as many Canadians as possible to attend #PRiDEJA2017, which this year has the theme: “Celebrating LGBT Life & Culture in Jamaica, the Caribbean and the Diaspora.”
The event is organized by the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), a human rights organization founded in 1998.
Latoya Nugent of the PRiDE JA planning committee participated in last month’s Pride Toronto celebrations and is now back home helping to put the finishing touch on the week of activities.
“Apart from the expected growth in our numbers, this year PRiDE JA will not just celebrate LGBTQ+ people living in Jamaica; we’ll also be celebrating LGBTQ+ people across the Caribbean and LGBTQ+ Jamaicans in the Diaspora,” says Nugent.
They have also added an international conference, a concert, a community bonfire in rural Jamaica, and an all-inclusive breakfast party to the line-up of activities.
“We believe the added elements will make the third installation of PRiDE JA even more diverse and inclusive, and will serve to remind our Caribbean sisters and brothers and our Jamaicans in the Diaspora that they are a part of us, and we are all one LGBTQ+ family. This year, Caribbean people and Jamaicans all around the world will be a part of this amazing week of activities we have planned.”
Nugent says the aim is to inspire hope and show the world that LGBTQ+ Jamaicans are carving out larger and larger spaces to celebrate their freedom and their humanity.
Regarding the international conference, she says in 2015 and 2016 they hosted a panel discussion that created a space for LGBTQ+ Jamaicans to share stories of resilience and love in families.
Following last year’s celebration, several people have been asking for more intimate spaces where the community, allies, and supportive organizations can talk about their realities, across several themes instead of focusing solely on the PRiDE JA theme.
“People and organizations wanted to learn more about each other; they wanted to talk about spirituality, love and intimate relationships, creative and successful programmes, the natural healing environment, transnational activism, the elderly, LGBTQ+ people living with disabilities, allies and personal friendships and so much more.”
She says a conference with parallel sessions was the best response to these needs.
The conference also creates an opportunity for LGBTQ+ equality advocates from the Caribbean to share their work and exchange ideas with their Jamaican counterparts towards strengthening the Caribbean LGBTQ+ movement.
It also provides room for intensive dialogue with the Jamaican and Caribbean Diaspora.
“There is much that we can learn here in Jamaica based on the work and expertise of folks in the Diaspora.”
Nugent says they have been quite pleased with the response to the call for abstracts and panels.
“We believe the streams we have chosen have piqued the interest of the community and those who advocate on behalf of the community. We have five streams that focus on academia and advocacy working in unison, creative programme development and implementation, creative expressions, personal realities, and the natural environment. Creative expressions, personal realities and creative programme development and implementation have been the most popular, with some submissions exploring multiple streams.”
Among the week of activities is a Day of Community Service which involves a beautification project, a feeding program, and more.
Nugent says J-FLAG has been increasing its community service programming over the past two years.
In 2016, as part of their annual work plan they started the J-FLAG Cares Initiative.
This initiative mobilizes LGBTQ+ people and allies “to show not just LGBTQ+ pride, but civic pride, even though Jamaica is not always kind to us as a community.”
She says based on the response by beneficiaries of their numerous activities, and the feedback from LGBTQ+ people who participated in these activities, they recognized just how empowering the initiative has been.
“It created a sense of belongingness and community and it reminded us of our humanity as a people. We thought: what better way to celebrate LGBTQ+ pride than with celebrating civic pride! The Day of Community Service helps to remind us that we are Jamaicans and we care about this nation.”
Last year, they fed over 5,000 people who are affected by poverty.
This year, in addition to the feeding programme, they will do beach clean-ups, paint buildings, and read to and perform for the elderly across several parishes on the island.
Asked how the Jamaican, Caribbean, and Canadian LGBTQ community and allies here can help organizations on the ground in Jamaica, like J-FLAG, to do their work, Nugent said the first thing that often comes to mind when a question like this is asked is funding.
“But we are learning more and more that sometimes funding is just half of it. We need technical support. We need the LGBTQ+ Canadian community to connect us to resources and networks. There is much that we can learn from each other, but we need the space to connect and interact, and sustain and grow those connections and resulting relationships.”
She says they need to know what strategies worked for LGBTQ Canadians to get Canada to be as inclusive as it is today.
“We need to know what strategies don’t work or won’t work even though our political histories and herstories may be different. We need support to connect LGBTQ+ Jamaicans to resources that may be available to us in Canada.”
The well-known LGBTQ human rights advocate and activist says they need more solidarity statements coming out of Canada when they have major events, like PRiDE Jamaica celebrations.
“We need Canadians to come to Jamaica and experience PRiDE and share with us how we can improve on the work we are doing. We need Canadians to help us to ‘Stay & Slay’.”
Commenting on what best practices, if any, from the Pride Toronto festival might be helpful to the celebrations in Jamaica, Nugent said: “I think you may have to write a part two if I answer this question as fulsomely as I would like, so I will try to keep it short.”
“Pride Toronto opened my eyes to several new worlds of possibilities, not just specifically for the Jamaican LGBTQ+ community, but for women, people living with disabilities, and additional vulnerabilised populations. I was amazed to learn that for a full month, activities were planned for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Pride Toronto was meaningful; it recognises the importance of community and dialogue, partying and lyming, parading and protesting, and it was a beautiful exhibition of what it means to action intersectionality. I appreciated how family-inclusive many activities were, and that is definitely something we will be paying more attention to in Jamaica as the years progress – the Drag Story Time at Glad Day Bookshop is something I would want us to do here in Jamaica.”
Nugent would also like the PRiDE JA planning committee to be able to more meaningfully engage and integrate NGOs in its Pride activities.
“I was very pleased to see the integral role that Women’s Health in Women’s Hands played in the Dyke March and the fact that Rainbow Railroad was an honoured guest this year for the Pride Parade. I also learnt that Black Lives Matter Toronto was an honoured guest at the Pride Parade last year. I think it is important to engage NGOs beyond our regular programming, and PRiDE Jamaica presents an opportunity for us to do that, to have them celebrate with us as one family, and acknowledge their impact on our ‘everyday’ lives.”
While in Toronto, Nugent posted that “drag queens rule Church Street!”
“I was excited by how drag queens are incorporated into Pride Toronto activities, and I would want to see more of that in Jamaica. The art displays were phenomenal, and I am happy that I now have more ideas to use back home to make our art gallery more interesting and meaningful. The marketing at Pride Toronto blew me away! And one of the things we will definitely be working on improving in Jamaica is the relationship between PRiDE Jamaica and corporate Jamaica. I had a blast. I learned a lot. And I was uber inspired.”
The period, Aug. 1-7, includes Emancipation Day (Aug. 1) and Independence Day (Aug. 6).
Asked what’s the main thing that she wants to see happen in Jamaica, in 2017, to confront the homophobia, transphobia and other oppressions impacting the lives of LGBT Jamaicans and to improve the quality of life, Nugent said there is so much that she would like to see change.
“I think what would be most significant at this point is anti-discrimination legislation that would fully promote and protect the rights of LGBTQ+ Jamaicans. I would also like to see an overhauling of the legislative framework to ensure that LGBTQ+ Jamaicans are fully recognised in law and have access to all the rights, privileges, and civil liberties as every non-LGBTQ+ Jamaican.
“Right now, we have multiple pieces of legislation that negatively affect the LGBTQ+ community, and we need to see amendments to all of those laws – they are just too many, and it is grossly unfair to the LGBTQ+ community. We work hard. We pay our taxes. We donate. We give of our time and service to the vulnerable. We teach. We heal. We drive people to work and to school. We employ people. We have families. We construct buildings. We export goods and services. We are Jamaicans, and we want the state to recognise this and create an enabling environment for us to live freely with dignity. And while our legislations are being overhauled, we want businesses, churches, schools, hospitals, institutions, families to recognise that LGBTQ+ Jamaicans are [her emphasis] Jamaicans and worthy of the dignity and humanity with which we were born. We want Jamaicans to remember that we are human beings first and we have been, and will continue to contribute to achieving Vision 2030, where Jamaica will become the place of choice to live, work, raise families, and do business.”
Nugent is encouraging members of the Jamaican and Caribbean Diaspora, and allies in Canada to attend #PRiDEJA2017.
“PRiDE Jamaica is the only LGBTQ+ festival in Jamaica that showcases the expertise, talent, skill, businesses, and flamboyance of this magnificent, resilient and empowered community. PRiDE Jamaica is the only festival that will show you what ‘this side of paradise’ can be for LGBTQ+ people. PRiDE Jamaica will remind you that Jamaica ‘likkle but tallawah’ and we are not afraid of revolutionising how people see us, because we are thriving LGBTQ+ Jamaicans,” says Nugent.
She continues: “PRiDE Jamaica is where you will see the Caribbean and the Diaspora come alive. PRiDE Jamaica will be the place where one of Toronto’s finest DJs – Black Cat will be spinning at the turntables. PRiDE Jamaica is where Big Freedia will be. PRiDE Jamaica is where you will see spirituality meet vogue. PRiDE Jamaica is where you will see resilience at its finest. PRiDE Jamaica is where you will see all the good body LGBTQ+ Jamaicans. And PRiDE Jamaica is where you will see LGBTQ+ Jamaicans stay in Jamaica and still slay!”
|Toronto DJ Black Cat will be spinning at PRiDEJA2017 Photo contributed|
Toronto singer-songwriter and recording artist, Robert Ball, will also perform at the Pride concert.
|Latoya Nugent enjoying the Pride Toronto festival during June 2017. Photo contributed.|
To find out more about this year’s celebration, check out #PRiDEJA2017, @EqualityJA on Twitter and Instagram, and @PrideJAMagazine on Twitter and Instagram.