The following blog post was written by Andrew Beckerman, a long-term HIV survivor and an active board member of the Legal Network since 2014.
“I didn’t always believe in magic, but I am starting to believe. My epiphany came as a result of the inspiring and incredible work being done by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Rainbow Railroad to assist LGBTQI Jamaicans. One day a young abused gay man, Gerry, 1 is languishing in the sewers of Kingston where, like many other homeless LGBTQI youth, he has been driven because of frequent, violent homophobia. The next day, thanks to the efforts of Rainbow Railroad, he is on a plane to a European city where he will finally be free to be himself.
“If that isn’t 21st century magic, I can’t imagine what is. Sadly, powerful evangelical pastors in Jamaica (many supported by money from the global north) preach that gays are a biblical abomination and having one in your home will bring the wrath of God upon the family. As a result of this hate speech, some parents throw their LGBTQI kids as young as ten years old out on the street and many, like Gerry, end up living in sewers, selling sex to survive, where they are often paid extra for condomless sex. Tragically, the HIV prevalence rate is several times higher among these vulnerable youth than in the general population.
“But back to the magic. Another 21st century piece of magic that I experienced, thanks to the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, was Montego Bay Pride 2016! Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer, LGBTQI activist and senior policy analyst at the Legal Network, along with his talented and dedicated colleagues on the ground , managed to figuratively transport more than 240 young gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender persons ‘straight outta Jamaica’ for the better part of a day in mid-October. If it seemed like magic to me, I can only imagine that it seemed magical to the other guests.
“I thank Maurice and his team for the amazing experience of standing in solidarity with local LGBTQI Jamaicans and witnessing their resilience in the face of crushing adversity.
“Upon my return to Canada, when I discussed my Montego Bay Pride experience with a group of LGBTQI law students in Victoria, they thought that I was spinning a yarn. However, it was very real and moving for me to be the only white person in a crowd of happy black and brown Jamaicans celebrating Pride.
“I left Montego Bay Pride with gratitude and with my pair of TD Bank–branded rainbow sunglasses donated by the bank to Montego Bay Pride. On January 12, I will wear them to the New Year celebration organized by TD to engage with LGBTQI communities here in Victoria, B.C. The bank has enthusiastically marched in the last two or three Victoria Pride parades and treats everyone in the community with the utmost respect and congeniality. I will therefore wear those sunglasses and encourage the bank to continue and increase their support for this life-changing work. In fact, Canadian banks who profess their support for LGBTQI rights and Pride events in Canada — not only TD, but also Scotiabank and CIBC, who have a presence in the Caribbean — need to extend that corporate commitment to supporting human rights elsewhere, including in Jamaica. It is high time that they actively stand up for equality wherever they have a footprint.
“It was my first time at Montego Bay Pride, and I am so glad I was able to go. This year’s Montego Bay Pride promises to be bigger and better. It’s an important time for the LGBTQI community in Jamaica and across the Caribbean, and I’ll continue to do my best to support them.”
- Name changed for security purposes.