Montego Bay, Jamaica: Another Pride success!

By Maurice Tomlinson, Senior Policy Analyst, Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

October 24, 2016

Montego Bay Pride 2016 Flash Stand

How do you measure an event’s success? Is it the number of participants compared to previous events? Montego Bay Pride 2016, co-sponsored by the Legal Network, had over 244 participants — a 50% increase in participation from last year — with participants flying in from Kampala, London, Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, Toronto, Vancouver and Montréal to join Jamaicans from across the island in the festivities.

Do you judge success by the variety of events? A good mix of public education, community mobilization and engagement around support for litigation and other advocacy also contributed to the success of Montego Bay Pride. Public forums in Kingston and Montego Bay addressed the buggery law and the church with excellent and thoughtful presentations by Bishop Christopher Senyonjo of Uganda, Rev. Father Colin Coward of the U.K. and the Very Rev. Father Sean Major-Campbell of Jamaica, while screenings of the award-winning documentary God Loves Uganda were followed by a spirited debate between members of the LGBTQI community and our allies, and some religious fundamentalists who support the anti-sodomy law. A social justice project was included for the first time and saw some “Pridesters” volunteering to provide a much-needed face lift to the exterior of the Day Centre for the Montego Bay–based Committee for the Upliftment of the Mentally Ill (CUMI), the only non-governmental organization in Jamaica focused on assisting persons impacted by homelessness and mental illness.

An interactive dialogue addressing the ongoing constitutional challenge to the Jamaican anti-sodomy law was also held and Pride-goers weighed in on the question “Will changing the anti-sodomy law make a difference to the level of homophobia?” In addition, sumptuous and free meals were provided throughout the day to cater to the many members of the LGBTQI community whose financial situation is precarious simply because of their sexual orientation and/or gender expression. Dynamic entertainment supplied by professionals and spontaneous Pride participants made for a fun event.

One significant highlight were the Flash Stands, where we “painted the town gay” in short 10-minute pop-up protests around the city while being driven around in the Pride bus. An overseas participant who had initially expressed fears about attending Pride in Montego Bay was impressed with the idea and execution of the unannounced Flash Stands, suggesting that this was an effective and safe way to do Pride “marches” in hostile and criminalized contexts. We also had team-building exercises and games to help remove the class and other barriers that sometimes manifest in the LGBTQI community.

Success could also be judged by the absence of security incidents. This year, not only did we use a much bigger and more secure venue, but also, the address was not revealed to anyone except the core planning team. Pride participants were required to register for the event using their email addresses, and these emails were vetted to ensure that there were no “trolls”. The night before Pride, registered participants were emailed the location of the pick-up spot, where they were again assessed before being transported to Pride. At the Pride venue, we had more security checks to ensure that no dangerous items and/or individuals were allowed on the premises. All these structural security measures meant that we did not have to rely on armed security (which carry its own risks and can be off-putting for some people) or the police (who have contributed to violations against Jamaican LGBTQI people and are not trusted by many members of the LGBTQI community).

Success could also be measured by feedback and in a random poll most Pride participants gave the event 4 out of a possible 5 points! One comment in particular summarized the event nicely:

“I particularly liked that Montego Bay Pride made great effort to include and accommodate less privileged persons from the LGBTI community. I no longer live in Jamaica, but I know that less privileged persons are unlikely to have safe spaces as we did at Pride. I also love that Pride was at the beach, a place that is generally very public and we would all have to refrain from being ourselves. Montego Bay Pride was clearly well organized and I’m happy that it was such a success.”