Thriving Montego Bay Pride boosts LGBT+ acceptance

LGBT group at Montego Bay Pride 2017 displays colorful pride. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

LGBT group at Montego Bay Pride 2017 displays colorful pride. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

As Montego Bay Pride has grown in ambition, in attendance, and in international support, it has remained violence-free while it buoys increasing numbers of  LGBT+ Jamaicans.

Dancing on the beach at Montego Bay Pride 2017. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

Dancing on the beach at Montego Bay Pride 2017. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

For the third year in a row the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network collaborated with local and international partners to host a successful and incident-free Montego Bay Pride.

Growing from about 150 participants in 2015, Montego Bay Pride expanded to over 300 persons in 2016 and well over 850 in 2017! The national interest in Montego Bay 2017 Pride meant that three shuttle buses had to be chartered to bring Pride goers from around the island, up from just one bus in 2016.

This year’s Pride festival also saw unprecedented international involvement, with persons traveling from cities in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Canada to stand in solidarity and celebrate with LGBT+ Jamaicans.

The number of local and international sponsors also increased dramatically this year with contributions coming from Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, the Round Hill Hotel and Villas, Toronto PFLAG, Toronto Pride, the LGBTQ Internal Support Network of the Toronto Police Service, TD Bank, and many private donors.

Montego Bay Pride has also seen a steady growth in programmes as well as the number of festival days. In 2015 the event took place on just one day and featured a pool party, panel discussion, film screening and pop-up protests or “Flash Stands” across the city. In 2016 we expanded to two days of programming, including the introduction of a social justice project to paint the exterior of a public building serving Montego Bay. This was meant to instill pride in the surroundings for clients and workers at the facility.

This year’s Pride social justice project was revolutionary for LGBT+ Jamaicans, as the local planning team selected the Freeport Police station, the largest in Montego Bay, as a way to build bridges with officers, many of whom have been very hostile to members of our community. The painting project was a phenomenal success and there is an intention to repeat this project because of the positive impact on both officers and LGBT+ community members.

In 2017 we also grew to a four-day festival. This included the introduction of new and exciting initiatives, such as our first Pride launch event. Despite developments in the U.S., a representative of the American embassy in Jamaica readily agreed to deliver the keynote address at the event and spoke on the importance of Pride to the recognition of LGBT+ human rights.

Pride 2017 also saw Jamaica’s first ever LGBT+ film festival, with four nights of excellent documentaries highlighting the work for LGBT human rights in Canada, the United States, Uganda and India. The director of the documentaries, retired York university professor Dr. Nancy Nicol, traveled to Jamaica with her wife, Phyllis Waugh, to share in the festival and held some very spirited discussions with attendees on the different approaches to achieving LGBT+ equality.

Poster for Montego Bay Pride's inaugural talent show. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

Poster for Montego Bay Pride’s inaugural talent show. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

There was also an inaugural Pride talent contest that showcased the rich and diverse ways members of the LGBT+ community express ourselves through art and culture. The aim is to use these varied expressions to help change hearts and minds of Jamaicans towards LGBT+ citizens.

A dynamic panel discussion took place on how to deal with popular Jamaican musicians who sang so-called “murder music” but have refused to apologize. Some of these musicians have been banned from performing internationally because of their hateful lyrics that often call for the murder or other abuse of LGBT+ people.

For the first time ever, we could not accommodate the number of persons who wanted to join us on the Pride bus for our “Flash Stands” or pop-up protests. So, there are plans to hold a “Walk for Rights” as part of Montego Bay Pride 2018.

The physical and psychological well-being of Pridegoers were also catered for through a mobile HIV & STI testing unit and a well-received interactive session on how to unpack emotional trauma that many of us still carry from growing up in a largely homophobic society.

Looking towards 2018, Montego Bay Pride will continue to grow and plans are already underway to expand the offerings and programming, including increasing the visibility actions, a more diverse film festival, and trying to attract more international participation.

Montego Bay Pride has always been about building community and increasing the visibility of LGBT+ Jamaicans. Some of their views on Montego Bay Pride are recorded below:

The dance floor at Montego Bay Pride 2017. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

The dance floor at Montego Bay Pride 2017. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson via Facebook)

“I really and truly enjoyed my self on Sunday. I am looking forward for a bigger and better year next year.”

“It’s my third time and it was worth it. I’m so grateful!”

“I hope you guys never stop. You’ve given most a chance, not just any chance … a chance to be liberated in their own free space. Thank you all. Can’t wait to see what you’re going to bring next year!”

“Pride represents unity in our community and shows our beautiful vibrant lives to the Jamaican society. We want Jamaica to acknowledge and understand that we are unique and we only wish to be accepted as people.”

“Pride means to me: Accepting who I am, being comfortable with my lifestyle, sharing that with my fellow rainbow family members and slowly making strides to educate the average Jamaican and the world that we are here to stay and mean them no harm, we just want to be free and not be judged or harmed!”

“Pride is a forum where I can be free and have true expression of self, without fear. A melting pot of cultures, intellect and unbridled entertainment.”

“We need Pride as a community to see ourselves as one; with the same need to be accepted and be free to live without fear or restrictions.”

“Personally… Pride means, BEING ME!! On a broader spectrum, pride means the acceptance of oneself, the opportunity to be oneself, and the hope to be wider tolerated and COUNTED!”

“Thank you for the opportunity to be ourselves when society rejects us.”

Montego Bay Pride has really become a Pride for all Jamaica and this major tourism capital of the Caribbean is sharing the Pride of LGBT+ Jamaicans with the world. One of these years, we hope to welcome YOU to Montego Bay Pride!

Previous articles about Montego Bay Pride 2017:

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