I want a JAMAICA PRIDE: Lessons from the land of the people who speak Sesotho

imagesCAX13CFM Some heterosexuals, especially anti-gay ‘first class’ citizens across the world tend to question the need for a day of PRIDE. They fail to appreciate the nuances of not being able to always publicly celebrate our queer sexuality. Having at least ONE day in which we can be free, happy and spiritually elevated in our sexuality is what church folks would call heavenly. It is civil, it is political, it is social, and it is sexual. It is self affirming and I suspect it can be psychologically euphoric.

I have never experienced a Gay Pride march even though they exist all over the world; I’m too poor to go. So I want my own day of public pride right here in Jamaica. Jamaica is where my LGBT friends are, Jamaica is where my allies of the community are, Jamaica is where my family members are, Jamaica is where I drink rum and party, Jamaica is where I work, Jamaica is where I live, Jamaica is where I found the (former) loves of my life, Jamaica is where I pay my taxes, Jamaica is my home.

I want to celebrate my sexuality here while demonstrating to the nation, the region and the rest of the world that I am a proud Jamaican lesbian. I want my dad and his congregation to see how happy and fulfilled I am as a lesbian despite their own beliefs. I want my favourite aunt to look on and say: “you go girl!” with a smile.

I am willing to bet that every ‘out’ or partially ‘out’ LGBT person in Jamaica would experience a day of eternity in the company of like minds and supporters of the community – people who appreciate our human quality and dignity, to just be. And for those who have to remain comforted by the warmth of their closets they will recognise and be inspired by the flame and fire of coming out! A fire that will ignite them into visibility, spirited by community and support, and elevated by love.

In 2010, some media houses claimed that Jamaica had its “first ever Gay Pride”. Sadly, that headline was exaggerated truth. It was a “walk for tolerance” for minority populations particularly LGBT persons and persons living with HIV and AIDS. There was no celebration of gayness; I would call it a public human rights appeal. I didn’t participate (at the time I was still wearing a few items of clothing from the closet). And although I appreciate the impact of the walk and the role it played in awareness, that’s not what I want. No matter how small, no matter how short (well, I prefer to keep going for a few hours) I want PRIDE! Jamaica Pride!

This is not a request or desire blinded to the logistics, homophobic culture and costs associated with such a venture. I know it will take quite a bit of funding. It will also require much manpower in respect of security among other things. But I know it can be done. There are dangers yes, risks even, and when I explored the case of Ukraine (ironically where homosexuality has been legalized) I felt quite fearful and wondered if this was something we should take on in Jamaica. But then I read the success story of the “first ever held Gay Pride march in Lesotho” – an African territory with sufficient similarities with Jamaica – and I was inspired.

There are laws in Lesotho that criminalize some sexual acts between homosexuals and there is strong cultural support for homophobia. Homosexuality and homoeroticism are condemned in Lesotho, a small territory also once colonised by the British. Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy with a struggling economy in which the majority of its approximately two million people indentify as Christians. But despite all that and despite religious condemnation and legal shackles, Lesotho successfully organized and executed its first Gay Pride organized by the Matrix Support Group – “a Lesotho-based NGO working to advocate for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals in the country”. I believe the stakeholders in Jamaica should further explore this success story, Pride in other African territories such as Uganda and even those in the European and North American cities. Also, if all goes well in Curacao next month, best practices may be adopted from that experience.

This is something that can be done and I would really want to experience it before I delve further into my 30s. I am therefore using this opportunity to appeal to all the relevant human rights organisations in Jamaica and the region to work cooperatively to develop a proposal for Jamaica Pride in order to receive the kind of funding and support it will need. Upon receiving the required funding we should proceed to engage experts and volunteers (especially members of the community), security forces and relevant government agencies, which will be necessary to make this a success.

Additionally, it may be a good idea to engage the not so dogmatic members of our churches in dialogue about what this will mean for the community, in a bid to get them to appreciate that it’s not so different from staging concerts and crusades that celebrate in a special and different way, their spirituality (except we are not trying to win straight souls).

As a mater fact, I want a whole weekend of activities inclusive of debates, colloquia, exhibitions, drink-ups, screenings, open mic poetry and sounds, a ‘coming out’ soca party, an evening of dance and maybe sports day on the beach.

Celebrate+Gay+Pride

Just close your eyes for a few minutes (after this paragraph, lol) and imagine what the streets of New Kingston would look like, coloured by fabric woven with rainbow pride, fashionable couture, vuvuzelas ringing our eardrums, a truck pumping some EDM and soca, a little spirit in our cups, flags “floating on de big stage high ova wi problems, [since] we doan have no time for dem is [PRIDE] wid wi best friends now. . .’

We will “break and move and stop and dance, then keep moving forward with an easy, effortless rhythm” as did the people who speak Sesotho.

Eternal happiness for a day, hmmmm.

What Independence means for LGBT Jamaicans

.facebook_579340543 A few days ago we celebrated 51 years of independence from our progressive Imperial Britain. So independent that even 51 years later we have laws on our books that selectively facilitate the recognition and actualization of inalienable human rights for the privileged majority – heterosexuals. It is therefore no surprise that the always regal, majestic continental one felt it necessary to salute, perhaps knight Jamaica’s pristine (?) men who don’t find their own sex appealing and/or fulfilling.

I have heard persons describe the response of the LGBT community to utterances of our highness as trivial, unnecessary and uncalled for. It made me realise that there was a certain right or power or privilege assumed by the intolerable heterosexual majority, who cannot appreciate that homophobia is on a continuum. Hate, intolerance or bigotry do not start and finish with mob murders. Killing LGBT persons is not the only form of inhumane, discriminatory treatment.  Do you not understand that it affects us when national spaces and airtime are used by our cultural icons (?) to disrespect or make us feel as though we aren’t Jamaicans too? And the government just sits there and enjoys the musical bigotry being stringed into the psyche of our children. . .

As I reflect further on this independent nation I can’t help but think of the irony before me. Our [former] Imperialist is in fact encouraging and subtly forcing our government to “adhere to proper human rights” and address those legal inconsistencies that lend themselves to treating non-heterosexuals as personae non gratae.  I suppose the effect of the Privy Council ruling in the Pratt and Morgan v. Attorney General case offers some hope given the profound effect it had on the administration of the death penalty in Jamaica. Perhaps in a similar manner if the Left Honourable Maurice Tomlinson decides, [or has] to take the current case of Javed Jaghai  v. The Goliaths of Jamaica all the way to the highest, most binding court of appeal, paradigm shifts will follow in domino-like fashion.

Until then, I’m finding that it is difficult to be patriotic in a country that does not recognise the legal and social changes that must take place in order to accept, support and just love all human beings regardless of who fills their soul with joy, their eyes with flirtation, their bodies with pleasure, their minds with intellectual orgasms or their vena cava with joy.

I am tired of this independent Jamaica. I am tired of the need to defend my sexuality.  I am tired of the abuse my community faces. I am tired of wondering if my dad secretly feels like I’m a lesser child because I’m gay. I am tired of feeling afraid of expressing my sexuality in some spaces. I am tired!

I want to feel like I belong here and I can just be. And wi non-heterosexual pickney dem can tap run from licensed-to-kill mobs! Please honourable houses, make that clause a sinner.