JAMAICAN LGBT campaigners are celebrating the country’s first gay pride event this week in the Caribbean country known for virulent homophobia.
The week-long PrideJa festival, which began at the weekend and will go on until August 8, was organised by the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-Flag).
Events in the capital Kingston have included a flash mob gathering in a park, an art exhibit and performances featuring songs and poems by LGBT Jamaicans. A dance party was set for last night.
Kingston’s mayor and the island’s justice minister have publicly supported the pride activities, in contrast to former prime minister Bruce Golding who vowed in 2008 to never allow gay peoples in his Cabinet.
Gay rights campaigners said on Tuesday the peaceful events were a clear sign that tolerance for LGBT people was expanding on the island even though stigma is common and laws criminalising sexual relations between men remain.
J-Flag planning committee co-chair Latoya Nugent said: “I think we will look back on this and see it as a turning point because many persons thought that it would never actually happen.”
LGBT Jamaicans have suffered violence over the years, a number of lesbians have been raped and two gay rights leaders have been killed.
Over 80 incidents of discrimination, threats, physical attacks, displacement and sexual violence were reported to J-Flag last year and the high-profile 2013 mob murder of transgender teen Dwayne Jones remains unsolved.
But Ms Nugent dismissed perceptions that LGBT people in Jamaica “can’t even walk on the streets because if you do you are going to be stoned or stabbed to death.
She said: “What we are seeing these days is more and more LGBT people willing to be visible, to be open and to be public,” she said, “it’s remarkable.”
Festival-goer Nas Chin said: “Yes, there’s still ridicule on the streets, but it’s not as violent as it was and we will insist on living our lives.