Montego Bay Pride 2018 ended over the weekend and its march for rights on Sunday prompted a mix of support, outrage and bewilderment. Some have viewed the incident free event as a positive step for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) equality.
One of the main organisers, prominent advocate and attorney-at-law Maurice Tomlinson told Jamaica Today that hateful threats aside, there is much reason for hope, and participation in Pride has swelled to over 1,000 this year.
While the topic of homosexuality and the rights (or lack thereof) of the local LGBT community continue to spark a debate on both sides, one of the many highlights was the ground-breaking walk for rights.
In an exclusive interview, Tomlinson said that Jamaica’s LGBT community remains undaunted in light of countless threats of violence from right-wing extremists.
“Our increased activism will no doubt result in sustainable change in society,” he told Jamaica Today.
See below our question and answer session in full:
Jamaica Today (JT): Well, provided the activities went as planned, how did the calendar of events go for patrons? Are there any highlights you’d like to share?
Tomlinson: “Growing from a small one-day pool-party in 2015 with just over 150 patrons this year Montego Bay Pride was a week-long celebration that saw over 1,000 persons participating. Some of the highlights from this year’s Pride included a launch party hosted by the Austrian consul general to Jamaica, Josef Forstmyr, at his home on the grounds of the exclusive Round Hill Hotel and Villas. We also hosted a six-day LGBT film festival, which included the world premiere of “A Colourful Fight” that was produced entirely in Montego Bay by LGBT people from the city. There was a thought-provoking panel discussion with international and local experts on the different approaches to LGBT liberation globally. Our social justice project saw LGBT community members painting a building that serves the public and this year it was the Cornwall Regional Hospital. A Pride Praise & Worship Service presided over by Rev. Canon Garth Minott preceded the ground-breaking Walk for Rights and a fun-filled beach day.”
JT: There were repeated verbal attacks and denouncements of LGBT rights leading up to the march, with some members of the Jamaican clergy calling the group “an abomination”. How do you and Montego Bay Pride respond to those comments?
Tomlinson: “The type of extreme homophobia whipped up by right-wing evangelicals is dangerous and should be rejected by all well-thinking Jamaicans. As seen in the recent funeral in Westmoreland where a gay man was attacked by his relatives; the steady diet of hate that these pastors force down the throats of their congregations has led to untold abuses and murders of LGBT people. These clerics should be ashamed of themselves and be held accountable for their actions. LGBT Jamaicans deserve equal rights and justice. We will no longer be forced into hiding by these preachers. They must learn to respect the human rights of everyone and mind their own business.”
JT: Do you think Jamaica will get to a point where LGBT rights will no longer be an incendiary, divisive topic?
Tomlinson: “Jamaicans are by nature a warm and welcoming people. For generations we tolerated queer people in our midst and this only changed because of the importation of homophobic right-wing religious dogma from the global north. The Montego Bay Pride Committee believes that the same way Jamaicans were taught to hate they can be taught to love. That is why Pride is so important, as we counter the hysterical nonsense about LGBT people by showing Jamaicans that we are their family.”
JT: We noticed in a few video feeds that the Pride march, especially, had police escort. Was the march threatened or was that just a security precaution?
Tomlinson: We did receive and document several hateful messages threatening violence against our Pride activities, however, the police permit and escort were secured well in advance of us “going public” with the Walk. The Jamaica Constabulary Force decided on the level of security presence that they felt was needed and it was significant. This is not surprising as Montego Bay is under a State of Emergency and Pride is a very contentious issue in Jamaica.
JT: What has the response been from local Jamaicans about Pride? Assuming the feedback has not been wholly negative, are attitudes towards the LGBT community improving and at what rate?
Tomlinson: “We documented some very hostile remarks about Pride and several death threats against Pride organizers and participants, however there were also a notable number of Jamaicans who spoke up in defense of LGBT human rights. Hotel Gloriana, which hosted several of our Pride events, rejected calls from some powerful persons in Montego Bay to deny us service. So, there is reason for hope. It is still impossible to gauge exactly how much has changed across the society. For example, although the police provided protection for the Walk, a video circulating on social media appears to have been shot from the police station overlooking our Pride route and a man who we presume shot the video is heard using profanity to condemn the Walk and the presence of police.”
JT: Is Jamaica today the stronghold of homophobia it was infamous for years past?
Tomlinson: “That question is best answered through research. But, Jamaican LGBT people are certainly more visible and less willing to accept the denial of our human rights by the wider society and the government. Our increased activism will no doubt result in sustainable change in society.”