Montego Bay Pride 2017: “Pride is where I can be free and truly express myself without fear”

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

October 24, 2017

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!

LGBTQI Jamaicans and allies at a Flash Stand as part of Montego Bay Pride 2017 in Montego Bay, Jamaica.

Starting with about 150 participants in 2015, Montego Bay Pride expanded to over 300 people in 2016 and to well over 850 in 2017! The growing local interest in Montego Bay 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 and an increase in the number of local and international sponsors.

Montego Bay Pride has also seen a steady growth in programs and the number of festival days. In 2015, the event took place on just one day, while in 2016, we expanded to two days of programming, including the introduction of a social justice project. 

This year’s Pride social justice project was revolutionary for LGBTQI Jamaicans. 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 are plans to continue this project next year.  

This year also saw Jamaica’s first-ever LGBTQI film festival with four nights of excellent documentaries highlighting LGBTQI human rights work in Canada, the U.S., Uganda and India.

There was also an inaugural Pride talent contest that showcased the rich and diverse ways members of the LGBTQI community express ourselves through art and culture. The aim is to use these varied expressions to help change the hearts and minds of Jamaicans towards LGBTQI 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, which often call for the murder or other abuse of LGBTQI people.

The physical and psychological well-being of Pride-goers were also catered for through a mobile HIV and 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.   

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

Montego Bay Pride 2017 hashtag (#MoBayPride2017) on a sign held in hand with the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica, in the background.

Montego Bay Pride has always been about building community and increasing the visibility of LGBTQI Jamaicans. Some of their views on Montego Bay Pride are as follows:

 “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.”

Montego Bay Pride has really become a Pride for all of Jamaica and this major tourism capital of the Caribbean is sharing the Pride of LGBTQI Jamaicans with the world. We hope to welcome you next year to Montego Bay Pride!

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