Back then, there were more pockets of tolerance and gay social spaces in Jamaica; visible gay clubs such as NS, Marshalls, The Closet, and Entourage all based in Kingston. More recently we’ve had The Loft, and Oasis as well as Heaven which is still in operation.
Regrettably, beginning in the late 1980s, things began to change. People were being targeted, beaten and killed because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Consequently, the LGBT community became imprisoned by fear, discrimination and violence.
Fifteen years ago, some concerned Jamaicans came together to establish what we now know as J-FLAG. On Human Rights Day - December 10, 1998 - J-FLAG was launched to ‘engage in initiatives that would foster the acceptance and enrichment of the lives of same-gender loving persons who have been, and continue to be an integral part of society’. Jamaica is better because of their vision.
When J-FLAG was launched, the idea of protection from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity seemed foreign, but it was important to confront laws and policies that were, and continue to be detrimental to the dignity of LGBT Jamaicans.
Today, we celebrate fifteen wonderful years of advocacy for LGBT people. I thank everyone, including LGBT community members, our partners, donors, allies and policymakers who have helped in promoting the rights of LGBT Jamaicans. I pay tribute to the founders who so desperately wanted to ensure Jamaicans like me could claim our full citizenship and not be mistreated because of who we love.
It is an honour for me to be part of such a proud history, and I am hopeful that better days are ahead. Already, there is an unprecedented lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the ‘buggery law’ and many LGBT people are boldly confronting homophobia. This year, we witnessed the establishment of three new LGBT organisations, namely Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) - a lesbian and bisexual women’s organisation, the Jamaica Association of Gays and Lesbians Abroad (JAGLA), and Dwayne's House - working to create a shelter for homeless LGBT youth.
However, despite these strides by the community, there are still many challenges. Some LGBT people still do not have a place to sleep at nights. Children are still being thrown out of their homes because they are gay or lesbian, while some of them hide from school to avoid being bullied, and others contemplate suicide to end the harassment they face. Transgender Jamaicans are still being treated as outcasts. People are still being beaten for being LGBT and many of us still live in great fear for our lives and that of our loved ones. The murder of 16 year old Dwayne Jones in St James in July 2013, who wanted to become a teacher or entertainment coordinator, is evidence of how difficult it is for many of us.
It is for these reasons that we must all work together to create a peaceful and inclusive society for all Jamaicans. We must provide more opportunities to learn about human rights and foster greater respect among all of us, regardless of our differences.
No Jamaican should feel inferior, powerless or invisible because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is only with respect and embracing our common humanity that Jamaica can be a safe, cohesive and just society. Together, we can put aside the grievances that lead to prejudice, inequality, crime, violence and intolerance, to build Jamaica land we love.
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