It is clear that April is the month for road marches and demonstrations. Just this week the rank and file members of the police force have decided to march on the Gordon House Parliament complex for retroactive pay owing to them and over the weekend revelers took to the streets of upper St. Andrew in what became a virtual rain dance! However, the march that this article is concerned with is the March for Tolerance which occurred on the 7th of April along the Howard Cooke Boulevard, terminating at the Dump Up Beach in Montego Bay.
In some quarters of the community, the argument has been made that the organizers of the march choose the City of Montego Bay to play host to the island’s “first PRIDE MARCH” because of its status as the tourism capital and as such is a relatively safe venue. If this argument is true, then we here at PINK must congratulate the organizers for letting cool heads and good sense prevail. However, we suspect that Howard Cooke Boulevard and the Dump Up Beach point was chosen because of its significance to those in the Rights community. For it was along that route and on that beach that on Friday, June 18 2004 Victor Jarrett was chopped, stabbed and stoned to death by Montego Bay residents under the alleged supervision of uniformed officers of the Jamaica Constabulary Force.
Notwithstanding the above, it was never the intention of the organizers to plan a PRIDE March. Yet irrespective of the noble intentions of the organizers, a Pride March did occur! That fact owes much to a confluence of circumstances- chief of which was the importation of a large rainbow flag from the United Kingdom and naivety on the part of march organizers. Whilst questions remain as to what could have and should have been done differently it is abundantly clear that Pandora has been let out of her box and that those questions belong firmly in the past. The Pandora realization does raise significant questions as to whether anything has really changed but more importantly what next?
If the strategic direction of the organizers and the wider leadership of the LGBT community is to only plan more street marches for this year, then the answer to the first question is that not much has changed as far as strategic thinking is concerned. Such a move would only serve to concretize the perception that those currently in the leadership of the rainbow community are lacking in vision and serve no useful purpose beyond racking up frequent flyer miles and making noise when funding requires it. The fact is that marches on their own are just events and media bytes unless they are couched in social and behavior change programmes aimed at targeting the very intolerance being demonstrated against. Sadly neither the Jamaica Aids Support for Life (JASfL) nor the Jamaica Forum for Lesbian All Sexuals and Gays (JFLAG), have the programmatic capacity to design and engineer such a programme. In any event, we do hope that they recognize that it is no longer possible to duck under the banner of a Tolerance March. So what will the strategy be to get the permits for more marches?
We also must not forget, that in the case of Jamaica and indeed the wider English speaking Caribbean, the intolerance as far is it affects male homosexuality is legislatively grounded. That is whilst there is no specific law making homosexuality or MSM relations a crime, Sections 76 (the Buggery Law) and Section 79 (the Gross Indecency law) of the Offences against the Person Act, criminalizes expressions of intimacy between two adult men even in private. The time has now come for the legitimacy of these sections to be tested in relation to their consistency with the Jamaican Constitution and the larger body of International Law on Human Rights that Jamaica has both signed and ratified. As a consequence, PINK’s own view on the matter is that the next march that should be planned, should occur on April 8th, 2011. This march ought to proceed down King Street to the Supreme Court building in Kingston. The purpose of which is to make an application to seek redress from that body. Indeed, this time the organizers can pull together a gay marching band and eliminate the potential for collateral damage.
In concluding, we encourage all involved in the march’s organization to bring out the champagne, throw a celebratory party but remember, this was just the skirmish before the war. The lesson of history is that in spite of all of Martin Luther King’s speeches and marches, it was Brown vs Board of Education and other similar civil rights cases that established minority rights and caused tangible and real social change in the United States. In Jamaica the same rules apply.