Unfurling the Rainbow flag

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?

A Suggestion

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.




  1. Good article and choice of pics. It is true we can’t hide under a tolerance banner, and we really should get gay marching band, thus no back-lash from another band

  2. Great article Pink. I have been quite annoyed about the March for Tolerance and it being hidden under the ‘tolerance’ banner. I have asked myself some of the very same questions, what next? The March ought to be piece of bigger plan, and not one that is played by ear as some of our LGBT and HIV organisers are used to. These issues require strategy as it involves playing with peoples lives. However, if it is what I think it is, Just another publicity stunt to ensure that the frequent flyer status is maintained in light of even more restricted funding situation brought on by the recession, I would not be surprised but even more saddened at their well-known and self-serving ways.

    Organisers new very well that this event would have turned out to be a gay march, this was all over the international media…how did it get there?

    What was the objective of the march, and did it achieve it? What are the other steps to assisting Jamaica to be more expressive of their tolerance (because we are quite tolerant as is)?

    The major problem that we as gay persons have in Jamaica is ourselves. It pains me that programmes and iniatives have totally ignored this fact. What are the social programmes aimed at personal development, violence prevention, social re-integration and homelessness, literacy…the real violence that happens to gay people in Jamaica. I am not saying that gay persons are not being attacked, but if we are to be very honest, and face it, it is not a vile as being portrayed.

    We have to start working on building our own people from inside out.

  3. Very good article! Good analysis, the march was a bold step however it is clear that is political issue that cannot be embedded in public health approach and under the theme of tolerance. I hope JAS and JFlag rightly see this as a call to action if gains are t be made on this issue.

  4. PINK: You sound like the mainstream media here…I think it is important to get the facts right.

    First, lets congratulate JAS for spearheading this MARCH, something which should have been done long time. The purpose of the said walk was to draw attention to the need for tolerance of ALL the marginalized groups as an effective method of reducing HIV/AIDS transmission.

    Since most of JASL’s clients are drawn from the most vulnerable and marginalized communities in our society. Persistent and insidious acts of discrimination and stigmatization faced by these persons severely hinders the national fight against HIV/AIDS. Promoting tolerance towards these individuals is therefore essential to minimize the impact of this dreaded disease on these populations.

    By the way… Where was PINK and the rest of the Editorial team?
    Mouth is an easy ting fi use, pen is also an easy ting fi use…Its time PINK join force and WALK the WALK.


  5. PINK, let me first of all commend you on the aesthetic of this blog (hehehe) and the coverage that you have offered the walk for tolerance (Not to be confused with a pride march). The question, “After the march, what next” is pertinent as it is poignant and it calls for some major reflection and maybe (I dare to say) prioritisation of activities. That the march occurred, secured for many marginalised, vulnerable communities a sense of empowerment and belonging to a wider group of persons standing in solidarity.
    However, my purpose for responding to this post to is perhaps bring some clarity to some of the questions raised and misconceptions which may have arisen due to some bold assertions. Firstly, I do not know what you consider to be the naivety of the organisers with regards to a staging of a tolerance walk which resulted in a pride walk. However, let me clarify some things to you. A WALK FOR TOLERANCE was organised by Jamaica AIDS Support for Life (JASL) which brought together representatives from the most vulnerable groups that utilise its services. The message that intolerance AKA Stigma and Discrimination (S&D) contribute to the spread of the epidemic (HIV/AIDS)is what we marched for. Inviting the various groups was deliberate. That members of the GLBTI community were present with a rainbow tent of a flag does not make the walk a PRIDE walk. Further, for the organisers to have asked that group to walk with a smaller flag would have both perpetuated the societal intolerance and undermined the purpose for we were walking. Allowing the tent-of-a flag was not a sign of naivety; it was a sign of tolerance.
    Secondly, you, in your piece insinuated an absence of strategy on the part of organisers. Goals/Aims determine strategies and activities support strategies. And may I ask you, what about the place for awareness as part of the wider strategy? Because there seemingly is not any move to go to King Street to lobby for legal reform does not invalidate the efforts of which you have been critical. Legal reform within cultural and attitudinal shifts keeps S&D enshrined in our society. Awareness and public discussion are steps toward creating this cultural shift and it is a valid route too. We cannot discount the empowering impact of Martin Luther King Jr.’s walks; motivating others to take the court action they did or Rosa Parke’s decision to remain seated when she was asked to move. Today, they are being hailed not because they won any victories in a court of law but because by their actions, they dared to assert the rights they already knew they had and created a cultural shift from subjugated “blacks” to empowered, assertive “Americans”. On that walk, the same thing happened and the collective feeling was not that a PRIDE march occurred but that we have asserted our rights as humans (whether we have sex for compensation; were men who had sex with other men; hearing impared, a heterosexual or child, ,living with HIV or just people who wish to secure the rights of others.
    That the media deliberately chose to focus on a singular group i not grounds enough to so criticise the organisers of the walk. The media has a moral responsibility but it also has financial obligations and so it is easy to move to the bottom of the ladder and sacrifice thorough and responsibile journalism for sensationalism; that which will get the news sold. It is more news worthy to talk about gays marching in a walk for tolerance than to talk about how intolerance drives the epidemic of AIDS in Jamaica. Unfortunately, pink has also moved to the bottom of the ladder and sacrificed thorough and reponsible reporting for a bit of sensation and celebration over a pride march.
    Like pink, I wish for the day a full on PRIDE march can be had in Jamaica. Until then we continue to spread the message of tolerance as we believe that tolerance should not and cannot be compartmentalised lest it becomes something else.
    Perhaps those who stand on the fringes could, instead of watching oout for our mis-steps, cheer us on and offer useful advise. Unlike J-J, I do not believe that they need to come from the fringes into the heat of the action for we need those people to encourage us on. One thing is sure, however, a silent observer and woeful soothsayer should think twice before offering a critique.

    Thanks PINK and continue to keep us stirred and discussing these issues…

  6. I wish they would work on getting Golding to do new statements, that is a key advocacy point.. you know, the JAS and everybody seeks a public meeting with PM golding and his cabinet on these issues?

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