Pride the Caribbean Way

Growing up, I thought pride was synonymous with a parade. The images, I often saw in the media depicted flags, glitter, beads and glistening bodies celebrating in the street with cheering and supportive bystanders. It reminded me of carnival in the Caribbean but not quite as attainable or supported. I yearned to experience the freedom a pride parade embodied and got the opportunity to participate in DC Parade in 2010. It was an excitingly liberating and carefree experience.

During this time, there was no such public celebration of freedom in the Caribbean. I couldn’t even dream about the possibility of celebrating Pride in my homeland of Jamaica. It was challenging enough navigating public spaces without the stares of strangers, the potential verbal abuse and the threat of physical harm. This was, and remains the reality for far too many LGBTIQ people living and trying to thrive in the Caribbean.

Neish McLean, OutRight Carribean Program Officer

Remarkably, a few years later, Jamaica became the first English-speaking Caribbean country to celebrate pride. Jamaica Pride wasn’t centered on a parade, not only because of safety concerns, but more so because a parade was not the ideal expression of being Jamaican and LGBTIQ. Instead, it was an authentic display of Jamaican ingenuity, athleticism and energy for a week of events that included a sports day, a concert, a conference as well as a beach party. Pride in Jamaica was a showcase of our creativity, our defiance, our resilience and our hope for a Jamaica where LGBTIQ people can exist, love and thrive openly, boldly and unafraid.

Currently, Pride celebrations are sweeping the Caribbean, and in some places, with a parade. It’s amazing to see the vibrancy of the Caribbean LGBTIQ community - rainbow colours interlaced with national flags in rich, bold hues - a statement that our pride in being from the LGBTIQ community exists along with our nationality and roots that extend firmly in this region.

The celebration of pride in the Caribbean helps to dismantle the misconceptions and attempts to render our experience as a single narrative of escape from glistening shores to northern climates and often distant cultures.

We challenge and lay claim to our experiences as LGBTIQ people in the Caribbean, not waiting for policy change and decriminalization to find space to celebrate our identity, our same-gender love, our fierceness and challenge of cisnormativity. We mark pride in the Caribbean, not because things are perfect but because our existence requires that we celebrate our journey and take a moment to, embrace and lift up each other up. We take pride in sharing space with those who can’t otherwise show their pride. We do not forget the struggle or the resistance when we organize or participate in pride. We wear it defiantly in rainbow shades to show the world that in the Caribbean we wave our rainbow flag as high as our national flags.