July 31, 2015 at 11:05 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Mayor of Jamaican capital to speak at Pride event

Angela Brown Burke, Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Kingston, Jamaica, Mayor Angela Brown Burke, center, with J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis, right, and Kate Spring of UNAIDS during a human rights forum earlier this year. (Photo courtesy of J-FLAG)

The mayor of the Jamaican capital on Friday said she has “a responsibility” to represent all of her city’s residents, including those who are LGBT.

“I come from the point of view that I, as mayor, have a responsibility to all the individuals of Kingston,” Angela Brown-Burke told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview.

Brown-Burke, who is also a member of the Jamaican Senate, spoke with the Blade a day before she is scheduled to speak at the opening ceremony of the country’s first-ever LGBT Pride celebration that will take place in Kingston.

“There are individuals who are minorities who have been struggling in terms of their identity and finding their own space,” Brown-Burke told the Blade. “It is important for us to provide safe spaces for them.”

Diversity ‘benefits’ all Jamaicans

J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, is organizing a series of events for Pride that will include a flash mob and an opening ceremony on Saturday. A symposium about coming out, an art exhibit and a number of parties and performances are scheduled to take place in Kingston through Aug. 8.

Jamaican Justice Minister Mark Golding also endorsed the events that coincide with the 53rd anniversary of Jamaica’s independence from the U.K., which took place on Aug. 6, 1962.

“All Jamaicans, regardless of race, class, creed or indeed sexual orientation are citizens deserving of being treated with civility and human kindness,” wrote Golding in a statement.

J-FLAG Education and Training Manager Latoya Nugent, who co-chairs the Pride organizing committee, told the Blade on Friday during a telephone interview from Kingston that she hopes the events will send a message that resonates among Jamaicans across the country.

“We hope they will see supporting LGBT persons or being inclusive given the diversity that we have in our country is really not a bad thing — it is actually a good thing,” she said. “It benefits communities, and the country at large.”

Nugent acknowledged to the Blade that organizers remain concerned about the safety of those who plan to participate in the events.

She said Pride organizers will not disclose the location of the flash mob until it takes place “just to be safe.” The opening ceremony, which will feature the raising of a rainbow flag, will take place indoors.

A parade is not among events that are scheduled to take place.

“We don’t necessarily need a parade to demonstrate our pride and to celebrate love and unity within the community,” said Nugent.

“It’s a better and safer as well to actually host several events over a short period of time and events that would cater to the diversity that we have and the diversity of needs that we have in the LGBT community,” she added.

LGBT movement increasingly visible despite challenges

Jamaica is among the more than 70 countries throughout the world in which consensual same-sex sexual activity remains illegal.

Anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain pervasive throughout the island, but local advocates with whom the Blade has spoken in recent years say their movement has become more visible.

President Obama in April during a town hall meeting at the University of the West Indies in Kingston applauded Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, a group that advocates on behalf of lesbian and bisexual women and transgender Jamaicans. Randy Berry, the special U.S. envoy to promote global LGBT rights, and Todd Larson, senior LGBT coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, traveled to Jamaica in May.

Angeline Jackson, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, gay news, Washington Blade

Angeline Jackson, executive director of Quality of Citizenship Jamaica. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Berry last week during a briefing on Capitol Hill noted a leading Jamaican newspaper recently opined against the country’s colonial-era sodomy law.

“We really just want to have the same kinds of access, agency and opportunities that straight people have, and to be able to celebrate our pride freely, without any stigma and discrimination,” Nugent told the Blade.

Intolerance has ‘kept us back’

Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller has faced criticism and even protests from advocates who feel her government has not done enough to curb anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica.

Liberty Counsel Chair Mat Staver and Piero Tozzi of the Alliance Defending Freedom are among the anti-LGBT advocates from the U.S. who have traveled to the country in recent years and attended events organized by groups that oppose efforts to repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. Berry and Larson’s trip sparked protests in Kingston that local religious groups and other anti-LGBT organizations organized.

“This idea of LGBT people wanting to take over Jamaica, to take over the world, is really just a myth,” Nugent told the Blade.

Brown-Burke acknowledged opposition to LGBT rights in Jamaica remains strong.

“Intolerance that we have generally in the society is something that has kept us back,” she told the Blade.

Brown-Burke added that LGBT Jamaicans should have the opportunity to fully participate in Jamaican society.

“We all have a role to play in the development of our country and the development of our city,” she told the Blade.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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