December 15, 2016 at 12:46 pm EST | by Dane Lewis
Jamaican LGBT group celebrates 18 years of progress
J-Flag, Randy Berry, Dane Lewis, Todd Larson, gay news, Washington Blade

From left; Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBTI Persons Randy Berry, J-FLAG Executive Director Dane Lewis and Todd Larson of the U.S. Agency for International Development attend a reception at the home of U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Luis Moreno in Kingston, Jamaica, on May 21, 2015. (Photo courtesy of J-FLAG)

J-FLAG, Jamaica’s leading organization advocating for the rights of LGBT people, celebrates 18 years of spectacular change-making work having been launched on International Human Rights Day Dec. 10, 1998.

While many would ask, “What is there to celebrate?” citing continued incidences of homophobic and transphobic violence and harassment, we have seen, through the implementation of our programs over the years, a significant shift in the attitudes of Jamaicans toward the LGBT population.

In the past eight years, J-FLAG has been privileged to enjoy some key partnerships and the support of some bold allies who continue to support us as we create and curate safe, inclusive and non-discriminatory spaces for the LGBT community. I celebrate those LGBT people who come out and show up in ways that help to challenge the misconceptions about us. I am grateful to those who, for several reasons, may be unable to do so, but continue to add value to our work and the movement in Jamaica and the Diaspora. These partnerships have all contributed to where we are today, as one diverse and unified movement, and that is worth celebrating.

Our team has expanded, and with that, there was an increase in the number of initiatives undertaken; an increase in community reach and engagement; increase in our social media output, reach and engagement; increase in income (including from local businesses); improvement in the quality, and diversity of services and programs offered through enhanced resource mobilization.

The effort of the hardworking staff is demonstrated in the fact that 80 percent of our planned programs and initiatives for 2016 were completed during the year. This makes 2016 the organization’s best performing year in its 18-year history. And this does not even account for the over 40 ad hoc activities that were completed within that same time.

In 2016 alone we have sensitized more than 200 healthcare workers and 150 Jamaicans who seek healthcare services on the importance of ensuring that all Jamaicans, including LGBT Jamaicans, are able to comfortably access healthcare free from discrimination. We have also trained more than 50 LGBT and ally youth to be social justice advocates with a view to increasing and diversifying the voices calling for equality for and inclusion of all Jamaicans. The focus of our legal advocacy has been expanded to capture all the ways in which laws and policies impact the LGBT community. To that end we have conducted a myriad of sensitization sessions with members of the community to increase their understanding of human rights as well as the current state of Jamaican law.

Our affiliates, WE-Change and TransWave, have been doing a tremendous job in placing focus on the experiences and challenges faced by the women and trans members of the LGBT population, respectively.

Although there continue to be incidents of violence and harassment against the LGBTQ population, we have seen the slow shift toward tolerance and respect for the population as is the sentiment expressed in many of our sensitization sessions and greater appreciation within the community of our rights and responsibilities. At the age of 18, J-FLAG and the Jamaican society at large have both matured. J-FLAG’s advocacy has become more inclusive and diverse and the Jamaican society’s attitudes have slowly matured to one of greater tolerance. In August, J-FLAG staged its second incident-free PRiDE Week Celebrations which are in themselves an indication of how far we have come. PRiDE is no longer a small party in an office but is now a week of various events capturing the diverse interests of the community. It is becoming a mainstay in the J-FLAG calendar and an example for the rest of the region and the world to follow.

We are proud of the work we have already done and are ready to face the challenges in 2017. We are heartened by the overwhelming support we receive on social media and are fortified by our desire to see LGBT Jamaicans fully integrated into all areas of public life, working together with our countrymen for a prosperous Jamaica.

Dane Lewis is executive director of J-FLAG.

1 Comment
  • Well done! What is most important about this column is that it’s written by a Jamaican working to promote LGBTQ rights in Jamaica. Thanks for sharing.

    [Note: Not re tipping, which is nevertheless always good karma. Thank you.]

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