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Jamaica holds first ever gay pride celebration on island

GAY PRIDE: A series of events will be held over the week [PHOTO CREDIT: Caribbean360]

JAMAICA'S LESBIAN, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is holding its first gay pride celebration.

The week-long observance - which kicked off on Saturday (Aug 1) - was previously almost unthinkable in a Caribbean country long described as the one of the globe's most hostile places to homosexuality.

The homosexual community in Jamaica this weekend began a series of gay pride activities with the support of minister of justice Mark Golding who pleaded with citizens to “respect their right to do so in peace”.

A flash mob in Emancipation Park in the capital on Saturday morning was among the activities organised by the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) as the PRiDE JA 2015 week kicked off.

Events in the capital of Kingston have included an art exhibit and performances featuring songs and poems by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Jamaicans and a dance party.

Gay rights activists said Tuesday (Aug 4) the peaceful events are a clear sign that tolerance for LGBT people is expanding on the island even though stigma is common and longstanding laws criminalizing gay sex between men remain on the books.

"I think we will look back on this and see it as a turning point because many persons thought that it would never actually happen," said Latoya Nugent of the Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, or J-FLAG, the rights group that organized the event.

For years, Jamaica's gay community lived so far underground that their parties and church services were held in secret locations. Most stuck to a "don't ask, don't tell" policy of keeping their sexual orientation hidden to avoid scrutiny or protect loved ones.

But while discrimination against gays remains pervasive in many parts of Jamaica and anti-gay violence flares up recurrently, Nugent said there is an inaccurate perception overseas that homosexuals in Jamaica "can't even walk on the streets because if you do you are going to be stoned or stabbed to death."

"What we are seeing these days is more and more LGBT people willing to be visible, to be open, and to be public," said Nugent.

"It's remarkable."

Some 80 incidents of discrimination, threats, physical attacks, displacement and sexual violence were reported to J-FLAG last year.

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