Wednesday, December 10, 2008

J-FLAG celebrates tenth anniversary

Kingston – December 10, 2008

December 10, 2008 marks ten years since the founding of the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), Jamaica’s foremost lesbian, gay and transgender rights advocacy group. The anniversary will be commemorated with a church service on the weekend. As J-FLAG celebrates this milestone, it pauses to reflect on the challenges and successes that have shaped its journey thus far.

Started by a group of 12 business people, educators, lawyers, public relations practitioners, advertisers and human rights activists, J-FLAG was launched in the wee hours of December 10, 1998. The organisation was born out of the need to advocate for the protection of lesbians, gays and transgenders from state-sanctioned and community violence. In this regard, J-FLAG’s call was for the fair and equal treatment of gays and lesbians under the law and by the ordinary citizen.

The organisation’s birth was condemned and decried by most as a foolhardy venture that would result in a backlash against members of the country’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. On the other hand, it was welcomed by a few as a bold attempt to recognise lesbians, gays and transgenders as members of plural Jamaican society.

After ten years of existence, J-FLAG can boast of having survived in one of the most inhospitable environments for gays, lesbians and transgender people. Indeed, much of J-FLAG’s work has revolved around the rescuing of community members from violent situations or attempting to deal with the aftermath of such situations. In fact, the violent death of Brian Williamson, one of the co-founders of J-FLAG—and for years its voice and face—and the recent departure of Gareth Henry, a former programmes manager of the organisation, testify to the dangerous environment in which the organisation operates.

Yet J-FLAG has been able to do what was, ten years ago, unthinkable in Jamaica. It has visited and made presentations on sexuality and human rights to a variety of local and international organisations, including religious, civic and human rights groups as well as tertiary educational institutions and the police. It has also met with and given interviews with radio and newspaper reporters. But perhaps its most significant achievements have been the submission to parliament regarding the addition of sexual orientation as a category for which there should be constitutional protection against discrimination and the assistance, in 2006, to relaunch the Caribbean Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (C-FLAG).

Over the ten years of its existence, J-FLAG has stood as a singular voice in Jamaica calling for the respect of lesbians, gays and transgenders as citizens with the same rights and value as heterosexual Jamaicans. For the next phase of its journey, the organisation will continue calling Jamaicans to a deeper understanding of their plurality and their democracy; it will continue seeking to raise the level of debate in the society about the meaning of tolerance and the acceptance of difference. Accordingly, J-FLAG will attempt to forge new relationships with a wider cross-section of organisations committed to strengthening democracy and the promotion of respect for all Jamaicans, regardless of sexual orientation, gender, creed, religion or social status.

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