MONTEGO BAY PRIDE CONSIDERS LEGAL ACTION AGAINST MAYOR

The planning committee of Montego Bay Pride is shocked and dismayed by the decision of the city’s Mayor and Chair of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre (MBCC) Homer Davis, to ban us from hosting any of our events at the Centre, which is located in the heart of the city.

The mayor’s actions were apparently triggered by a Facebook advertisement for an October 16 public forum at the MBCC under the theme: “Is Jamaica ready for same-sex marriage?

The Mayor reportedly based his decision on a purported need to protect the “sacredness” of the MBCC from gay marriage. However, this forum is not a promotion of gay marriage but an invitation to a public discussion on this very topical issue. By October 15 the Jamaican government must respond to a petition before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights challenging the constitutional ban on same-sex unions, including marriage.

Mayor Davis reportedly took action after being pressed to do so by former mayor, Charles Sinclair, who in a Facebook post last year also questioned our right to host an LGBT film festival as part of Montego Bay Pride.

Montego Bay Pride, which is now in our fifth year is scheduled for October 13-20. Our grassroots festival has grown from just under 150 persons in 2015 to over 1,500 local and international guests last year. Among other things, we seek to engage and educate the citizens of the second city about the human rights of LGBT Jamaicans.

As such, we have always hosted a public forum on a topical issue concerning LGBT human rights, such as a 2017 forum at the MBCC on the church and the anti-buggery law.

These forums are an opportunity for all views to contend and Montego Bay Pride has been proud to collaborate with MBCC to facilitate these open and frank dialogues. The MBCC has been an ideal location to host these discussions that touch on the legal rights of vulnerable Jamaicans because of the building’s accessibility to most residents of the city, as well as the significance of the MBCC as a former court house located in the square named after Montego Bay’s most celebrated human rights champion, National Hero Sam Sharpe.

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Founder and current director of development of Montego Bay Pride, Maurice Tomlinson said that the mayor’s actions amounted to an “arbitrary and unconstitutional attempt to stifle the right to freedom of expression of Jamaican citizens.”

According to Tomlinson, “instead of encouraging dialogue on a contentious issue the mayor decided to shut down a democratic debate, which as an elected politician, the mayor must know is the lifeblood of Jamaica’s democracy.”

The theme for this year’s forum was chosen because of the significant media attention that Tomlinson’s petition challenging the same-sex marriage ban has received. The organizers of Montego Bay Pride felt that the voices and views of ordinary Jamaicans were overlooked and ignored in this important national and global debate. Tomlinson stated that it was “perverse” that the city’s mayor would seek to quash the fundamental right to free expression of his citizens at a facility controlled by the city. Tomlinson is therefore calling on the mayor to reconsider and reverse his decision.

Sharlene Kessan Duncan

Sharlene Kessan-Duncan is the coordinator of Montego Bay Pride. She said that: “The mayor’s attempt to censor the voices of citizens reflects very badly on him and the city. It will also cause visitors to our vital tourism industry to question Montego Bay’s claim to be the “Friendly City” if we can’t even allow a free discussion on a topical issue.”

Kessan-Duncan echoed Tomlinson and said that: “This forum is meant to include all voices, such as those religious groups opposed to same-sex marriage. And nothing can be more “sacred” to our country than the right to free speech. That is the healthy way to develop and sustain our democracy, not through the autocratic curtailing of debate.”

In light of the far-reaching implications of the Mayor’s actions, including the potential chilling effect on free speech and other constitutional rights, Montego Bay Pride is reviewing our legal options to ensure that this forum goes ahead as planned. We also implore all Montegoians with views on this sensitive issue to join in calling for the Mayor to reverse his decision and allow this critical dialogue to be accommodated at the MBCC.

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