Still I Rise: Reflections on IDAHOT

[This reflection was delivered at Prism on the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia — in recognition of the resilience of the LGBTQ community in Jamaica]

International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia represents a worldwide celebration of sexual and gender diversities. The global focus this year is on youth and has created an unprecedented opportunity for activists and their allies at all levels to highlight existing initiatives and amplify their visibility.

To this end, J-FLAG has engaged with and provided opportunities for youth to be a part, and in fact the centre, of our celebration of the humanity and inherent dignity of the LGBT population. We’ve also sought to focus on the resilience of the community this year.

We have many stories of gloom and horror, but despite all of this the community continues to strive and to conquer in the face of every harmful act, every hurtful word and every hateful thought.

As an advocate I have lent my time and voice to a cause I deem to be paramount to the development of Jamaica. Without all hands on deck, without every citizen in every nook and cranny feeling that they belong here and that their contributions matter, we cannot be at our best.

As an ally and friend of the community I stand with all of you as you insist on and defend your right to be here; as you celebrate the progress you’ve made and as you remain hopeful that the best is still yet to come.

Being around and loving LGBT people, I have seen firsthand the effects of homophobia but I have also seen the strength and sheer will of LGBT people to live and love; to maintain in your hearts the true spirit of human dignity. You remain brave in overcoming all the obstacles you are presented with and I am often amazed at your ability to keep going when it must have been easier to roll over and die.

While we still have quite a way to go, I have also seen the progress that is being made in many sectors of the country. Indeed, there have been significant strides made in the race towards equality for gender and sexual minorities.

For the last two years I have been working on a health project where we train healthcare workers to treat effectively with the LGBT population. I have seen the growth of many of the participants as they become more and more understanding of the unique issues that plague the community.

We have also seen much improvement in other areas. Last year we saw the launch of the Respect Jamaica programme — a corporate Jamaica initiative which attempts to engender positive changes in the Jamaican society. The programme addresses discrimination related to colour, race, class, sexual orientation, those with special needs, the youth and elderly, among other things. The Respect Jamaica programme calls on all Jamaicans to stand in support of the marginalised and vulnerable in our communities – whoever they may be – to build our nation.

We also saw the acceptance of LGBT people at Christ Church in Vineyard Town. An ally of the community, Father Sean Major-Campbell urged the congregation and by extension the Jamaican population, in his sermon on International Human Rights Day, to uphold and respect the rights of each citizen, live together in peace in spite of our differences, speak up in defense of the human rights of the vulnerable, and to use the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as our guide to healthy living. In solidifying his message, Fr Sean washed the feet of two lesbians as a demonstration. He also invited a transgender male to share his experiences living in Jamaica.

These are but a few of the initiatives that are being undertaken to make Jamaica a more inclusive home for every single Jamaican. Let us celebrate the big victories as well as the incremental ones as it won’t happen in one fell swoop.

Progress will sometimes move at a glacial pace and we may become impatient because we should not in the first place have had to fight for basic respect and for our dignity to be recognised but remember justice never sleeps.

I stand with you as you defend your individuality. I continue to speak out with and for you, making it clear that your humanity is not in question because of your sexual orientation or gender identity; that you deserve the same respect that is afforded to every other Jamaican.

In the spirit of resilience and of this event, I would like to end with a poem. A poem that reflects the indomitable will not only to survive but survive as a human being.

Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise:

You may write me down in history

With your bitter, twisted lies,

You may tread me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sassiness upset you?

Why are you beset with gloom?

‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells

Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,

With the certainty of tides,

Just like hopes springing high,

Still I’ll rise.

 

Did you want to see me broken?

Bowed head and lowered eyes?

Shoulders falling down like teardrops.

Weakened by my soulful cries.

 

Does my haughtiness offend you?

Don’t you take it awful hard

‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines

Diggin’ in my own back yard.

 

You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.

 

Does my sexiness upset you?

Does it come as a surprise

That I dance like I’ve got diamonds

At the meeting of my thighs?

 

Out of the huts of history’s shame

I rise

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain

I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,

Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

 

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear

I rise

Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear

I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,

I am the dream and the hope of the slave.

I rise

I rise

I rise.