Jaevion Nelson is the Director of Projects and Strategy at J-Flag, Jamaica’s oldest LGBT organisation. He also moonlights as a writer, youth development, HIV and Human Rights advocate.
AZ: How did you initially get involved with J-Flag?
Jaevion: I started working for J-Flag in October 2010, just after I had finished studying Social Development and Communication at the University of Swansea. In 2009 I had volunteered at J-Flag for two weeks because, I wanted to get a better understanding of LGBT issues.
I had already planned on basing my dissertation on LGBT issues. I wanted to make the right connections with people locally so that I would not have any problems getting the data I needed.
Did you enjoy studying in Swansea?
Swansea was an interesting place, although, it was far too quiet for me. It was the first time that I had spent an extended period of time outside Jamaica, it was a little challenging. The community there was hidden and I was hoping that I would have been able to interact with more people in the LGBT community. I ended up spending several months in London, I was a proper Londoner.
What kind of negative misconceptions do you think people have about being LGBT?
A large number of people are not necessarily familiar with LGBT issues and and tend to think that, for example, every LGBT person you meet wants to flirt with or have sexual intercourse with you. They think that there is this nefarious gay agenda, they talk about this idea that the community is trying to make everyone gay.
A lot of J-Flag’s work involves working in the local community, do you think you’re making a difference?
Absolutely! I think our work is really helping to challenge the opinions that people have about the community and Human Rights for LGBT people. Through our work we have been successful in getting a lot of people to unlearn what they have learnt about the LGBT community and begin to be more open and embrace LGBT people. I think that we have had tremendous success in getting the community to be much more hospitable.
How do you overcome opposition from individuals or organisations?
We tend to have conversations and try to help them understand why our work is necessary and how they may be of assistance. We aim to clarify any misconceptions that they have.
The opposition tends to be different in each case, for instance, if the blocking is due to fear we help them navigate their own fears. There are also other blockages where anti-gay rights organisations are concerned. So obviously for that you would not have any weight.
We try to work to the best of our abilities to change minds and help people to understand the importance of our work.
How much of an impact do you think changing laws surrounding same sex relations would have on the general population’s views on homosexuality?
I think it would make some difference, but unfortunately not a huge one. People tend to think about LGBT laws in a myopic way and focus on the buggery law which is in the The Offences Against the Person Act. If it was to be repealed to allow for same sex intimacy between consenting adults, it would help the culture a little bit more to challenge the issues.
However, where laws and policies are concerned, there are other laws and policies which have to be addressed as well, some of course, are impacted by the existence of the buggery law but on a wider scale there are other issues. Issues related to family, outing LGBT people, domestic violence, sexual offences; these things would still be a problem.
The situation could be impacted positively by the repeal of the law, but would not go the extent that the laws and policies cater enough to the needs of LGBT people.
What are your general views on LGBT Rights in the Caribbean?
There are a number of entities in the region, but many of them are not well funded and rely on the support of volunteers and the dedication of part-time staff to undertake the work that they do. That is why I think we do not have as much collaboration within the region that we ought to.
For some countries their movement is not as successful as they could be, so I think at the moment three of the most funded organisations are; J-Flag, United and Strong in St. Lucia and Sasod in Guyana. Caiso in Trinidad and Tobago are pretty active and quite successful. There are also other new up and coming organisations that have been in operation for one or two years.
I think that right across the region the huge challenge is that the dependence on funding from HIV sources. Funding seems to be focused on gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men and transgender rights. It is still a struggle for entities to expand their focus given the multiple priorities people have. Inevitably, lesbians and bisexual women tend to struggle within the LGBT movement.
Are wealthier LGBT Jamaicans treated differently to those that are underprivileged?
We have reason to believe, based on some of our research, that though everyone in the community is affected by the homophobia, transphobia and biphobia that exists in the country, those who tend to be most affected in the most severe way are usually from the lower strata.
They are usually uneducated, unemployed, from poorer communities and tend not to have as much family support as others. I think that when we use the term “gully queens” it is a manifestation to the extent that homophobia and transphobia can impact people’s lives. But it is important to acknowledge that outside of those that we refer to as the “gully queens” there are those who are homeless, living in Kingston and in other parts of the country that need support as much as any other LGBT person who has been displaced or is homeless.
Jamaica’s first national pride event was held in 2015, what has changed for J-Flag and the community between then and now?
We have noticed that between the first pride in 2015 and last year’s pride festival there has been a more positive vibe in the community. It has given people hope and a desire to be a part of the community.
We have seen far more people who are willing to come forward and provide their assistance to the LGBT community. Last year we had support from around six private sector companies. I think pride for us is a revolutionary movement, we see beyond just a gathering of people. We see it as a way for the community to celebrate the oneness for us to begin to demonstrate in a bold and visible way, that we are Jamaicans and that we are interested in the development of the country.
We have several events throughout pride, last year we had a symposium for families to talk about their issues, we had a day where we packaged lunches for people across the country so that people can see that we are not only about the LGBT community but it is also about giving back to the country. Which is why a pride celebration during the independence and emancipation celebration is also significant because, we see it as an important time where we celebrate our resilience as a community.
Are you looking forward to this year’s pride?
Yes! The planning committee has already come together on one or two occasions to begin the plans, we are hoping for Pride 2017 to be bigger and better and be much more exciting. One thing we would really like is to have much more people from the diaspora. We want people to come to Jamaica 1-7 August 2017 and take part in the activities.
What has been your biggest J-Flag achievement?
Pride JA 2015 has been our biggest achievement. I was looking through my emails at the end of last year and I found a conversation we were having in 2012 about hosting a pride event. At the time is was not possible, so I think Pride JA was the biggest achievement for the organisation because it really demonstrates our ability to bring together people in the LGBT community and outside of it.
The contribution I have been able to make to J-Flag as an organisation, to help to grow the organisation over the past six years into the phenomenal entity that it is now.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
My desire to contribute to the develop of my country and my community.
How do you relax?
I like to party, drink, be online and chatting up a storm on Twitter and socialising with my friends.
What are your hopes for the community in the future?
In the future we see a community that continues to be vibrant, public, that is committed to the welfare and development of Jamaica, and to be a community that is interested in promoting and protecting the rights of LGBT people and all vulnerable and marginalised people in society.
A Jamaica where those who are LGBT do not have to hide themselves and those who if they want to, can be public about their support for LGBT rights, their belonging to this community and that contributions made by LGBT people can also be acknowledged.
We hope that Jamaica is a place that is hospitable for all persons living here, citizens or non-residents, as a place where LGBT individuals can work, raise their families and conduct business.
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