Correction appended below
On Saturday, LGBT rights organizations kicked off PRiDE JA 2015, Jamaica’s first ever gay pride week. For a country that TIME magazine once called “the most homophobic place on earth,” the event is testament to a slowly improving climate for an often persecuted LGBT community.
“Despite the realities, Jamaica is changing slowly and moving in the right direction to make the country a more hospitable place for LGBT Jamaicans,” says Dane Lewis, executive director of J-FLAG, which organized the event.
Jamaica isn’t the only country in the Caribbean where attitudes toward the LGBT community are beginning to change. Cuba has banned workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and since 2008 has offered free gender reassignment surgeries under its national health care system. Haiti’s first LGBT rights organization, Kouraj (“courage” in Kreyol), has forced more attention on conditions for the country’s gay and transgender citizens.
But the slow pace of change also underlines a growing disparity between the Caribbean and the rest of Latin America when it comes to gay rights. While same-sex marriage has been recognized in place like Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, no country in the Caribbean has legalized the practice. Kouraj, the Haitian LGBT rights organization, has come under violent threat for its advocacy activities. And in March, Jamaican LGBT activist Maurice Tomlinson appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice to challenge immigration laws in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago that ban “undesirable” people, including LGBT individuals, prostitutes and other stigmatized groups, from entering the countries. The case is still under review.
Jamaica’s so-far successful celebration of pride week is a good sign for Caribbean progress on gay rights, but much is left to be done if the region is to catch up with some of its more progressive Latin American counterparts.
Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article incorrectly stated that PRiDE JA 2015 started on Monday, August 3. Festivities began on Saturday, August 1.