For as long as I can remember, being black and gay was like the biggest crime one could commit in my community. It didn't matter where you were born, the culture was one that saw black churches openly bashing homosexuality and parents disowning their children, leaving them on the streets to survive however they could.
Fast forward to 2016, the black LGBTQ community is growing by the minute and more and more black gay men and women are embracing who they are without apology. I mean, what's there to apologize for? Even in the wake of the Orlando shooting, many more gay, lesbian, transgender and bisexual people are coming out and showing the world that they are proud members of the rainbow family.
We are now celebrating Pride and my friends from across the Caribbean and North America have joined me in letting the world know just how proud we are to be able to celebrate something that many had to sacrifice their lives for.
Here's what Pride means to us:
Maurice Tomlinson (Jamaica/Toronto)
Pride for me is political. It is daring to be visible in spaces where LGBTI people are persecuted and even killed. That is why I organized Pride in Montego Bay where homophobic murders have repeatedly cost beautiful lives. But we refuse to be exterminated.
Carla John (Bermuda/Toronto)
Pride means freedom and family. Growing up gay in a tiny country like Bermuda, I didn't think I'd ever be able to marry a woman or raise a family. But on June 22, 2012 after being together since 2004, I married my best friend. Now every June we get to celebrate Pride and family.
Andrew Campbell (Jamaica/Toronto)
It is finally having the power and resolve on the inside to dictate my energy. It reminds me that I do not need to hide and it is okay for me to me my authentic self. I have given myself permission to be proud of who and what I am.
Laurisa Francis (Antigua and Barbuda)
Pride means being free to enjoy life without people invading your space or trying to tell you what life is about! It is being proud of myself and my accomplishments, standing up for what I believe in and showing others that no matter what life throws at you, you should not lose faith or turn away from what makes you happy, what makes you tick, what makes you laugh, what makes you love and most of all what makes life complete.
Juelz Edwards (Antigua and Barbuda/New York)
Pride to me means finally being able to live life freely, taking away the shame that you were made to feel and just being able to smile. It is about not hiding my true colors and letting it spread beautifully like a rainbow after the storm. Pride is about loving me, being who I am, dressing how I want, loving who I love without holding back. Pride to me is ACCEPTANCE, PEACE and LOVE. I am a lesbian -- a stud and I'm not ashamed of who I am. I am proud!
Victor/Naomi Leone (Africa/Toronto)
To me, Pride means just being myself: A joyful and proud African man. As a performer, I hope to inspire others and touch their hearts by telling a story about the fight for freedom and equality. Pride should remind people to stand up for themselves and for others. We will continue to fight equality and we will continue to celebrate pride.
Vanessa Crevelle (Trinidad and Tobago/Toronto)
To me, pride means understanding and acceptance among ourselves and elsewhere. It also means peace, harmony, support and so forth. The LGBTI black community came from such a long way (Legally, Socially, Politically, Religiously and mostly Culturally). The black LGBTI organizations have struggled so much to balance OUR OWN culture expectations through community stigmatization, oppression and prosecution particularly within the Caribbean. There is a sense of freedom and comfort that I see LGBTI people have here that they cannot/will NOT be able to have within the Caribbean.
Kingade` Johnson (Jamaica/Toronto)
It wasn't until Pride 2009 when I found freedom from my struggles, I found self-love, I found Gay love, I found the kind of love that made me love myself as a "Black Jamaican Gay man" and that became my PRIDE. Pride is letting go of religious governance, letting go of self-hate, letter go of anger and finding inner peace. Pride means to love one's self and live in one's happiness... HAPPY PRIDE TORONTO 2016.
Janelle Bruney (Dominica/Antigua and Barbuda)
Pride for me is being myself and no one else. It means wearing my joggers and high top sneakers one day, then cute sandals and lipstick the next. It means dressing as I feel and in what I'm comfortable in. It's being proud of myself for making myself happy despite what anyone thinks or likes. It's being a proud gay black single mom from the Caribbean raising my daughter to be who she is and accepting and loving everyone no matter their race, sex, age, nationality or sexual preference. It's being able to chase my goals and it is also going through many trials in life and coming out dancing and smiling.
Twysted Miyake-Mugler (Jamaica/Toronto)
Pride is a rebellious expression -- an expression of everything that we have been told to keep inside during our years of socialization. We were cast out for being born who we are, so we form a rebellion by coming together and celebrating what we were told to be ashamed of. When we celebrate PRIDE, we don't do it for those who can, we do it for those who can't.
People often ask why we need a gay pride celebration and all I can say is that Pride is much more than a parade; it is a reminder of our journey which has been filled with lots of ups and downs and too many dead bodies. So for me, Pride is a celebration of life!
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