Dr. Emma Benn and Nicole Y. Dennis were married on May 26. Their ceremony was the first lesbian wedding to take place in Jamaica ever in herstory.
Dennis has told the story of her marriage to Benn, whom she describes as her “soul mate,” to various news outlets, including Ebony, which published a first-hand account with a photo gallery spanning four pages. She also wrote about it on her personal blog. The couple were married – legally – in New York, and then travelled to Dennis’ homeland to hold the ceremony.
Prior to her relationship with Benn, Dennis had not considered returning to Jamaica, a home she felt was oppressive and unwelcoming. She ran to America longing for freedom and the space to be herself, and met Benn while studying at Columbia. Neither of the pair would see their mothers at their own wedding, and Dennis’ coming out was tumultuous and emotional. (Her father was present at the ceremony, which symbolized a lot of growth on his part that she refers to as “his own independence” to Ebony.)
Benn would question her about returning to Jamaica throughout their relationship. Eventually, it would go without question that it was the place where they were to be wed:
In my vows I mentioned that because of my partner I fell in love with my country again. For a long time I ran away from Jamaica, seeking refuge in the freedom that America offered. However when I met Emma, she was adamant about visiting Jamaica. “Why not?” she asked when I turned her down a few times. I couldn’t tell her then how much I was hurt by the culture stifled by the seemingly robust structures of colonialism. I couldn’t tell her then that every time I touched the soil my insecurities flooded the gates of my consciousness and broke the levees, thus paralyzing me. However, when Emma and I finally returned to the island together for our first visit as a couple in 2010, something felt different. At the time I couldn’t place what it was. There were no words to describe it since my brain had not yet processed it. I felt beautiful, stronger. Empowered.
Feeling comfortable with myself had nothing to do with maturity; it had a lot to do with acceptance, not of myself, but of my culture. You see, while I learned to love and appreciate myself, the good and the bad, I found my culture to be a big part of who I am. So running away with a knot in my chest only robbed me of half of the woman I am; half the partner; half the writer; and half the soul of the stories I live to tell. … I now love myself enough to love my people and accept that not everyone had the opportunity I did to be exposed to certain knowledge that would rid the flaws and mentality colonialism imposed on us. I am lucky to be free, emancipated from mental slavery, free to love myself, and free to love others. In other words, I am now whole.
Attempting to put together a lesbian wedding was no small feat in Jamaica — the women would encounter countless acts of homophobia and be rejected from various outlets; the coverage of their historic wedding in local publications would be rife with Internet comments about “American values” and keeping them where they are welcome. But together, they persevered. They secured an outdoor space where they were not only welcome, but invited by staff members to hold the ceremony publicly. Their dreams came true.
Coverage of the wedding overshadowed the Queen’s Jubilee, and Dennis describes the ceremony as “surreal.” I am certain she means this in a good way.
The mere event of a lesbian wedding in Jamaica represents tremendous growth for the region in the area of gay rights, and serves as a deep source of inspiration for other homos in the region. Dennis mentioned in her interview with Ebony that she was proud to be able to fully recognize a new side to Jamaica, and bring it to the forefront of our discourse on gay rights. No longer can stereotypes and generalizations about hate in Jamaica go without mention of the historic wedding:
More promising to me as a Jamaican was the plethora of positive reactions on my blog and some on the Jamaica Gleaner’s comment section from strangers back home—people who felt trapped in silence because of their sexuality. Or strangers showing support in general. Their individual voices joined the chorus of support my wife and I have been getting, expressing their pride and joy. Other gays and lesbians have acknowledged us as an inspiration. Had it not been for this highly publicized wedding, I would never have felt the true pulse of the gay community in my country, and the nation as a whole. For the first time in their lives they were not invisible. The unbiased publication also allowed people to look pass gender and see the rawness and truth in love. That we’re not sexualized vultures or heathens, but two women in love. Most importantly, I observed men and women removing their cloaks of shame and guilt to step forward, beautifully naked in the eyes of freedom. Gay and lesbian Jamaicans are tired of hiding.
There is a full gallery of wedding photos available on the Ebony website that will totally rock your world, and you absolutely have to check it out!