Jamaica’s First Lesbian Wedding
[title maintitle=”” subtitle=”A bride-to-be travels to her homeland of Jamaica to marry the love of her life, making a historical statement as the country’s first lesbian wedding unfolded”]
[dropcap letter=”I”]n this dream I’m holding my wife, Emma Benn’s hand. The beautiful, intelligent woman I met four years ago by chance. Yes, by chance. For had she not slowed down for me to say hello, or had I made my shyness get the best of me when I stuttered my interest in health disparities research, my life would never have changed for the better. And when she said “yes” when I proposed on our two-year anniversary, as we danced to John Legend’s Ordinary People in the living room of our Brooklyn brownstone, I knew we were in for an exciting and lasting ride.
Next to me, my father is taking baby steps, proudly walking me down the aisle. I’m his eldest daughter—the one he thought he would’ve disowned but changed his mind when love conquered any reservations he might have had when I first came out to him six years before. In this dream, my wife’s smile shone brighter than the golden sun that stretched across the vast blue sky that hovers above the island I call home. Jamaica. Had it not been for the gentle breeze that rose from the ocean and tickled my nose with the scent of salt, I would never have fathomed that this was, in fact, real. And like the gentle sea breeze that blew the tails of our wedding attire on this dreamy day, news of our wedding carried. It traveled as far as the east end of the island, picking up dust in its wake. What was meant to be a private, intimate ceremony done in front of family and friends as a re-enactment of our legal marriage a month before in New York, became an overnight sensation in Jamaica. We made history.
When the Jamaican media took the story and ran with it, this incited open discourse about homosexuality and same-sex unions throughout the country. It was very affirming to individuals living in Jamaica who, like me growing up, felt ostracized or alone because of their sexual orientation. This was when we realized that our wedding, though small, was truly bigger than us.
After months of searching for the right place in Jamaica that would be accepting of our relationship, we stumbled upon Silver Sands Villas. Lodged in the heart of Duncans, Trelawny, a parish on the North Coast of Jamaica, which is characterized by beautiful white sand beaches, Silver Sands had proven itself as the place to have our dream wedding. Each villa is like a home away from home, equipped with its own living room, dining room and cooks. It also offered the privacy and safety we needed for our wedding, given that we didn’t want the town to know the type of wedding we were having. The staff was more than welcoming. They knew we were two women getting married, and went out of their way to accommodate us and our 37 guests. At first, we wanted to have our wedding in one of the smaller villas to avoid drawing any attention, but Cosma Earle, the event coordinator, was very open about us having our wedding in the main gazebo, which juts out into the ocean. We were relieved when he didn’t suggest our wedding be hidden.
Each guest received a box of exquisite pear-shaped soaps, presented in boxes with “Emma and Nicole, the perfect pair” written on them, courtesy of The Sud Bar, a natural and organic skin care cosmetic line owned by Charmaine Rodriques, a good friend of mine.
The décor was inspired by our love for simplicity. The colors used were burnt orange and green, two contrasting colors that complement each other. Much like us—I, a writer, and my wife, a biostatistician.
We also used numerous photographs, images taken of us at various moments of our lives together as a couple. The pictures ranged from casual events such as bike riding around our Brooklyn neighborhood to our travels to Europe. Those pictures were all incorporated into our guestbook. Most importantly, we relied heavily on the natural beauty of the island. After all, it’s Jamaica!
Our officiant, Anna Masilela, was a college friend of Emma’s. She was handpicked to officiate our non-religious ceremony because she knows both of us really well, and, of all the people we know, she exudes the right personality. We love her energy, her spirit and her wit.
We chose Raif Boutique in Fort Greene, Brooklyn for our wedding attire. I basically bought the dress off of the mannequin after seeing it in the window and falling madly in love. “This is it!” I shouted to my wife who also found her ideal wear at the boutique. She wore a tailored vest with a pressed handkerchief in the breast pocket, and long white linen pants with pockets—simple, elegant, chic. Given that our wedding was a destination wedding on the beach, we went for light and airy clothing and wanted lots of bright colors to match the backdrop of the island. Emma and I wore white linen with a tinge of orange and yellow hues. As a couple, we love earth tones. We’re also not very ostentatious, so simplicity and earthiness were definitely key elements. We informed our wedding party to select their own outfits based on this concept.
We opted for simple wedding bands that represented us as a couple, steering clear from diamond rings and opting for white gold from Cambridge Jewelers instead. The rings are inscribed with personal messages and our names.
The celebration started on the night before the wedding during which guests emerged from their separate luxury villas to gather at the resort’s bar and grill for a jam session. The food for the three-day wedding weekend was catered by Byronni Brown, who manages Silver Sands’ Bar and Grill.
Our DJ, DJ AFIFA, played old school reggae, dancehall and hip-hop at Friday night’s welcoming event. Guests chatted and played games of Taboo, which was personalized to include questions about us. There were three teams: Team New York, where we currently live; Team Bryn Mawr, where Emma is from; and Team Kingston, where I am from. We all feasted on jerk chicken and sipped on our signature cocktail “The A Train”, aptly named after the express train I took from Brooklyn to visit Emma in Washington Heights where she lived when we first met. Those who didn’t drink alcohol were treated to “The C Train”, conveniently named after the local alternative to the A train. Everyone danced the night away. Lasting friendships were formed after this event.
On the day of the wedding, Emma and I took a dip in the ocean with our guests. We emerged with noticeable tans, ready to exchange our vows under the gazebo, which juts out into the ocean from the jetty. Emma and I walked down the aisle together along with my father and Emma’s aunt.
Staff of the villa looked on, fascinated, as our bridal party, who carried bright orange fans led the procession, marched down the jetty to Whitney Houston’s My Love Is Your Love—a very symbolic song Emma and I chose to acknowledge the fact that love is universal, blind to race, class, and in our case, gender.
Emma and I wrote our own vows, which felt organic and intimate when we read them to each other before our family and close friends.
We jumped the broom. Literally. It was a very important part of our ceremony. As black women we wanted to remember our ancestors as well as the gays and lesbians who could not get married before our time. The broom symbolized the intersection of our race and sexual orientation, each with its own distinct and painful history of struggle. Nikki Minaj’s Moment for Life serenaded us back down the aisle after this moment, our guests singing and dancing in tow behind us from the gazebo, all the way to the reception area.
The reception was as beautiful as the wedding. Our family and friends gave heartfelt toasts and everyone repeatedly shared how happy they were to be there and how memorable our wedding was to them. Emma and I danced our first dance to Prince’s Call My Name. Later in the reception, we fed each other our very delicious, two-tiered wedding Jamaican rum cake, courtesy of Sheila’s Bakery, located in Ocho Rios. The rest of our music list that night included neo-soul, jazz, house music and reggae. We’re both neo-soul and jazz lovers, so we had to have a healthy dose of those genres during our reception. But most importantly, we had to do the Electric Slide!
The next day after the wedding, we had a lavish brunch where family and friends ate Jamaican breakfast of ackee, saltfish, callaloo, plantains, boiled banana and festival bread. Again, the ocean was a beautiful backdrop to our festivity. Afterwards, guests were free to go off on their own and tour the island. Our wedding weekend in Jamaica turned out to be the most memorable weekend of our lives thus far. Everything turned out beautifully. The weather was nice, the guests were lovely and full of energy, the vendors came through without any judgments or disappointments, and the staff were accommodating and accepting. For each of our guests, this was their first gay wedding. And for Silver Sands Villas and Jamaica, it was the first openly gay wedding they had ever hosted. We made history!
By Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn / Photography by Kwesi Abbensetts Photography