Gay Pride organiser calls foul over alleged CayMAS breaches

CayMAS revelers enjoy the annual street parade. Photo: CayMAS

Cayman LGBTQ Foundation president Noel Cayasso-Smith claims authorities turned a blind eye to breaches of COVID-19 restrictions during Saturday’s CayMAS parade, saying the rules were much more strictly enforced for the Gay Pride Parade he organised a week earlier.

“I’m not say that they should be fined the $10,000 or go to jail because that is a bit harsh,” said Cayasso-Smith. “But government made the rules, and they were very clear for both parades, we followed the rules, they didn’t so, now government needs to uphold those rules.”

On Wednesday, 21 July, Government gazetted two set of Prevention, Control and Suppression of COVID-19 regulations – one for CayMAS and the other for Pride. Barring the name and dates of the regulations, both were identical – capping the number of participants at 1,000 and requiring those taking part to provide proof of being fully vaccinated.

“Leading up to our parade, we were repeatedly reminded of the consequences of breaking the rules,” said Cayasso-Smith. “In fact, I … was personally told, if you break any of the rules you will be fined the full amount and jailed.”

“We limited our participants to 600 people,” said Kemorne Wiggan, a volunteer of the Cayman LGBTQ Foundation. “When we asked for rules to be changed to allow children 12 and under to join their parents, we were told Cabinet would not be meeting again to approve any changes. CayMAS oversold their parade and Cabinet found the time to meet and grant permission for them to have two parades at the same time. This is a clear double standard.”

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Cayasso-Smith said this double standard was further compounded by the fact that he was forced to exclude participants who had been vaccinated in the UK.

“We were told about the change in the plans on the morning of the event, when people had already showed up and were trying to get registered,” he said.

The government-imposed rules also restricted the passing of items between the public and those in the parade.

“The rules also said there was to be no contact between parade participants and non-participants,” said Cayasso-Smith. “During CayMAS, there was clear evidence of people interacting with members of the crowd who were not a part of the parade.

“People left the parade and went to the bars to buy liquor and then returned. There was no social distancing, and I watched as police saw and did nothing.”

In response to queries from the Compass about the alleged breaches, an RCIPS  spokesperson said, “No arrests were made or charges laid in relation to violations of the Prevention, Control and Suppression of COVID-19 (CayMAS PARADE) regulations. There are no known specific reports of any protocol breaches.”

Minister of Health Sabrina Turner told the Compass, “The Ministry of Health and Wellness has gotten no formal complaints and I would like to thank the (Health Services Authority) Team and the RCIPS for all their work in making the events go as smooth as possible.”

The Compass also reached out to Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan and the organisers of CayMAS seeking comment. The organisers declined to comment, and no reply was received from Bryan.

Apart from the government-imposed rules, Cayman LGBTQ Foundation imposed its own restrictions on participants from showing public displays of affection during the street procession, prompting questions and criticism from some LGBTQ advocates.

“I had the foresight to see what could have happened and what it would have cost us as a movement and as a community,” said Cayasso-Smith about the no-PDA rule. “There were videos of people carrying on bad during CayMAS, even a video of women gyrating on an on-duty police officer in uniform. I’m glad I stood by that rule.”

An RCIPS spokesperson said that matter was not being investigated as, “the officer responded in a professional and appropriate manner within the context of the situation he found himself in”.

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