What can be done?

Activist and human rights lawyer Maurice Tomlinson posted the following on social media yesterday. I have been in contact with one of the young men who has been kicked out of the gully and he says he literally has no place to stay. Last night he was going to a “quiet place” on Hope Road where he hoped no one would attack him. He had already been attacked by someone during the day, his feet cut up by broken bottles and his shoes ruined. He now has no shoes, nothing to eat and no income (although he just recently completed an internship in office administration and would like to start his own business making spices). What can be done? (This picture was taken of one of the young men at a vigil last year for those who have died as a result of violence perpetrated against people from the LGBTI community).


On Wednesday, April 15 at about 1 p.m., some patrons of the Clocktower Plaza in Kingston decided to “cleanse” the premises of gays. This shopping venue was one of the few spaces in the capital that gays could hang out in relative peace, although they had to travel in groups. On this occasion, their congregation worked against them and made it easier for the mob to identify, and attack them.

The number of gay and trans* persons in the plaza had recently increased as the gully where some homeless LGBTI youth had been forced to live in was raided by police earlier this year. The youngsters were forcibly ejected and the gully was closed off. With nowhere else to go, they resorted to seeking shelter in the nearby plaza like the itinerant souls that they are.

The local organization, Dwayne’s House, had tried to raise funds to create a permanent shelter for these youth by Christmas. However, lack of interest in these “disposable people” meant that the donation target was not achieved. The board of Dwayne’s House and the island’s major LGBTI organization, J-FLAG, are now trying to devise a business plan and fund-raising strategy to ensure that the challenge of housing these youth is finally resolved. But there will be need for government assistance.

The government of Jamaica had promised to address this situation, and the matter was even discussed in the nation’s Parliament by the MP for the area where the gully is located. However, like the Prime Minister’s 2011 election promise to review the country’s 1864 British colonially imposed anti-sodomy law, this offer of assistance for these marginalized teens has also gone unfulfilled.

Ironically, exactly one year ago, the PM said that the review of the archaic statute would not take place because it does not concern the majority of Jamaicans who are poor. However, it is these very same poor youngsters who are suffering from the homophobia supported by this law. Many of the juveniles are forced sell sex to survive and are paid extra for condom-less sex. This increases their vulnerability to HIV. A significant portion of their customers also have female partners, to either mask or cure their homosexuality in this homophobic society. HIV is therefore able to “bridge” between the straight and gay populations.

There is usually a spike in anti-gay attacks in Jamaica during the months of June, July and August. This coincides with the summer school break as unemployed and bored high school and university kids make a sport out of gay-bashing. As elsewhere, Jamaica’s plazas will be swarming with young people during summer and these spaces will be very dangerous for gays and other gender and sexually non-conforming individuals. Without a permanent shelter, homeless LGBTI youth will have very little option but to take their chances in the plazas.

The state of affairs is potentially explosive and people will get hurt. Sadly, the Jamaican government seems determined to fiddle while the situation, like the city dump, continues to burn.

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