Americas / Faith and religion

Jamaica: Support grows for LGBT youths living in sewers

Jamaican LGBT youths living in sewers. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Jamaican LGBT youths living in sewers. (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

The plight of homeless LGBT youths in Jamaica has become much more widely known recently, even as much remains to be done to help them.

Ousted from everywhere else they have tried to live — their parents’ homes, then abandoned buildings, then an open-air gully — the youths have sought shelter in the sewers of New Kingston, most recently in a drainage tunnel under Trafalgar Road. Police raided the site on Dec. 2, seizing and burning clothing and food they suspected was stolen.

Police released seven of the eight youths whom they had arrested on suspicion of robbery, the Jamaica Observer reported. No charges were filed against them.

As it turned out, the items that police destroyed included clothing and food donated by concerned citizens seeking to help the youths. The police decision to burn charitable donations provoked outrage, boosting the visibility of the effort to provide the youths with food, social services and a shelter, to be called Dwayne’s House.

Achievements of the Dwayne’s House project include:

  • Dwayne's House logo

    Dwayne’s House logo

    Regular food deliveries for about 15 LGBT youths.

  • Early attempts to find work for them so they will have an alternative to sex work and theft as sources of income.
  • Initial planning toward the goals of:
    • Establishing a drop-in center where the youths can eat, shower and receive basic services.
    • Establishing a residential facility where the youths can receive appropriate social services to help them get on their feet as productive members of society.
  • The launch of a Facebook page and a Web site, which is still partially under construction.
  • A method for people in the United States to make online tax-deductible contributions to Dwayne’s House via the Open Arms Metropolitan Community Church in Rochester, N.Y. (On the church’s PayPal Web pages, on the page for reviewing your donation, write “Dwayne’s House” in the field labeled “Add special instructions to the seller”) before authorizing the donation.)
  • A method for people in Canada to make online contributions to Dwayne’s House that are eligible for tax credit via the Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto. (Write “Dwayne’s House” in the Message/Instructions field of the church’s page at the CanadaHelps.org donation site.)
  • Progress toward incorporating Dwayne’s House in Jamaica, which will allow it to do its own fund-raising.

In the meantime, officials of J-FLAG (the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays) spoke up for the youths at a Jamaica Gleaner Editors’ Forum:

Dane Lewis, president of J-FLAG, on YouTube video in the "We Are Jamaicans" campaign.

Dane Lewis, president of J-FLAG

Latoya Nugent, J-FLAG’s public education and community outreach manager, said state agencies are often afraid to assist the children because of their sexual orientation.

“When you have boys under 18 – and as young as 13 – who are on the streets, that is something that the CDA (Child Development Agency) should be responsible for. But then, nothing happens because everybody is afraid to touch them,” she said.

Dane Lewis, J-FLAG’s executive director, said the group has been given the runaround in its quest to get these children off the streets.

“The CDA has suggested that it is the police’s responsibility first, and the police say, ‘Our hands are tied’,” Lewis added.

But the Gleaner also took a sensationalist approach to the topic, publishing an article headlined “The enemy within – Aggressive New Kingston homosexuals causing fresh backlash against community.”

The article stated, “There are growing fears that the rowdy and sometimes criminal behaviour of a group of homosexual men in New Kingston could erode the strides that have been made towards greater tolerance of homosexuals in Jamaica.”

But it also stated that Lewis of J-FLAG “says the rambunctious gathering — which in the past has been fingered in robberies, theft and other antisocial behaviour — highlights the issue of persons being evicted from their communities because of their sexual orientation.”

Sean-Major-Campbell-Rev-Jamaica-Gleaner

The Rev. Sean Major-Campbell (Photo courtesy of Jamaica Gleaner)

The Rev. Sean Major-Campbell, an Anglican priest at Christ Church, Vineyard Town in St. Andrew, on Dec. 8 urged Christians to help the youths, saying he was disappointed that more Christians were not speaking out against the injustices the youths face.

“How many Christians have you heard calling out for any kind of help for those young men who have taken refuge in the gully?” he asked during a church service sponsored by Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ) to commemorate International Human Rights Day and the life of Nelson Mandela. As reported by the Jamaica Observer, he said:

“It is a shame that in a country like Jamaica we are more likely to hear the voice of civil society speaking out for human rights while the Church remains quiet.”

Rev. Campbell said that he was aware that some members of the group (homosexuals) may have turned to crime, but said that was an issue for the police to deal with. …

He said that it was important for Jamaicans, the Church included, to recognise the human rights of all people, bar none.

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