Murderous homophobia reappeared in Jamaica last month, as at least three LGBT persons were shot in New Kingston. The victims included a brave trans woman whose courage should be honored with a proper funeral, says Jamaican commentator Lloyd D’Aguilar.
Homophobia raises its ugly head once again
By Lloyd D’Aguilar
Without a doubt the most glaring testament to homophobia in Jamaica is the tragic existence of scores, maybe hundreds, of LGBT individuals living on the streets and gullies in the capital city of Kingston and also in its tourism capital, Montego Bay, and elsewhere throughout the island.
Why? Well, mostly because they were thrown out their homes by their families.
And why did their families throw them out? In many cases, because the families came under pressure from others in the community for having an openly gay child. Rather than run the risk of their homes being burned down, for example, or being shot up, they sacrifice the child, and throw them out. Simple as that.
Inner city communities, where almost all of these homeless gays come from, oftentimes have a dual power existing between the police and armed individuals (I deliberately refrain from using the word “gangs”) who can quickly set cultural, political and other standards that must be obeyed or you run the risk of violence.
The perception that a youth is gay, and therefore not wanted, is one such cultural standard which can easily attract the violence of community enforcers. If they decide that a gay youth must leave the community – then so be it: You either leave or run the risk of losing your life. Oh, and I’ve been told that it is transgender youths that they really resent –- especially those who are unable or unwilling to hide their female tendencies.
And yes, there is also the role of poverty. A mother with nine children discovers that her teenage son is gay and so she sends him away to the “country” to live with Grandmother. As a single mother she has enough challenges finding food to feed them — she is just unable to deal with the embarrassment of one of them being a battyman [a Jamaican derogatory term for a gay man].
Sooner, rather than later, Grandmother also discovers that he is gay. She too sends him away. He comes back to Kingston. Mother refuses to accept him back into the home. What does he do? He has to go live in the streets, and so he ends up in a gully, such as the New Kingston gully. There in the gullies there is solidarity in numbers. Comradeship and other forms of relationships are formed.
This then is the background to at least three gay and transgender persons being recently shot in New Kingston, Jamaica’s premiere financial district.
I’ve learned what happened there from Tyrone Johnson, a gay homeless man who is a reliable informant.
On Monday, September 18, a drug dealer at a New Kingston garage (owned by financial conglomerate Sagicor) warns the gay men there that he is going to shoot them if they don’t leave. He sells drugs there; the gay men hang out there, sleep and have sex, sell their goods, including sticks of ganja, and sometimes sell themselves sexually in order to make a living.
The next night, Sept. 19, a car drives up. Two men alight and open fire, hitting Big Foot and his friend Peanut. Big Foot tries to run and is shot in his back. Peanut is a little luckier and is shot in his foot.
Big Foot is still hospitalized. Peanut claims he was there at Kingston Public Hospital (KPH) for two days and received no treatment. He left and is now hobbling around with a gunshot wound in his foot. It is clear that if he doesn’t go back to get the bullet removed he could lose the foot. We can’t verify that his story true (though KPH has a very bad reputation), but since we can’t dismiss his claim the question has to be asked: Was he ignored because he is gay?
That could be possible, based on an observation made by Big Foot. Big Foot now doesn’t want his gay friends visiting him because the nurses make uncomplimentary remarks after they leave and he is afraid of resulting “bad treatment.” Both, by the way (Big Foot and Peanut) refuse to cooperate with the police because they are afraid that if word gets back to their families that they were shot under these circumstances it will create further problems in terms of seeing them and getting any assistance.
Well, stop worrying. Big Foot’s baby mother found out that he was shot and in the hospital and came there to give him a proper cussing, telling him that him fi dead. [That’s Jamaican slang for “he must be killed.”] He had already been forced to leave their abode in the community when it was discovered that he was gay. Now he definitely can’t go back even for a visit. Or risk someone hurting him.
Three days after these two were shot another gunman showed up there early Friday morning, Sept. 22, and pumped about six bullets into 32-year-old Thelma, a trans woman. Her body is now lying in a Kingston morgue.
Thelma’s family had thrown her out when Community Enforcers demanded that she leave, and if not, threatened to burn down her mother’s house. The mother had no choice but to ask her to leave.
Thelma was also a vendor in the Coronation Market and was forced to leave there as well when the gay accusation was made against her.
Thelma’s mother was upset when her sister identified the body at the morgue because Mother doesn’t want to claim the body for fear that word will get around as to what happened and cause further embarrassment and threats. She most likely also doesn’t have the money to bury Thelma’s body. It therefore stands to reason that this body will remain there and rot or until the morgue operators are forced to perform a pauper’s burial.
Thelma was highly respected by the rest of her LGBT comrades. She provided them with lots of moral support, telling them not to be ashamed of who they were. She preferred to dress as a woman except when going to dances to sell her goods, as she was afraid the route taxis would not pick her up if they realized she born with male genitals. Apart from this concession, Thelma was a proud, hard-working woman.
Let us therefore honour the courage of Thelma and countless others like her by not allowing her body to rot in the morgue or be disposed of in some unmarked pauper’s grave as if she had lived a life of disgrace. [Further information about this appeal will be printed here as it becomes available.]
Let us commit to each other to stand up against homophobia by celebrating the courage of Thelma by proudly giving her a funeral befitting someone who not only suffered the consequences of homophobia and transphobia but who refused to back down and hide her sexual identity and gender expression because of threats.
Despite knowing about the Tuesday night shootings she refused to not go back to the spot where she usually sold her wares. So be it, she reportedly said. She would not bow. Her sexual identity and gender expression were human rights which she was willing to die for. Her position was similar to the quotation attributed to Che Guevara and others: “I would rather die on my feet than live on my knees.”
Long live the memory and courage of Thelma.
Lloyd D’Aguilar is a Jamaican human rights activist, freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker.
Related commentaries by Lloyd D’Aguilar:
- Homophobia in Jamaica: Time to end the cowardice (March 2017, 76crimes.com)
- ‘Beyond Homophobia’ in Jamaica: A critique (February 2017, 76crimes.com)
- Challenging Jamaica’s bedrock of sexual ignorance (May 2016, 76crimes.com)
- This must stop: Jamaican homophobia leads to 2 murders (May 2016, 76crimes.com)
- Homophobia, Marlon James, and Jamaica’s brain drain (October 2015, 76crimes)
- Lawyers, activists target anti-LGBT bias in Caribbean (September 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Montego Bay Pride – here’s why (August 2015, 76crimes.com)
- Death threats won’t stop Jamaican LGBT advocate (April 2015, 76crimes.com)
- 13-step plan to nudge Jamaica away from homophobia (December 2012, 76crimes.com)