Americas / Commentary

Evicted gay youths under attack (again) in Jamaica

Entrance to Clocktower Plaza, where homeless LGBT youths have been congregating after their eviction from their gully home. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Entrance to Clocktower Plaza, where homeless LGBT youths have been congregating after they were evicted from their gully home. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

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 that 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.

Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in Jamaican sewer -- before they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)

Homeless LGBT youths sleeping in Jamaican gully — before they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Micheal Forbes)

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.

Gully in New Kingston has been sealed with chain-link fence to prevent the return of homeless LGBT youths who lived there until they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

Gully in New Kingston has been sealed with chain-link fence to prevent the return of homeless LGBT youths who lived there until they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

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 LGBT 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.

This entrance to a gully in New Kingston has been sealed with chain-link fence to prevent the return of homeless LGBT youths who lived there until they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

This entrance to a gully in New Kingston has been sealed with chain-link fence to prevent the return of homeless LGBT youths who lived there until they were forced out on Dec. 23, 2014. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson)

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