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Transgender Teen's Murder Raises Spectre of Jamaican Homophobia

After the recent mob murder of a cross-dressing gay youth, Jamaica, which has an international reputation for being one of the most homophobic countries in the Caribbean, has once again found itself having to confront its attitude towards gay and transgender people.

Active Voice published two posts about the murder. In the first, she provided some background into the circumstances that prompted the attack:

I’ve been very disturbed by the wanton slaying of the young wo/man in these photographs, Dwayne Jones. S/he was killed on Monday night in St. James, not far from Montego Bay, the tourism capital of Jamaica. Dwayne was killed after a woman recognized him and irresponsibly outed him at a party he attended cross-dressed in female clothes.

The blogger, Annie Paul, continued:

I think this woman should be identified and made an example of, don’t you? She must be sanctioned for needlessly endangering the life of a Jamaican citizen. And the media should treat this as the front page story it really is. Had Dwayne Jones come from Cherry Gardens or Norbrook, there wouldn’t have been another news item in Jamaica since Monday. But poor Dwayne was just a Gully person, worse he was an effeminate trans gendered Gully person…no space for him, no place, no grace, only jungle justice.

Minority-Insight also blogged about the murder, citing a news report which stated:

The 17-year-old was dressed as a female and was dancing with a male, when a woman at the party recognized him and told other patrons that he was not a woman, but a male. One of the men at the party accosted the teen and conducted a search where he discovered that the teen was not a female. A mob then descended on the teen and chopped and stabbed him to death, before dumping his body in bushes along the Orange main road.

No arrest has been made, prompting the blog to comment:

The brutal killings and public execution of gay, lesbian and trans-gender Jamaicans is a disheartening reality for many who live in the open and shadows. In December 2010, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) called for a thorough investigation of a case in which the body of a reported cross dresser was found with stab wounds in St Andrew. However, the murder remains unsolved due to a lack of interest demonstrated by the investigation team and police authorities due to the victims’ sexuality and lifestyle (gay).

The lack of respect and protection for the life of gays living in Jamaica demonstrates a systematic and cultural prejudice and hatred for homosexuals and the air they breathe. The government and its leader Prime Minister Portia Simpson continue to disregard the interest, safety and the right to life of gay, lesbian, and trans-gender Jamaicans.

The post also called into question the country's buggery laws, which are still in existence:

The punitive laws of Jamaica, such as the Offences Against the Person Act (Buggery law) which criminalizes the act of consensual anal sex between gay men, and public demonstration of homosexuality up to 10 years in prison with hard labor, along with the moral concept of normality, empower and motive anti-gay civilians and mobs to attack, beat and kill gays, as well as rape lesbians.

Minority-Insight saw it as a human rights issue:

Clearly, over the past years, we have seen the abuse of the rights and dignity of gays living in Jamaica. In January 2011, (J-FLAG) recorded fifty-one incidents of attacks against LGBT including, home invasions, physical assaults and mob attacks. In June 2012, members of the Jamaican LGBT community reported that eight gay men had been murdered in the prior three months.

The organization has also emphas[ized] the lack of report[s] being made by victims of homophobic attacks due to fear of future attacks or abuses, especially from the police officers, who often refuse to take or document self-identified gay victims incidents.

When will our gay brothers and sisters be free from bondage and persecution? How much more innocent blood will be shed before the government step in and protect the lives of GAY Jamaicans?

On Twitter, Sally Porteous echoed this sentiment in response to a press release about the murder tweeted by Jamaicans For Justice:

Kamal Fizazi asked:

In her follow-up post, Annie Paul shared some reflections on the teen's death. She began by pointing out how many Jamaicans were outraged by the acquittal of George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin's murder and explaining that part of the reason why people become so invested in U.S.-based news stories is because of the skill of American mainstream media in personalising its subjects:

Not many countries have the sheer heft of media muscle that the USA can lay claim to. Our media in small places like Jamaica lack the infrastructure, the traction and the reach of American media. We also have far more deaths, murders and killings per capita than the media can possibly keep up with even if they had the will and the ability to do so.

Alexis Goffe, a spokesperson for the human rights group Jamaicans for Justice, recently observed that another reason there is little or no outrage about the legion of local Trayvons is that in these situations most educated Jamaicans identify with Zimmerman rather than Trayvon. After all Trayvon’s profile fits that of the ‘idle youth’ most gated and residential communities in Jamaica remain wary of. They want the Jamaican equivalents of Trayvon Martin to be kept in their place, on pain of severe punishment and even death. Since the start of the year Jamaican Police have killed 114 citizens, yet it’s business as usual in this tourist paradise.

She then made a connection between the overriding Jamaican attitude towards those ‘idle youth’ and Dwayne Jones’ death:

For most Jamaicans such deaths when they happen are non-stories–like the slaying of young Dwayne Jones aka Gully Queen…Details are sketchy but early reports said that Jones was killed by a mob that stabbed and shot him to death, flinging his body into nearby bushes.

In most countries a lynching such as this would be front-page news but not in Jamaica, known far and wide for its hostility towards homosexuals. The police have said that they can’t prove that there is a link between Dwayne’s cross-dressing and his murder and the media has barely taken note of the gruesome slaying. Judging by comments made on social media most Jamaicans think Dwayne Jones brought his death on himself for wearing a dress and dancing in a society that has made it abundantly clear that homosexuals are neither to be seen nor heard.

Paul ended by laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Jamaican public:

Attempts to portray the mob killing as a hate crime have also been futile. ‘Dwayne Jones chose to tempt fate’ seems to be the popular feeling, ‘and he got what was coming to him.’ Which is like saying Trayvon Martin tempted fate by lingering in the wrong neighbourhood; he got what was coming to him. Dwayne Jones decided to wear a dress and dance and for that he was put to death by a motley crowd. Most Jamaicans seem to think there is nothing at all wrong with this judging by the lack of outrage, scant media attention and silence from the political directorate.

This tweet by Simone Harris said it all:

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