The murder of a cross-dressing teenager in Jamaica has triggered calls from human rights activists to properly investigate the killing. Dwayne Jones, 16, was murdered by a mob in Montego Bay on the northwestern coast of the island nation between July 21 and July 22, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the New York-based activist organization. Jones was attacked after he attended a party dressed in women’s clothing. Police eventually found Jones’ body on a road, with a gun shot wound and multiple stab wounds. Jamaican media reports suggest that Jones was attending a dance and that men in the group became enraged when they realized Jones was not a woman. Other reports suggest Jones was also transgender.
Homophobia and intolerance of non-traditional sexual practices run deep in Jamaican culture, HRW noted. As a result, the Jamaican police and government have a “poor record” of investigating crimes committed against gays, cross-dressers and other sexual minorities. “Jamaican authorities need to send an unequivocal message that there will be zero tolerance for violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people,” said Graeme Reid, HRW’s LGBT Rights Program director in a statement. “The Jamaican government should be protecting everyone’s rights and safety, and that includes people who do not conform to society’s expectations of how each gender should behave.” Human rights groups in Jamaica – including the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG), Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ), and Quality of Citizenship Jamaica (QCJ) – have also demanded that police probe the death of Jones.
One week after the murder, Jamaica’s justice minister Senator Mark Golding promised that his forces would spare no expense to find Jones’ killers. "Given our country's history of brutality and the pluralistic nature of our society, all well-thinking Jamaicans must embrace the principle of respect for the basic human rights of all persons," Golding said. "This principle requires tolerance towards minority groups, and non-violence in our dealings with those who manifest a lifestyle that differs from the majority of us.”
HRW also pointed out that during her election campaign Jamaican Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller had vowed that no one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. “Unfortunately, LGBT people in Jamaica are still waiting for the prime minister’s statement of principle against discrimination because of sexual orientation to translate into change on the ground,” Reid added. “Prompt action to investigate Jones’ murder and, more broadly, to promote respect for LGBT people, is critical if all Jamaicans are to enjoy equality under the law, as well as lives free from violence and discrimination.”
In an island awash in crime and violence, gays and lesbians are particularly prominent targets of wanton brutality. Micah Fink, an American filmmaker who directed a documentary about homophobia in Jamaica called “The Abominable Crime,” told National Public Radio that most Jamaicans, particularly the educated middle and upper classes, denied such crimes against gays even existed in their country. “Then I would meet with members of the gay community, and literally, the room was overflowing with people who said they'd been attacked, stabbed, murdered, had friends who were chopped to pieces, had friends who were burned out of their houses,” he said.
Indeed, Jamaica may be one of the most dangerous places on earth for homosexuals – over the decades, literally hundreds of gays and lesbians have been tortured, mutilated and murdered, with the culprits often fleeing justice. In the mid-2000s, two of Jamaica’s most well known gay activists, Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey, were brutally murdered. According to reports, a crowd of people even celebrated when they saw Williamson’s mutilated body.
The homophobia that infests the island may be the product of two distinctly different cultural forces – the ultra-conservative Christian church and the thuggish mentality underscoring much of the island’s iconic reggae music. The lyrics to many Jamaican reggae and dancehall songs are replete with messages of hatred against homosexuals. For example, Buju Banton released a song in 1992 called ”Boom Bye Bye” which asserted that gays “haffi dead” (“have to die”). He suggested a number of ways to accomplish this goal including shooting gays with Uzis and burning their skin with acid. Another reggae star named Elephant Man once sang: "When you hear a lesbian getting raped/ It's not our fault ... Two women in bed/ That's two Sodomites who should be dead."
As a result of Jamaica’s laws against homosexuality and sodomy, gays are viewed as almost criminals even if their don’t commit any crimes. "The view that results," Jamaican human-rights lawyer Philip Dayle told Time Magazine, "is that a homosexual isn't just an undesirable but an unapprehended criminal."
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.