Gully Queens: The LGBTI Youth Living in Jamaica's Storm Drains

September 22, 2016

The cold, mosquito-filled storm drains of Kingston, Jamaica are no place that any human would want to visit, let alone inhabit. Yet, these storm drains are home to over 25 young LGBTI Jamaicans who have been kicked out of their homes and excluded from Jamaican society. These young and vibrant Jamaicans that go by names such as Batman, Beyoncé, Rihanna and Pebbles, have built a community in the storm drains in order to escape the risk of being openly gay[i]. They are the gully queens.

Being openly gay or trans in Jamaica is not in and of itself illegal, but colonial era buggery laws and intense homophobia prevent LGBTI persons from feeling comfortable in their communities. The buggery law criminalizes anal sex and gross indecency laws prevent displays of affection between men.  Though convictions on these charges are not common, the laws still give the police and the public the ability to torment those who are gay.[ii]

The Jamaican populations’ overall perception of homosexuality is overwhelmingly negative with 82.2% of those surveyed stating that it is morally wrong[iii]. This negative perception is one reason that the LGBTI youth living in the gully have difficulty escaping life on the streets. They are unable to find jobs and must resort to selling alcohol, cigarettes, drugs and snacks as well as participating in sex work.[iv]

Classism within the gay community in Jamaica has separated the gay population into two groups, the scary queens and the rich queens. The rich queens are those who, through money and influence, can either hide their sexuality or shelter themselves from the worst of the hatred. The scary queens, or the gully queens, have been fully ostracized from their families and communities and must resort to extreme measures to escape the difficulties of being gay in Jamaica. Though homophobia affects all members of the LGBTI community, the poor queens are often criticized for not being more like the rich queens by hiding their sexuality and gender in order to become more socially acceptable. Even government officials argue that if only the LGBTI community hid their sexuality better, then they would not have to face violence[v].

The gully queens were brought into the spotlight in 2013 when Dwayne Jones, also known as The Gully Queen, was brutally murdered after attending a party in drag. The gender nonconforming teen’s upbringing was not dissimilar from many of the other queens in the gully. He was kicked out of his house at age 14 after being tormented by his neighbors and his own father. He lived in an abandoned house until he moved to the gully. One night, Jones decided to attend his friend’s party in drag. He was seen enjoying himself, laughing and dancing, until someone discovered he was born a male. Within minutes he was chased down by a mob, beaten, stabbed, and shot. His friend Khloe who was with him, was raped and beaten, but managed to get away. Dwayne’s own father refused to take his body from the morgue. Now three years later, there has still been no indictment for Dwayne’s killers[vi]. Dwayne’s murder was not the first or last murder of a gully queen. According to the self-proclaimed mother of the gully, Daggering, her two friends were murdered while asleep in the gully[vii].

One of the most frightening aspects of these homophobic attacks is that they are often perpetrated in broad daylight and broadcast on social media. Videos show mobs rallying to beat gay men who have dared to be open in public. Last year, a video of a public stoning of a gay man in Montego Bay while onlookers yelled batty boy, a common gay slur, was found circulating on the internet.  The story was only briefly covered by one Jamaican news outlet before the story and video were taken down. The Jamaican government did not comment on the murder, despite LGBTI advocates’ attempts to spread awareness of the incident.[viii]

One of the fiercest suppliers of homophobic rhetoric is the Jamaican Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS). This religious based organization is fighting to keep the buggery law alive and to prevent an increase in LGBTI rights. JCHS believes that homosexuality can be cured through conversion therapies. They profess that the LGBTI community has an overarching political agenda which has “been instrumental in changing laws and reordering societal norms, resulting in negative outcomes for their societies.”[ix] They also go on to argue that the aim of LGBTI rights activists is “not just that the buggery law is repealed, but that all types of sexual behaviour, including pedophilia and bestiality, should be eventually legalized as alternative sexual orientations.”[x] The homophobic rhetoric is further spread by dancehall reggae music. In recent years, there has been a turn from the peace-loving reggae music inspired by Bob Marley to more hate-filled homophobic lyrics. Capleton’s hit “More Prophet” is one example with lyrics "Shoulda know seh Capleton bun battyman [burn gays]/ Dem same fire apply to di lesbian/ All boogaman [gays] and sodomites fi get killed." Countless artists use their music to advocate for discrimination and violence against LGBTI persons.[xi]

This anti-gay hatred has permeated every aspect of Jamaican culture leaving the gully queens with few options to escape the gully. There are some who hold out hope and are pushing for a vote to repeal the buggery law. Still, it is not that simple, as Aldric Campbell the president of the PNP Youth Organization in Jamaica stated, “You cannot legislate against the culture of a people.” Homophobia is still so ingrained in the culture of Jamaica that if repealing the buggery laws came to a vote, the vote would not likely pass[xii]. Overturning the law is still unlikely to change the daily life of the gully queens as homophobia would still keep them on the outskirts of society.  Despite the dark outlook, J-FLAG or The Jamaica Forum of Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays, Jamaica’s first LGBTI rights advocacy group, has been actively working to make changes in the culture and create a better life for all LGBTI persons in Jamaica.  J-FLAG offers emergency services and counseling as well as legal services and a legislative team. They hope to attack homophobia from all angles so that every LGBTI person in Jamaica may someday feel safe[xiii].


References:

[i]  Enoch, N. (2014, August 04). The Gully Queens of Jamaica: How a gay community in one of the most homophobic places on Earth has literally been forced underground into a filthy STORM DRAIN. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2713495/The-Gully-Queens-Jamaica...

[ii] Interview: Life for LGBT People in Jamaica. (2015, October 10). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/21/interview-life-lgbt-people-jamaica

 

[iii] Boxill, I., Martin, J., Russell, R., Waller, L., Meikle, T., & Mitchell, R. (2011, January). National Survey of Attitudes and Perceptions of Jamaicans Towards Homosexual Relationships (Publication). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from Aids Free World website: http://www.aidsfreeworld.org/Our-Issues/Homophobia/~/media/Files/Homopho... SURVEY OF ATTITUDES AND PERCEPTIONS OF JAMAICANS TOWARDS SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS.pdf

 

[iv]  Enoch, N. (2014, August 04). The Gully Queens of Jamaica: How a gay community in one of the most homophobic places on Earth has literally been forced underground into a filthy STORM DRAIN. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2713495/The-Gully-Queens-Jamaica...

 

[v] Interview: Life for LGBT People in Jamaica. (2015, October 10). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/10/21/interview-life-lgbt-people-jamaica

 

[vi] Sieczkowski, C. (2013, July 25). Dwayne Jones, 'Cross-Dressing' Jamaican Teen, Allegedly 'Chopped And Stabbed' To Death By Mob. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/25/dwayne-jones-cross-dressing-jam...

 

[vii]  Enoch, N. (2014, August 04). The Gully Queens of Jamaica: How a gay community in one of the most homophobic places on Earth has literally been forced underground into a filthy STORM DRAIN. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2713495/The-Gully-Queens-Jamaica...

[viii]  Broverman, N. (2015, March 11). Video Shows Gay Man Stoned to Death in Jamaica. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.advocate.com/world/2015/03/11/video-shows-gay-man-stoned-deat...

[ix] West, W., Dr., Bailey, K., Dr., & Richards, S. (2014, June 16). JCHS Contextual Statement on its documentary, ‘Sex, Lies and Rights: A seduction of law, medicine and politics’. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://www.jchs.org.jm/uploads/1/3/4/4/13441454/jchs_contextual_statemen...

[x]  Frequently Asked Questions on the Buggery Law. (2014, June). Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.jchs.org.jm/uploads/1/3/4/4/13441454/jchs_faqs_about_the_bugg...

[xi] Thompson, C. (2007, August 07). Curbing Homophobia in Reggae. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://content.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1650585,00.html

 

[xii]  Enoch, N. (2014, August 04). The Gully Queens of Jamaica: How a gay community in one of the most homophobic places on Earth has literally been forced underground into a filthy STORM DRAIN. Retrieved September 15, 2016, from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2713495/The-Gully-Queens-Jamaica...

[xiii] J-FLAG. (n.d.). Retrieved September 16, 2016, from http://jflag.org/

About Author(s)

Katherine Andrews
Katherine Andrews is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh majoring in Political Science with certificates in Global and Latin American Studies. She spent her summer interning with the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs at the State Department and has done research with CLAS in Costa Rica and Mexico. Her focus is on gender and sexuality issues in Latin America, specifically international gender-based violence policy.