A group of LGBT rights advocates on Wednesday gathered in front of the Jamaican embassy near Dupont Circle in Northwest D.C. to demand authorities investigate last month’s murder of a cross-dressing teenager.
Ten activists affiliated with GetEQUAL, the D.C. Center and other groups held illuminated panels with various slogans in front of the embassy on New Hampshire Avenue, N.W. A handful of others from the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition in Springfield, Mass., took part in a second gathering in Boston.
30 LGBT rights advocates gathered outside the Jamaican High Commission to protest Dwayne Jones’ murder outside the resort city of Montego Bay last month and the death of Dwayne Brown, a gay man who was found stabbed to death near the same city early on Aug. 27.
“Jamaica has long been called the most homophobic place on Earth,” Cathy Kristofferson of the Stop the Hate and Homophobia Coalition said outside the Jamaican embassy in D.C. “The violence due to homophobia has prompted hundreds of LGBT Jamaicans to seek asylum in the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. Currently the country is doing nothing to distance itself from that label.”
A group of partygoers reportedly stabbed Jones, 17, to death near Montego Bay on July 21 after someone at the gathering realized the teen was cross-dressing. The radio station Irie FM reported a man at the party discovered Jones was actually a male.
Jones murder took place against the backdrop of pervasive anti-LGBT violence in the Caribbean country.
A report from the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG,) a Jamaican LGBT advocacy group, said the organization knows of at least 30 gay men who have been murdered on the island between 1997 and 2004. These include J-FLAG co-founder Brian Williamson who was stabbed to death inside his home in Kingston, the country’s capital, in 2004.
Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican lawyer with the group AIDS-Free World who fled his homeland last year after he received death threats after local media reported he had married a Canadian man, noted in an Aug. 29 post to his blog there have been several anti-LGBT attacks in Jamaica since Jones’ death. These include a mob who attacked a cross-dresser in St. Catherine outside of Kingston on Aug. 10, and a group who surrounded the home of two gay men in the same area nine days earlier.
Nearly 1,500 people in June attended a Kingston rally in support of the country’s anti-sodomy law a few days before the Jamaica Supreme Court heard a lawsuit that challenges the statute under which those who are convicted face up to 10 years in prison with hard labor. Education Minister Ronald Thwaites said during an Aug. 26 press conference at which he discussed a new school curriculum that it would not be “grooming Jamaican children for homosexual behavior.”
“The material stands squarely against any kind of discrimination, but there is a line to be drawn and we have drawn it clearly,” Thwaites said. “The values we propose for human relationships — wholesome, joyous relationships are between men and women.”
Authorities have yet to make any arrests in Jones’ death.
“The government of Jamaica, through the Jamaica Constabulary Force, is continuing its investigation of the killing of Dwayne Jones,” Jamaica Ambassador to the U.S. Stephen Vasciannie told the Washington Blade on Thursday. “We are confident that, if sufficient evidence is unearthed, the director of Public Prosecutions will bring appropriate charges in keeping with Jamaican law.”
Vasciannie also referred to Justice Minister Mark Golding’s July 29 statement in which he condemned Jones’ murder.
“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.”
The groups who organized the protests in D.C., Boston and London also called for a boycott of Jamaica’s tourism industry and urged businesses not to invest in the island’s economy “until the hate and homophobia ends.”