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Rally in Ottawa calls attention to anti-gay violence in Jamaica

'We still have a chronic situation in Jamaica,' Maurice Tomlinson says

Maurice Tomlinson (left) and Runjia Liu. Credit: Adrienne Ascah

Dwayne Jones’s murder stands in stark contrast to the coming-out experiences many trans youth go through in Ottawa, where Capital Pride’s (CP) youth branch Etc creates safe spaces for all sorts of self-expression.

At an Aug 21 rally in front of the Jamaica High Commission — organized by Amnesty International and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union’s Rainbow Alliance to draw attention to anti-gay violence in Jamaica — Jodie McNamara, CP’s vice-chair of operations, compared the fun trans youth have at Etc’s events with the fate Jones suffered.

According to media reports, while wearing a dress and dancing with a man at a party on July 22, Jones, 17, was beaten, stabbed, shot and run over by a car.

Jones’s brutal murder is not an aberration, but part of an ongoing pattern of severe and pervasive violence against LGBT people in Jamaica, says Maurice Tomlinson, a lawyer, activist and CP’s international grand marshal.

“We still have a chronic situation in Jamaica,” Tomlinson says of his native country. “We have LGBT being murdered, being kicked out of their homes as young as 12, and yet there’s this perception that Jamaica is all great for tourists and locals, and that’s simply not true.”

If Canadians knew how widespread the violence and oppression against queer people in Jamaica is, Tomlinson says, more people would speak out and change could occur.

“We’re hoping that bringing this information to the attention of the Canadian public [will encourage people] to ask questions and start to use their influence to push the government here to influence the government there to do something about the terrible, terrible situation of LGBT rights in Jamaica,” he says.

Tomlinson says it’s frustrating that Parliament has been prorogued until October because there are issues that he wants to address immediately. He’d like to talk to Chris Alexander, the new minister of citizenship and immigration, about Jamaican reggae singer Queen Ifrica being scheduled to perform Aug 24 at Rastafest in Toronto.

Given Queen Ifrica’s public homophobic statements, she shouldn’t be allowed to perform in Canada, especially at a festival that receives government funding, Tomlinson maintains.

Situations like these arise when people aren’t informed, he says. Addressing about 25 rally attendees, he urged, “Educate yourself . . . educate your friends, your family, your politicians . . . so that your country will do the right thing.”