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The Tragedy Surrounding Jamaica’s ‘Face of Pride’

On August 31, 2017, Jamaican authorities found the body of 35 year old man in his home in Kingston who had suffered numerous stab wounds and his body had begun to decompose after numerous days. His name was Dexter Pottinger and he was the 2016 “Face of Pride” for the Jamaican Forum for Gays, All-Sexuals and Gays.

At the time, J-FLAG had bestowed the honor onto him for his “his courage, sense of self, drive, relationship with his family and friends, and pride in being Jamaican and in being a gay man.” Dexter Pottinger rose to prominence in Jamaica over the past few years as model and fashion designer for numerous custom lines, including the well known “3D” line.

And it was seems due to his visibility that his life was cute short.

Maurice Tomlinson, a prominent gay lawyer and activist in Jamaica who met Dexter at a fashion show years ago, spoke with INTO about the importance of Dexter’s role as the Face of Pride, “It was the first time we’d actually seen somebody willing to put their face out there as a member of LGBT community as a recognizable icon and just really catapulted his advocacy.”

The culture of homophobia and transphobia is not only historic or cultural to the island, but it is also incorporated into its legal framework. Stemming from the British colonization of Jamaica from 1707 to 1962, anti-sodomy laws were handed down to Jamaica from Britain and still exist to today.

Although rarely enforced according to many, Maurice Tomlinson stated in a 2012 Guardian piece that the Jamaica police instead use the 1863 law “for extortion” against LGBTQ people in Jamaica. In addition, he attributed much of the island’s homophobia to the religious and financial influence of Evangelical Christians.

Today, the culture of violence towards LGBTQ people in Jamaica is apparent in many ways.

A 2006 Time Magazine article titled Jamaica “the most homophobic place on Earth. The 2014 Vice documentary explores the lives of LGBTQA Jamaicans that are forced to live in sewage systems or “gullies” once they are run away from their neighborhoods. Homophobia has become such a commonplace in certain artists’ music that it has been coined “murder music”.

The apathy by many Jamaicans towards violence against the LGBTQA community has been the most resounding response to Dexter Pottinger’s death. On the night of Dexter’s murder, Wednesday, August 30th, according to a September 4th letter to the Jamaican Gleaner, “neighbours heard cries for help and screams of “murder” in the middle of the night and did nothing”.

Many argue that the alleged silence of Dexter’s neighbors is a result of Jamaica’s 19% increased murder rate in January to June 2017 compared to the same period of time in 2016. In June 2017 alone, an average of seven murders occurred a day in Jamaica.

Maurice Tomlinson argued otherwise while speaking with INTO, “The major problem that we have with the way that Dexter’s murder was treated is the fact that his neighbors who heard him scream for help and ‘murder’ at three am in the morning and also saw someone putting stuff in the car and driving away at that time – did not respond. Yet the same people called parties on Dexter when he had parties at his home with members of the LGBT community.

“It’s the total indifference to our lives as LGBT members of society. “

Shortly after Dexter’s murder, Jamaican authorities apprehended Romario Brown for the murder of Dexter Pettinger after the murder weapon and a television stolen from Dexter’s home were found at Romario’s property. On September 30th, he was denied bail in the case of Dexter’s murder. His case is reported to continue on November 9, 2017.

When asked how members of the Jamaican LGBT community would be moving forward, Maurice Tomlinson stated that Montego Bay Pride, which is set for October 12 t0 15, 2015, will continue, “We refuse to be intimidated by this. This has empowered and encouraged us to be more visible. Many of us see this as the line in the sand.”

“We are going to claim our space because we believe that it’s because they don’t know who we are that they were able to treat his murder with such callousness.”