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The Gully Queens of Jamaica: Gay community forced into storm drains
For most people, the threat of bottles, bones and stones gushing into their beds as they sleep is not exactly high.
But for one community in Jamaica, it is something they have to deal with every night – along with the risk of being assaulted, raped or even murdered… just for being gay.
Such is the life of one group of homeless LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) youths who live in a storm drain (or ‘gully’) in the country’s capital, Kingston – as revealed in a short documentary made by VICE News.
The Gully Queens, as they call themselves, have sought refuge in the drains after being forced out from shacks, derelict buildings, and sometimes by their own families.
Unwilling to hide their sexuality, the sense of community and relative safety the gully provides acts as a welcome sanctuary.
For that reason, a hint of optimism pervades the lives of the Gully Queens, who go by such colourful names as Pebbles, Batman, Rihanna and Beyonce.
They try to live as dignified a life as possible, given their filthy cockroach/mosquito-infested surroundings: clothes are laid out to dry on the side of the drain; they shower with clean water that gushes from a hydrant; and sleep on makeshift mattresses crafted from pallets and carpets.
But at night, it can be cold, and there is the constant threat of someone jumping in to attack them.
Homophobia is rife in Jamaica, with 80 per cent of the population harbouring anti-gay sentiment.
There still exists a ‘buggery’ law, harking back to colonial times, whereby anyone caught having anal sex faces 10 years of hard labour in jail – although homosexuality itself is not illegal.
The film – Young And Gay: Jamaica’s Gully Queens – explores how young transgender and homosexual people are leading the fight against the Caribbean island nation’s institutionalised homophobia through visibility, community spirit and an outspoken attitude towards their position in society.
Violent attacks against the LGBT group are commonplace, with little to no retribution or justice brought against those responsible.
Evangelical preachers who promote homophobia attract huge and receptive audiences, while lyrics in popular songs regularly include exhortations to ‘kill the batty boys’.