Murder of Dwayne Jones
Murder of Dwayne Jones, a 16-year-old Jamaican teenager, fell victim to a violent mob in 2013 in Montego Bay. The catalyst for this tragic incident was his attendance at a dance party while dressed in women’s attire. This occurrence drew significant attention from both national and international media, shining a spotlight on the state of LGBT rights in Jamaica.
Having been perceived as exhibiting traits considered effeminate, Jones experienced persistent bullying during his time at school. When he was 14 years old, his father compelled him to leave their family home. Jones sought refuge in a dilapidated residence in Montego Bay, where he lived with friends who were also transgender. On the fateful evening of July 21, 2013, they ventured to Montego Bay’s Irwin area to participate in a dance party.
Unfortunately, Jones’ cross-dressing identity was discovered by some men at the event, leading to a confrontation that escalated into a violent attack. The perpetrators subjected Jones to beatings, stabbings, shootings, and even being run over by a car. The injuries proved fatal, and he passed away during the early hours of the following morning. Despite a police investigation, no arrests or charges were made in connection to the crime, leaving the case unresolved.
This incident made headlines in Jamaican newspapers and garnered coverage in the United Kingdom and the United States. While some individuals on social media insensitively suggested that Jones provoked his assailants due to his public cross-dressing, the murder received condemnation from Jamaican educators and the Justice Minister.
Following the assault, various local and international organizations devoted to LGBT rights and human rights, such as Human Rights Watch, Jamaicans for Justice, and the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays, implored the Jamaican authorities to conduct a thorough investigation and to acknowledge the legal rights of the LGBT community on the island.
Originating from a destitute slum situated in Montego Bay, a city located in the northwestern part of Jamaica, Jones encountered bullying during his time at high school due to his behavior being perceived as effeminate. At the age of 14, Jones was expelled from his family’s residence by his father, who then instigated neighbors to force him out of the community. Following a period of sleeping outdoors in bushes and on beaches, he took up residence in an abandoned house atop the hills overlooking Montego Bay. Accompanying him were two transgender friends named Keke and Khloe, both 23 years old when Jones tragically passed away.
Among his companions, Jones was affectionately referred to as “Gully Queen,” a name alluding to the network of storm drainage systems that serve as homes for numerous homeless LGBT individuals in Jamaica. According to friends, Jones nurtured aspirations of becoming an educator or joining the tourism sector. Additionally, he harbored ambitions of becoming a performer akin to the American pop sensation Lady Gaga and had even achieved victory in a local dance competition. Described by Khloe as a “diva,” Jones consistently exuded a spirited and playful demeanor.
In 2006, an article published by Time magazine asserted that Jamaica could potentially hold the dubious distinction of being the world’s most homophobic nation. The legislation criminalizing same-sex relations between males was established in 1864 during the period of British colonial rule. The Sexual Offences Act of 2009 stipulates that any man found guilty under these laws is obligated to register as a sex offender. These regulations have been pinpointed as fostering a broader atmosphere of homophobia within the Jamaican society, perpetuating the notion that individuals of non-heteronormative orientations are regarded as criminals, irrespective of their involvement in any criminal activities.
This hostile stance towards the LGBT community has been amplified by the traditional Christian denominations prevalent on the island. Many songs within the genres of reggae and dancehall, including notable tracks like Buju Banton’s “Boom Bye Bye,” advocate for violence against gay individuals. Writing for the International Business Times during the summer of 2013, journalist Palash Gosh highlighted that despite Jamaica’s rampant crime and violence issues, the LGBTQ+ community is disproportionately targeted for indiscriminate acts of brutality.
In the mid-2000s, two prominent champions of LGBT rights in Jamaica, Brian Williamson and Lenford Harvey, were tragically murdered. In the summer of 2013, Human Rights Watch conducted an extensive five-week study within Jamaica’s LGBT community, revealing that more than half of the interviewed individuals had been subjected to violence due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, sometimes enduring multiple incidents.
On the night of July 21, 2013, when Jones was 16 years old, he chose to dress in feminine attire and join Keke and Khloe to attend a dance event known as Henessey Sundays. The gathering took place at a bar located in the Irwin vicinity, and they reached the venue around 2 am. At the party, Jones successfully presented himself as a young woman, engaging in dancing with several men. Initially, he concealed his biological gender due to concerns about facing discrimination, but he confided his truth to a girl he had known from church.
The girl relayed the information to her male acquaintances, who confronted Jones outside the establishment, demanding to ascertain his true gender. To validate their suspicions, one of the men used a lantern to inspect Jones’ feet, asserting they were too large for a woman. As his biological sex became apparent, he was subjected to derogatory slurs like “batty boy,” reflecting homophobic sentiments. In an attempt to steer Jones away from the escalating confrontation, Khloe discreetly urged him, “Come with me, come with me.” However, Jones insisted on openly proclaiming his female identity to the gathering.
In a moment of distress, Jones fled when his bra strap was pulled, prompting the crowd to chase him down the road and intensify their assault. The series of attacks included beatings, stabbings, gunshots, and being struck by a car. For approximately two hours, Jones drifted in and out of consciousness before succumbing to the final fatal assault. Remarkably, during the altercation, no one intervened to offer assistance. Khloe, too, was attacked and narrowly escaped a potential rape, seeking refuge first in a church and later in the nearby woods.
Khloe emotionally recalled, “When I saw Dwayne’s body, I started shaking and crying. It was horrifying.” Law enforcement arrived at the scene at 5 am, discovering Jones’ body discarded among bushes along Orange Main Road. An inquiry into the homicide was initiated, and friends and relatives of the victim were urged to come forward with information. Tragically, Jones’ family opted not to claim his remains, and his father refrained from discussing the incident with the media.
On August 14, Deputy Superintendent of Police Steve Brown revealed that they had amassed fourteen statements and that the investigation was underway. In October 2013, a group of individuals set fire to the dwelling where Jones had been living as a squatter, forcing its inhabitants to flee. This act was also believed to be an anti-LGBT hate crime.
Everald Morgan, an official at the St. James Public Health Department, requested police protection for the displaced youths as a result of the arson. Regrettably, this request was declined. Meanwhile, a charitable initiative named Dwayne’s House was established in honor of Jones, aimed at supporting homeless LGBT youth in Jamaica. However, as of May 2014, no arrests or charges had been made, and by August 2015, the crime remained unresolved.
The news of Jones’ murder captured widespread attention throughout Jamaica. Jamaica’s Justice Minister, Senator Mark Golding, strongly denounced the killing, urging an end to “appalling acts of violence” within the country. He emphasized the importance of all Jamaicans embracing the fundamental principle of respecting the basic human rights of every individual and advocated for tolerance towards minority groups, including the LGBT community. Annie Paul, the publications officer at the Jamaican branch of the University of the West Indies (UWI), observed that based on social media responses, a considerable number of Jamaicans believed that Jones essentially brought his tragic fate upon himself by dressing in a manner that conflicted with societal norms in a society that struggled to accept such behavior.
Newton D. Duncan, a Professor of Paediatric Surgery at UWI, echoed these sentiments, noting that a vast majority of Jamaicans erroneously equated cross-dressers with homosexuality and deemed them deserving of punishment. He pointed out that this widespread belief was misguided, as most cross-dressers were, in fact, heterosexual. He unequivocally condemned the attack, likening it to the lynching of an African-American character in Harper Lee’s novel “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Duncan drew parallels between the anti-LGBT violence in Jamaica and the anti-black violence of mid-20th century United States.
In a column for the Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner, Carolyn Cooper, a Professor of Literary and Cultural Studies at UWI, strongly criticized the group responsible for Jones’ murder. She attributed their actions to a selective interpretation of the Bible, highlighting the irony that while many Jamaicans readily endorse Bible verses that condemn same-sex relationships and cross-dressing, they often overlook numerous other transgressions, including adultery and murder, that the Bible also addresses. She emphasized that Jones lost his life solely for being true to himself and expressed a fervent hope that his assailants would face legal consequences for their heinous deed.
In a subsequent article published the following week, Cooper addressed several emails she received, arguing that the individuals deceived by Jones on the dance floor were the actual victims. She reaffirmed her condemnation of Jones’ murderers and suggested that, instead of responding with violence, those deceived could have chosen a lighthearted and humorous approach to the situation.
Jaevion Nelson, an HIV/AIDS campaigner and human rights advocate, also published an article on the subject in The Gleaner. He noted that his initial reaction was to question why Jones had gone to the dance party and why he was not satisfied in attending Jamaica’s underground gay parties. He added that he had subsequently realised that adopting this viewpoint was rooted in “the culture of violence” by which a victim is blamed for what happened to them.
He called on Jamaicans to be tolerant of LGBT individuals, and to focus on “rebuilding this great nation on the principles of inclusivity, love, equality and respect with no distinctions whatsoever”. Also in The Gleaner, Sheila Veléz Martínez, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, condemned the murder as “alarming evidence” of the high rates of homophobia in Jamaican society.
On 25 July, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals & Gays (J-FLAG), an LGBT rights organisation, issued a public statement expressing their “deep concern” regarding the case, and offering their condolences to Jones’ friends and family. They encouraged local people to aid the police in locating the perpetrators of the attack, which they asserted was an affront to Jamaica’s democracy. J-FLAG’s director Dane Lewis later commented that despite an increase in homophobic violence, Jamaican society was becoming more tolerant toward LGBT people; he attributed this to the actions of individuals like Jones, who have helped improve the public visibility of LGBT people in Jamaican society.
Another LGBT rights organisation, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica, issued a press release calling for the government and churches to engage with LGBT organisations to establish common ground that could be undergirded by the principle of “true respect for all,” found in the nation’s National Anthem.
Quality of Citizenship Jamaica organised a silent protest on July 31, 2013 to honour his memory and call on the government to lead a proper investigation and protect LGBT Jamaicans. Human rights organisation Jamaicans for Justice called on Prime Minister Portia Simpson-Miller and religious leaders to condemn the murder, also commenting on what they saw as a lack of media coverage and public outrage about the incident, adding that “we must ask ourselves what this says about us as a people.”
News of Jones’ murder attracted international media attention, resulting in condemnation of the killing by human rights groups. Graeme Reid, the LGBT Rights Program director at Human Rights Watch in New York, issued a statement that the Jamaican government should send an “unequivocal message” that there would be “zero tolerance” of anti-LGBT violence. Reid noted that Jamaica’s Prime Minister had vowed to decriminalise same-sex sexual activity in her 2011 election campaign but had yet to implement that promise. He encouraged the Jamaican authorities to take action to investigate Jones’ murder and to promote respect for the country’s LGBT citizens.
In a February 2014 briefing, the U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Uzra Zeya, cited Jones’ case as well as the torture and murder of Cameroonian HIV/AIDS activist Eric Ohena Lembembe as examples of the “troubling acts of violence” against LGBT individuals that had happened across the globe in the previous year.
In the United Kingdom, the Out and Proud Diamond Group (OPDG), a black LGBT organization, collaborated with the Peter Tatchell Foundation to orchestrate a protest outside the London embassy of Jamaica on August 28. Marvin Kibuuka, representing the OPDG, strongly condemned the tragic murder of Jones and rallied supporters to actively stand against the persecution of LGBT individuals, not only in Jamaica but also in other regions. Peter Tatchell later asserted that the lack of response from Simpson-Miller and the law enforcement authorities amounted to complicity with those responsible for committing a hate crime targeting the LGBT community.
Laura Robinson, an Associate Professor of English at the Royal Military College of Canada, incorporated Jones’ murder alongside the 2013 Russian LGBT propaganda law as an illustration where matters concerning youth intersect with the realm of LGBT affairs. In her introduction to an academic study delving into “queerness and children’s literature,” she emphasized that Jones symbolized a young life that didn’t culminate in what Judith Butler refers to as a “livable life.”