On Apr 10, 2014 Worcester Mag reported: Wearing a long red dress and sporting gold earrings and a necklace, Christina dances around the living room of an apartment in a Worcester triple-decker. Music is blaring and she is surrounded by friends, each of them dressed up for a night out on the town. Elegant hair styles, eyelash extensions and fake nails sported by some of them hint at hours of preparation and painstaking attention to detail. They are headed to Boston for a prom, their smiles and laughter hours ahead of the fun that lies ahead.
Taking a break, Christina sits at a dining room table off the living room. The smile is gone. It has taken some encouragement from friends, but Christina is ready to talk about living so many miles away from family members left behind in Jamaica. It is not because of a job opportunity, or college, or because of a relationship. Like many of the others in the room, Christina fled home simply to stay alive.
Christina is transgendered and gay. In her home country she is, under the law, a criminal. Jamaica is among 11 former British colonies in the Caribbean that still prohibit homosexual relations. The “buggery law” was enacted in 1864 in Jamaica and outlaws sodomy among men. A gay man who comes “out” in Jamaica risks alienation by his family and much worse. In the most extreme cases, community members will beat gay men and women, mutilate their body parts, even kill them. Family members often will turn on their own loved ones.
“I would be dead,” Christina, who has been in Worcester since November, says of what would happen if she returned home. “They would have burned down the house, would have burned my family.”
The 25-year-old was an HIV advocate in Jamaica. Her sexual identify was hidden from friends and family until she took part in a documentary to shed light on the plight of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered community in countries like Jamaica.
“We wanted our voice to be heard,” Christina says. ”We wanted the public to see what was going on.”
After shooting the documentary, she traveled outside the country for a while. When she returned, someone from Christina’s neighborhood had seen the documentary. Her life immediately in danger, she began a journey that took her from house to house.
“I had to stay in different houses. It was only temporary,” Christina says. “I would keep moving from place to place, different places in Jamaica.”
Now in Worcester, she is making the most of the life she is starting over – and that includes heading to Boston on this particular night for what would essentially be the first prom of her life. She and the others gathered in the apartment were going to attend the Fenway Health Women’s Dinner Party for lesbian, transgender and bisexual women.
Christina was luckier than Dwayne Jones, a fellow Jamaican who was brutally murdered several months before Christina fled the country. Jones was a cross-dressing teen who had been attending a river party in St. James dressed as a woman last July when, according to news reports, a woman who saw him dancing with another man told another group Jones was actually a man. He was allegedly chased and caught before being chopped and stabbed to death. He was also allegedly shot in the head. No one is said to have come to his defense.
Christina was also able to escape without losing a loved one. Jean from West Africa was not. A successful businessman and king of his community in his home country, he did what he what society there expected of him: he married a woman and had children. In his homeland, Jean had money and all it could buy – a palatial home, two luxury cars and a top-notch education for his children.
“I had respect, prestige and was king of my community,” he says.
But Jean harbored a secret that in his homeland could prove deadly – and, ultimately, it did. Being gay in a place where homosexuality is condemned, Jean would hide his boyfriends from the public. In 2005, his secret was discovered and he and his boyfriend were jailed, beaten and tortured. Both men had their penises mutilated, because “They said that we were not real men.” Jean’s boyfriend died from his injuries.