She was 16 years old. She had struggled her entire life to overcome her biological identity as a boy. But one fateful night in Irwin, Jamaica, she had pretended long enough.
Dwayne Jones attended a street party dressed as she felt she was meant to, a girl, and she paid with her life. "Beaten, stabbed, shot, and run over by a car," she was brutally attacked by a mob that could not reconcile how this girl was physically a boy. Jones had lived a life of torment leading up to this tragic night, having been continually ridiculed for her personality and finally kicked out of the house when she was 14. Though her home country of Jamaica certainly appears to be progressing, with challenges to the antiquated buggery law now being considered before the court, Jones's vicious murder reflects the kind of hostile environment that a Human Rights Watch researcher working in Jamaica in 2006 claimed was "the worst any of us has ever seen."
Unfortunately, this single act of merciless hatred does not stand alone. Jones's oppression as a transgender person living in Jamaica parallels human rights violations against members of the LGBTQ community across the globe. Of late, Russia has gotten the most publicity for the openly discriminatory laws and cruel Internet witch-hunting of gay youth. However, Russian legislation is tame compared to the state-sponsored homophobia of other countries.
As executive director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, Jessica Stern puts it, "The sad truth is that many countries around the world have preceded Russia in singling out LGBT people." Anna Kordunsky, for National Geographic, has arranged a compilation of such countries. Iran, Mauritania, the Republic of Sudan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen all hold capital punishment for perpetrators of being homosexual, contributing to the more than 76 countries that have anti-gay laws. The irony of it all is that many of these countries have signed onto, and even ratified, human rights treaties that tout equality and dignity. Belize is a prime example. Emine Saner, for The Guardian, provides an excellent source for the status of gay rights in countries around the world.
After reading about Dwayne's sickening mob-murder and the declining state of affairs for LGBTQ community members around the world, you may be asking yourself — as I was — how to respond to such heinous acts of violence and draconian legislation. The first and most immediate thing we can all do in our day-to-day lives is respect people's identity. In the Associated Press story about Jones, I found it contradictory that she was referred to using male pronouns — he, his, and him. Dwayne identified as female and, especially in her death, her identity should be honored. Respecting the liberty of a person to be who they wish to be and love who they wish to love is the foremost response we should all to have.
Secondly, we have to stay aware. This means paying attention to, and sharing, the plight of homosexual and transgender people abroad even when it's difficult or heart-wrenching to do so. A crucial reality is that "American religious-right groups [are] now aiding and abetting anti-LGBT forces in countries where anti-gay violence is prevalent." This has to stop. Lobbying our representatives and creating petitions for the discontinuation of tax-exempt status for organizations that fuel hate crimes abroad — holding them to the same standards internationally as we do locally — is critical. Thirdly, the fight for equality at home is not yet over. We must continue to be vigilant stewards of the cause for LGBTQ rights in our own neighborhoods, towns, cities, and states.
We must also have faith, and celebrate the victories that have been won on behalf of the international LGBTQ community: Argentina now allows transgender as a selection on birth certificates; Mexico City, Uruguay, Denmark, France, Brazil, and New Zealand are the newest countries to pass gay marriage; Vietnam just celebrated its second gay pride parade; and even the Prime Minister of Jamaica shows promise in repealing anti-homosexual laws.
Finally, if you are LGBTQ, be proud. You are part of a unique community that is relentless in asserting our dignity and demanding equality. And for those who are able, be out — "nothing lessens the chances of people being harmed for being LGBT, than other people knowing people who are queer." You will serve as an goodwill ambassador, demonstrating to others the human side of an often-polarized argument. The more of us there are, the better chance we give to people like Dwayne, and her death shall not be in vain.