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Reporting on LGBT homelessness not enough

Published:Wednesday | October 21, 2015 | 12:00 AMJaevion Nelson, Contributor

Ever so often we are treated with one or two of the same news stories and documentaries about the plight of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people who are homeless in Kingston. Whether it's done by local journalists, foreign correspondents or a posh crew of journalists and filmmakers flown into the country, one thing is certain: They have become rather monotonous. They all say the same things homophobia and transphobia remain persistent and homeless LGBT people were displaced from abandoned buildings and vacant lots.

We need more than eloquent reporting of their plight. We need features that do a thorough investigation into the situation so we can better understand and be reminded that like the rest of us, they, too, have a right to shelter. We also need to know what mechanisms there are to address their concerns and how organisations like J-FLAG and the Government are working to address their most immediate need a comfortable and safe place to sleep. In essence, the LGBT people who are affected require much more than being on the front page of our dailies or on television and websites to receive the kind of support that is necessary to ensure their survival and well-being.

The dire situation of this group of largely young people - some of whom are reportedly in their teens - is evidence of the extent to which homophobia and transphobia are affecting our country. It points to the critical need for a comprehensive strategy to address homelessness (not just among LGBT people) by both local and central government authorities. Dionne Jackson-Miller's All Angles feature on the occasion of the first anniversary of Dwayne Jones' death (in July 2014) is an example of an excellent investigation into the matter.


a big development issue

I am perturbed by the fact that most of the features relating to LGBT people who are homeless have overwhelmingly been written or produced by foreign-based journalists. Do our local media not see a need to begin to discuss more thoroughly the situation of this sub-group of people who are homeless and the community of homeless people, in general?

Globally, homelessness and displacement are a big development issue. People are uprooted and evicted from their homes and communities and even country for a variety of reasons. In the United States, San Francisco has one of the largest populations of people who are homeless in developed countries. In New York, the majority of people who are homeless are LGBT. The population estimate of people who are homeless in Jamaica is questionable and the percentage of them receiving support is appalling.

Understandably, this is not an issue that is easy to address, especially in a tight fiscal space and weak policies which help to compound and deny people a fundamental right. "International human-rights law recognises everyone's right to an adequate standard of living, including adequate housing," according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Such references can be found in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Jamaica is party.

We need to do more for people who are homeless. We must begin to advocate that the Government do more. Civil society and the media have a critical role in apprising us of the Government's role, commitments and work in this regard.


what's the point?

It's a little strange that news reports and documentaries on the situation by overseas media entities tend to be so limited in their coverage and ignore the macro-issues which compound the problem. This is especially concerning since this is where the vast majority of such stories emanate from. The challenge for me, though, is that it's never really clear what the purpose of these documentaries is except that people think that it is important that people know what is happening in Jamaica. The utility of these documentaries and other forms of storytelling is usually to the activist or filmmaker who makes headlines. One colleague argues that the plight of homeless LGBT people is being commoditised both here and abroad thereby inciting outrage more than help. Its currency is often merely a reminder for people about how difficult the situation is or can be for LGBT people in Jamaica.

We need more than just the retelling of people's plight. We need to ensure that in all of this the people who are affected benefit in the process and not just those who desire to let the world know how awful things can be. Let us do more for people who are homeless. Let us remember that this is a violation of their rights and the government is obligated to provide the necessary support in this regard.

- Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to and