As a self-professed geek and a lifelong fan of Marvel's "X-Men" comics, one of the things I've always loved about it is that the X-Men comics are all about art imitating life for the outcasts of the world. It showed us that even the bravest of superheroes, the kindest of souls can be seen as castaways and outcasts when they don't look, act or behave like the majority of people.
In the world of the X-Men, that point was never made clearer than when the comic's former writer, Chris Claremont, introduced a group called The Morlocks. Like the X-Men, they were mutants, but they were the runaways and outcasts of even the mutant world. They were the mutants whose powers were bizarre, unconventional, or had left them disfigured and monstrous in the eyes of others. And they ended up living in the sewers beneath Manhattan because they were the ones that the fictional people of the Marvel world has discarded and pushed underground because they were just too different.
Eventually though, even their existence in the underworld of society wasn't tolerated and their group was nearly annihilated when their home in the sewers was invaded by a lethal mob in the "Mutant Massacre," one of the most bloody, devastating, heartbreaking and darkest storylines that X-Men fans ever seen.
In all my years of reading X-Men comics, I'd always seen how the lives of the superheroes and mutants who live in the light played out in our everyday real lives, but I never thought I'd see the day when I'd see a real-life group of "Morlocks" in our own world. However, that all changed recently when I came across BuzzFeed article about a group of runaway gay youths in Jamaica who literally live in the island's sewer system as rejects of society.
Jamaica has long been regarded as one of the most homophic nations on Earth. In Jamaica, a British colonial law outlawing same-sex intercourse, called the "buggary law," is still in effect. And in recent years the island nation has seen a dramatic spike in anti-gay attacks, which have included beatings, firebombs and brutal murders at the hands of angry mobs. And that anti-gay mindset is bolstered by Jamaica's government and press, which refuses to run any ads that shine a positive light on the LGBT community. As well, most articles about Jamaica's LGBT citizens describes them as delinquents, vagrants, molesters and all-around villains.
In a climate where homophobia and effemiphobia are so rampant and accepted, many of Jamaica's gay youth (lesbians were not so oddly less affected) have, sadly, found themselves kicked out of the their family homes and pushed to the wayside by society, leaving them few places to go other than the streets.
Recently, BuzzFeed scribe J. Lester Feder traveled to Jamaica and spoke to six of the young gay youths, ranging from teens to early twenties, who have been forced out of their homes and are now living in an open sewer in New Kingston, the Jamaican capital’s financial district, for several months.
Life for the castaways has already been horrifying and turbulent, to say the least, but the group suffered a major blow to their already thread-thin sense of security on Dec. 1 when Cmdr. Christopher Murdock and a team of police entered the sewers and raided their makeshift him, burning much of their belongings and their food. This isn't the first time an invasion of the sewers has happened. In previous raids, police, have pepper-sprayed, beaten with batons and shot the youths with metal marbles fired from slingshots. However, police deny any acts of brutailty.
Murdock and his police team claim that the cause for their raids are the multiple complaints (more than 30) that they've received about theft and robbery ever since the young men began living in the sewer system. And although they admit to stealing to live, they claim that the police are trying to get rid of them because they're LGBT.
“They are trying to pin something on us,” says Michael, who has the blonde hair in the photograph above. “Because I am gay and it’s not legalized in the country, they want to get rid of us."
Even the police department's statement about the raid carries a heavy homophobic message about their reasons for trying to rid the city of the youths.
“The aim of this operation was to remove men of diverse sexual orientation who continue to plague the New Kingston are," said Murdock in a statement after the raid.
And the police aren't the only threat to the youths. As Davel, the man on the far left with the pink bag in the photograph, notes, his group of friends and comrades are vulnerable to attacks from anyone who would wish to do them harm because of their sexuality.
“Here in the gully anyone can climb down at any time,” Davel said. “You are probably asleep and they come throw stones at your head, catch [you] on fire. Because that’s what Jamaica is for and all about with homosexuals.”
The threat of such brazen violence is a bitter reality for many LGBT people on th island and in July the world got a devastating glimpse into the anti-gay attacks when Dwayne Jones, a "cross-dressing" 17-year-old teen from Paradise Rowe, was chased and "chopped and stabbed" to death by a mob after a man he was dancing with at a party discovered that he was biologically a male.
And the violence doesn't end there. In October, four homeless men were forced to flee the home they were occupying near St. James after a mob of 14 angry men attacked the house with firebombs. Between 2009 and 2012 alone, there were 231 reports of discrimination and violence against LGBT people in Jamaica.
“They’re out there because their communities are not at all interested in allowing them in being part of that space. They remain out there because we have a society that says, ‘Yes, they are second-class citizens and the state does not feel it needs to provide protection," said Dane Lewis, director of the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals, and Gays (J-FLAG).
And though it's painfully clear that these youths are being driven out of society because of their sexuality, the additional problem is that they're left with little resources to find a safe space to call their own away from the threat of persecution and violence. Back in 2009, J-FLAG partnered with Jamaica AIDS Support for Life to set up a shelter for LGBT youth a short distance from the New Kingston sewer. However, due to a lack of funding, the difficulty in dealing with a large group of emotionally scarred teens, the apparent desertion of support for the youths from J-FLAG, the shelter eventually shut down in 2010.
Plans for a new shelter are being pushed by activists like Maurice Tomlinson, who filed a lawsuit to get an LGBT rights ad on TV, and McCalla Sobers, a 76-year-old former schoolteacher and founder of the anti-police brutality organization Families Against State Terrorism. The shelter is tentatively set to be called Dwayne's house in honor of Dwayne Jones. A fundraising campaign was launched this month and organizers expect that it will cost $150,000 to establish a shelter to house 50 youths and will cost a monthly $450 per resident to keep it running.
But with funding still up in the air and no concrete expectations on when or if the shelter will get off the ground, those LGBT youths are left to call the sewers their home and hope that they survive until the day where they have a safe space above ground where they can rest their head, feel safe and feel loved.
“They just want to get rid of us … but we don’t have anywhere to go. We have to stay right there until something is done for us," said Michael.
One, or rather all of us, can hope that help will come soon enough for those youths and that a shellter will be made soon or that somehow somebody or some group will come to their rescue. But with what seems like an entire nation and culture of homophobia standing against them, it seems like a terrifying countdown until they suffer their own "Mutant Massacre" and the sewers of Jamaica become not only the lone safe haven for these young LGBT people, but also the gravesite for young people that should not have to unnecessarily suffer or die because of who they are.
One can hope that life doesn't imitate that dark and tragic art. One can hope.
Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK