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Church group visits and sings with homeless LGBT youths at the sewers where they live. (Photo courtesy of Yvonne McCalla-Sobers)
Church group visits homeless LGBT youth in Jamaica’s sewers

in JAMAICA, 15/03/2014

The Rev. Margaret Fowler, a United Church minister and member of the Board of Directors of Dwayne’s House, is a serious advocate for a change in the overall approach of the Jamaican church towards issues of sexual orientation. So, on Thursday night, March 13, she arranged for a group of Christians to visit the homeless LGBT youth who are living in the sewers of Kingston. The group, which included persons from across the Caribbean, was attending a regional conference on human trafficking.

This account is from Jamaican activist Yvonne McCalla-Sobers, who is chair of Dwayne’s House, the initiative seeking to provide a home for LGBT youths.

Rev. Fowler was heartened that the conference organisers readily agreed to allow the visit to the youth. However, she then wondered how many of the church persons would want to come on the visit, given all the negative stereotypes spread about the youth in the media. The visit would also have to occur late in the night after a very full day of meetings. Members of the group would have therefore been exhausted.

However, at 10:00 p.m. when the bus arrived there were hardly enough seats, as so many persons showed up! The bus was completely packed for the short ride from the hotel in New Kingston to the sewers where the youngsters live.
Rev. Fowler was overwhelmed with the turnout and briefed the group on what to expect, such as males dressed in female attire. She also told them that if they missed the bus coming back, they would have to disclose their earnings from sex work the next morning!

I had prepared the youth for the visit, and they were keen enough to have our liaison, Tyrone, call me a couple of times between 9:30 and 10 pm to check on whether the group was still coming, and on whether I would be accompanying the visitors. The youth were anxiously waiting for us when we arrived.

I had thought about calling Commander Murdock of the New Kingston police post to let him know about the meeting, and decided against it because we were not asking police permission to meet. Further, I did not anticipate any incident that would require police intervention. There was a concern that public anger about the murder conviction of popular reggae singer, Vbyz Kartel, that was handed down earlier in the day might have overflowed on the streets last night. However, a police officer had assured the group that New Kingston would not be affected by any Kartel protest.

So, there we were. The church group was largely female, and Rev. Fowler assured the men that they would be safe from the youth, but if they encountered any harassment, the women would protect them!

The interaction and exchange amazed and humbled me. The churchpersons came with love, respect, and acceptance, and the youth reciprocated. Rev. Fowler started out with some Christian choruses, and our youth sang along with energy that showed how familiar they were with church activity. They also started singing some choruses of their own and the group of visitors joined in.

A member of the church group gave the youth some words of encouragement, based on the Biblical story of the woman at the well. The theme was no condemnation, and freedom to choose. Rev. Fowler ended the evening with a prayer, and the group left behind care packages with toiletries and packages with drink and snacks for the youth.

The behaviour of the youngsters was exemplary. There was hardly a murmur during the meeting, let alone side conversations or any form of distraction. They were focused. During the visit, there were points of engagement and exchanges, such as holding hands and speaking words of love and acknowledgment.

There was brief feedback from the church group on the brief bus ride back to the hotel. One person, a Cuban, openly cried to see the conditions under which our youth exist. Rev. Fowler will have more information on feedback from the group, but she thought the visit had humanised the youth in the eyes of the church group.

The feedback from the youth has been a request for Rev. Fowler to return on the last Sunday of each month. Tyrone told me that the youth said they would like to go to church, but they feel embarrassed when they go. They felt that, after they saw more of Rev. Fowler on their turf, they may feel prepared to visit her church.

My heart is full!

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