“For me, what brought me to the gully [is that] people started finding out that I’m gay in my community,” Daggering, the subject of a 2014 Vice documentary, explained in “Young and Gay: Jamaica’s Gully Queens.”
Daggering is one of nearly 25 gay and trans youths who, after being expelled from their homes and rejected by their families due to their sexual orientations, took up residence in the city of Kingston’s storm drains, a place they refer to as the gully.
“Right now, we all want to leave the gully because you don’t know what might happen,” Daggering continued. “Who will jump down. The gully is cold, mosquitoes bite you. So, in the gully, it’s like hell down there.”
London-based documentary photographer and journalist Christo Geoghegan chronicled the lives of these self-described Gully Queens ― the abuse they’ve endured, the bonds they’ve formed, and the steps they’ve taken to bring an end to Jamaica’s rampant homophobia.
Although not altogether impossible, the thought of Jamaica evolving on its stance regarding LGBT rights is difficult to imagine for those living within Jamaica’s daily prejudice. “Homosexuality in Jamaica doesn’t have any hope,” a Gully Queen told Geoghegan in the Vice documentary. “It’s just no, no. It’s never going to happen. They’ll just kill us faster.”
As explained in the documentary, Jamaica’s gay population is divided mainly into two groups: the Rich Queens and the Scary Queens. The Rich Queens possess more wealth and stability, thus providing them insulation from the most violent outbursts of homophobia.
The Scary Queens, or Gully Queens as they call themselves, are impoverished, often without the support of their families and without prospects of finding a job. With nowhere to hide, they are constantly subjected to hateful acts of violence, enacted solely on the basis of prejudice and animosity. They live in the dark corners of public spaces, where resources are scarce and danger is a constant threat.
Because of the classist division between the Rich Queens and the Scary Queens, many Jamaicans project blame unto the marginalized youth for their own persecution, using the Rich Queens as evidence that some queers live in safety and security. Thus, the dominant narrative criminalizes the LGBTQ youth instead of victimizing them.
Geoghegan is not interested in either criminalizing or victimizing. He wants to celebrate the Gully Queens and all that they represent. Alongside his film, which was co-produced and directed by Adri Murguia, Geoghegan crafted a series of stunning portraits showing his subjects in positions of power and resilience.
The photographs, which Geoghegan described as “stylized documentary,” feature the Gully Queens drenched in natural light, in the environment they call home. He explained that, conventionally, Gully Queens dress up in glamorous clothing and makeup before a night of work in the sex industry, to engage in the ritual of self-expression without the dangerous reality of a night on the streets.
Despite the photos’ realistic qualities, fantasy manages to creep its way in through the poses they assume, the personas they exude. “I wanted to be able to use the photographs and accompanying documentary film as a way for them to display their sexuality and personality the way they wanted to,” Geoghegan said, “and not the way that society had told them that they should.”
According to a recent interview with Feature Shoot, since these photos were taken, Jamaican police have evicted the Gully Queens from their storm drains. Geoghegan has since found it difficult to contact those he interviewed and photographed, but hopes to return to Jamaica soon to follow up on their stories.
Ultimately, Geoghegan does not want his series to force viewers to feel sorry for his subjects. He wants us to admire the individuals portrayed ― their strength, their beauty and their style.
“The photos aim to be a celebration of their spirit amidst the adversity they face each and every day and not purely ‘misery porn’ that only focuses on their hardships, because there is so much more to them than just that,” he said. “The Gully Queens are a new movement in Jamaica’s fight for LGBTQ equality and they are here to stay.”