24 year old transgender/heterosexual Noelle (last name withheld) moves with great caution around Jamaica. While there are parts of Kingston Jamaica where she feels safe, in others, she says, she must ‘navigate spaces’ carefully knowing that she can be attacked because she presents as a woman. To contact: +1(876)4018 656, noelle92@gmail.com, Social media handle: ms. Noellen. Jamaica is one of 76 countries where same-sex acts are illegal. The LGBTQI+ community in the country have regularly faced violent homophobic and trans-phobic attacks, and discrimination in almost every sector of society. However, in the last ten years, through the emergence of courageous grassroots LGBTQI+ grassroots non-governmental organizations and activists, the country has seen progressive gains for LGBTQI+ acceptance. Photo Robin Hammond/NOOR for Witness Change. 29 September 2016

Noelle /

“My name is Noelle and I have come a long way in plotting my location on the LGBTQI spectrum. I had initially come out to my family as Gay because of course that is what I thought I was. I always knew I had an enduring attraction to men or masculinity but I always felt like I was cheating myself or lying to myself about how I truly felt. It wasn’t until I started University and started networking with other like-minded individuals that I had my “Ahah” moment where my gender recognition was concerned. And in retrospect, I think I always knew but I was crippled by the fear of disappointing my family more than I was afraid of the reality that many transgender Jamaicans face living in Jamaica and that is the fear of being attacked or killed. I was raised in a very strict Adventist household that preaches sexual purity and loving the lord and apart of loving him means blindly following church officials who preaches hate and intolerance. Needless to say that my mother and other family members were and still are active members of the church who would make very homophobic utterances for many years kept me in the closet. Attending University and volunteering with J-FLAG brought a period of enlightenment for me and empowered me to come out to my family. To my surprise, the accepted the fact that I was LGBT but they didn’t like the idea because they feared for my safety; It took a great deal of learning and unlearning toxic ideologies and perception of the LGBT community and I’m happy to say that they are okay with me being gay but not so much about me being transgender. We haven’t had discussions around my sexual or gender identity as being gay is like being the family secret that I should endeavour to control before I leave Jamaica. Problem is, I like Jamaica, I like to be known or be seen as a Jamaican even though navigating spaces is like an obstacle course. While I have never experienced any real form of violence because of my expression, I have experienced bullying and discrimination because of the way I present- I am 6ft 2inches and this severely adds to my gender dysphoria as persons are not able to see the person that I truly am or want them to see. Before my great-grand mother passed away, in her last few days she had Alzheimer, she told me to be Be-You-Tiful- be you because the real you is beautiful and you’re not here for the approval for anyone so give yourself a break and Be-You-Tiful. These words stuck with me and formed part of me in a literal sense as I had it tattooed on my chest as a reminder to myself every day when I wake up and I am preparing myself for the day ahead. This is the first time I’m speaking so candidly to such a large audience about my gender identity but at this point I really don’t care. I am Jamaican and trans is beautiful and I am beautiful.”

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