In 2015, Jamaica’s only LGBT advocacy group, Jamaica Forum for Lesbians Allsexuals and Gays(J-FLAG), conducted a study that showed that 93 per cent of the population agreed with the statement that ‘homosexuality is a sin’. On top of this, the representation of LGBT people in the media further exacerbates the nation’s widespread homophobic and transphobic discrimination. When you add this to the states' high crime and unemployment rates, and you have a world that is incredibly high-risk for marginalised LGBT communities.
Wanting to change the severity of life as an LGBT person in Jamaica is fashion photographer Tim Walker, who recently lensed the country’s most vulnerable community, the Gully Queens, for British Vogue. Displaced by the police, the government, and violent homophobia on the streets, the Gully Queens are a community of homeless, marginalised LGBT people who live in a gully or drain below Jamaican capital of Kingston. “I found the notion of an aggression towards homosexuality in Jamaica sad and regressive,” explains Walker. “To me, the Gully Queens are emblematic of this injustice which is what led me to photograph them. There is the chance, through photography, to give something that is very wrong in the world the visibility to make it right.”
Last year, Walker shot an all-black cast for the 2018 Pirelli Calendar, including the likes of Naomi Campbell, RuPaul, and Adwoa Aboah. Now he vows to use his work to increase the visibility and affect change for the lives of Gully Queens by releasing a set of 30 signed portraits. Armoured with rainbow fans and flags, the portraits celebrate the resilience of the Queens, and what makes them the strongest community in Jamaica.
Health, safety, and housing are the key areas of risk for this community, many of whom are forced into sex work as a means for survival, which increases their risk as many high paying clients refuse to have protected sex. In addition, studies have shown around 85 per cent of respondents use alcohol and drugs to relieve their depression, which can elevate their risk.
All proceeds from Walker's portraits will be donated to the Gully Queens charity, with an aim to provide safe shelter, improve health outcomes (including discrimination free healthcare), provide psychosocial support, and improve employability.
The prints will be shown at Michael Hoppen Gallery for Photo London this week