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dexter pottinger

To Jamaica’s murdered gay icon Dexter Pottinger #RestInPower

Remembering the island’s ‘Face of Pride’, someone who boldly and without fear encouraged a community to live out loud

Last week, one of Jamaica’s most prolific gay celebrities was stabbed to death in his own home. Dexter ‘3D’ Pottinger, 35, was found by officers on Thursday. His neighbours reported hearing scream of “help!” and “murder!” in the early hours of Wednesday morning. They didn’t immediately contact the authorities.

Pottinger was known for his work as a stylist, fashion designer, reality TV judge and a video director who collaborated with dancehall artists such Tifa and Ce’Cile. Pottinger’s notoriety led to him becoming the  ‘Face of Pride’ in 2016 and his death has prompted social media users to speak out about crime and attitudes towards LGBT people in Jamaica. “Stop telling people to come out and be out and disclose until y’all make it safe to do so,” one user wrote. The Jamaican newspaper The Gleaner, asked its island readers: “Have we lost our sense of humanity and compassion?” before adding “We cannot continue like this”.

According to several news outlets, 21-year-old Romario Brown has been arrested and is due to be charged. But the motive for the murder is yet to be reported. Speaking to Dazed, Carla Moore, a friend and activist said: “This hasn’t been ruled as a hate crime, it’s actually far more complex than that” There have been reports that his television and mobile phone were stolen and therefore robbery could have played a part. Over 80 per cent of Jamaicans believe that homosexuality is immoral, same sex activity is illegal and violence against the LGBT community has made the headlines – prominent gay activists like Brian Williamson and Steve Harvey have previously been murdered, while another activist sought refuge in Canada after a mob watched as his friend drowned. Therefore, we must remember how radical Pottinger was in becoming the face of Jamaican pride.

Jaevion Nelson, executive director of Jamaica’s first LGBT rights organisation, J-FLAG, remembers his friend and colleague.

“Nearly a decade ago, I met Dexter Pottinger. He was a most striking character – tall, full of life, humorous, stylish and frank. It was hard to not notice him. I was, however, most intrigued by how open he was as a gay man living in Jamaica at a time few dared to do the same. It didn’t seem to be having much of an impact on his career.  

While there were others who were openly LGBT, it was still kind of radical for someone that popular to be as bold as Dexter was. Especially because most of the stories you would hear or read about were of people being victimised in one way or the other. The default was, therefore, to not disclose your LGBT identity — not even in some of your small circles of friends. It always seemed better to keep it a secret — at least that’s what I knew.

One evening in 2008 or 2009, we sat by the table in my home and I listened to him talk. He spoke about always having a response when people hurled derogatory comments at him. Few LGBT people I knew would be as audacious to stand up to abuse. But Dexter didn’t seem to allow anyone to take advantage of him or make him feel “less than” because of his sexual orientation. Dexter was facety bad (cheeky). His bravery was enviable and admirable. This resonated with me as it was at a time that I was discovering and still learning to understand and appreciate myself, a time when there weren’t many visible and known faces of LGBT people in the country. I also needed to not feel guilty about who I loved and the kind of friendships I would seek out and foster so that I can be comfortable with myself. I even called a friend over to listen. 

Over time, Dexter became a household name. His fortitude and that of others like him helped to pave the way for much of the success we are seeing today. He was respected. He was, as one of my friends said, “an untouchable battyman”. As an entrepreneur, fashion designer, model, stylist, and makeup artist, among other things, he was a role model and mentor for many. He lived his truth and thrived while doing whatever he could to make Jamaica better for LGBT people in his own ways. I admired him.

“He lived his truth and thrived while doing whatever he could to make Jamaica better for LGBT people in his own ways. I admired him” – Jaevion Nelson

So in 2016, while we were making plans for pride celebrations that year, I thought of him as the ambassador for PRiDE JA 2016. Without hesitation or questions about what would be required of him, he agreed. He was the most perfect ‘Face of Pride’ – renowned designer, stylist, makeup artist and video director working with a wide range of celebrities locally. He was doing lots of big things internationally too. The face of pride is a representation of our bravery, resilience and pride in the face of oppression as a people. The planning committee ‘admired his courage, sense of self, drive, relationship with his family and friends, and pride in being Jamaican and in being a gay man.

As Neish McLean, the co-chair of PRiDE JA 2016 said, someone like Dexter ‘reminds members of the LGBT community that, in spite of all the struggles we face individually and collectively, we can thrive and be LGBT in Jamaica. A 'face' inspires us, gives us someone, a Jamaican LGBT person living in Jamaica who we can emulate and celebrate; someone who is bold, brave and proud. Few with his standing would and could have done it.

The last time I spoke to him (a couple months ago), he was still talking about it and the impact it has had on so many persons within and outside the LGBT community. Through his participation, the LGBT community was encouraged to pause and reminisce on our achievements and successes and write LGBT people in our country’s history beyond the caricature to which many have become accustomed.

I took note of what he had to say about coming out, being your true self, standing up for what you believe, having a purpose and going after what you want in life. Dexter will surely be missed. His legacy will live on. I'm grateful to him for the contributions he made to Jamaica. We are better of, in part, because of him.”