Horror

Who Killed Dexter Pottinger, Jamaica’s ‘Face’ of LGBT Pride?

Dexter Pottinger, Jamaica’s ‘Face of Pride,’ was murdered while he screamed for help from his neighbors. LGBT activists want to know why.

Menswear designer Dexter Pottinger (C) poses on the runway.

Photo Illustration by the Daily Beast/Sean Drakes/Getty

In 1964, the murder of Kitty Genovese, who screamed for help while most of her neighbors did nothing, shocked the conscience of America.

Last week, Dexter Pottinger was murdered in his home in Kingston, Jamaica. He, too, screamed for help, but his neighbors did nothing. He, like Kitty Genovese, was queer. Now, some friends of this talented and outspoken designer, dubbed “the face of Pride” in 2016, say that his neighbors did nothing because he was gay.

“To die knowing that your neighbors heard you screaming murder but did nothing,” said Maurice Tomlinson, a Jamaican LGBT activist now living in Canada after threats on his own life. “The horror.”

Not only did no one intervene when they heard Pottinger scream “murder!” No one called the police at any time. Pottinger’s body was only found much later, after friends reported him missing.

The motives and identity of the killer are not yet known. A television set was reported missing from Pottinger’s home, meaning the murder could have been unrelated to his sexuality—or that the killer just felt like stealing it, or stole it to cover his tracks. No one knows.

Indeed, Tomlinson pointed out that the rush to say that Pottinger was killed for being gay is, itself, problematic. “What is distressing is the speed with which many have rushed to blame his orientation for his murder,” Tomlinson told The Daily Beast. “This underscores the homophobia that still permeates Jamaica.”

Kenita Placide, director of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality, was similarly cautious in ascribing motives for Pottinger’s murder. “This has raised so much anger and is very unsettling,” she told The Daily Beast. “It is always very hard to deal with a tragedy like this. His murder has placed the community on edge.”

Certainly, Pottinger was uniquely out, loud, and proud in a country where violence against LGBT people remains horrifying and homosexuality is still against the law (PDF). His words from Jamaica Pride 2016 now have a tragic irony: “I hope that my participation will show members of J-FLAG [Jamaica Friends of Lesbians and Gays] that it is okay to come out in an atmosphere where there is no violence, realize that it’s your time to be part of the change—not just for the week but permanently as a part of the community.”

Placide called Pottinger “a beautiful, human being, a Human Rights Advocate who was active, creative and visible.”

Pottinger—nicknamed 3D—was also fierce as hell. After his death, Tomlinson shared a photo of Pottinger’s striking face in smeared rainbow paints.

His Facebook page shows him modeling Chanel, striking poses in all-white outfits with his friends and in red feathered boa (and not much else) with a model, and directing a music video for the artist Tifa.

“So a great light no longer dances among us,” one friend posted on Facebook. “He and his stories, and flare, and talent and love of life are now memories... Dexter Pottinger was and is, an unrepeatable expression of Life... Our work together was magical and subversive.”

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But Pottinger was hardly alone. In fact, contrary to stereotypes, Jamaica’s LGBT community is increasingly vibrant and visible. Politically, there is momentum toward repealing the country’s “Buggery Law,” and the police investigation of Pottinger’s murder has, according to local activists, been serious and swift.

Of course, Jamaican homophobia is in large part a Western product. Its “Buggery Law” is modeled on the UK’s historic (and long-repealed) one, and its fundamentalist Christian churches are underwritten by Americans, including the Westboro Baptist Church, Liberty Counsel, and other stars of the anti-gay Christian Right. If Americans are looking for the causes of Jamaican homophobia, they should look in the mirror.

So, if it turns out that Pottinger’s death was a result of homophobia – on the part of his murderer or his neighbors—it is as much a backlash against such recent changes as an expression of long-held anti-gay attitudes. In fact, Jamaica is evolving. Of course, there have been many steps backward along the way, and the murder of this talented artist may well be a tragic example of one of them.

But Montego Bay Pride is still set for Oct. 12-15, 2017—its slogan is “Love and Pride in the Bay.” Free shuttles are bringing people from around the island. T-shirts are for sale online. Donations are being accepted. Jamaica’s LGBT people are no longer hiding in fear, just as the brave and brilliant Dexter Pottinger refused to do.