Change course, Bruce

Another Observer Article on the BBC Hardtalk interview

Politicians will always do politics, but it irks me greatly when they regurgitate volumes of sleazy political nonsense with the hope of convincing voters to imbibe that which they spew, however unpalatable.

What is even more sordid about this practice is the uncanny manner in which some go about cavorting and shouting the virtues of the Beatitudes and condemn the vice in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (before they died) without conceding the ugly contempt inherent in their own utterances and actions toward the very people they claim to love or seek to represent.
Prime Minister Bruce Golding repeated a position he first espoused in 2006, during an interview on the BBC’s HARDtalk with Stephen Sackur, that homosexuals will find no place in his Cabinet. The prime minister correctly acknowledged Jamaica’s homophobic culture, but also highlighted the emerging “tolerance” towards gay and bisexual men and lesbians. While I share a convergence of views with the prime minister that outside lobby groups and international organisations should not attempt to dictate our cultural mores or impose their social values on us, I find the prime minister’s insistent stance on barring people who exercise different sexual preferences from serving in the Cabinet backward and disingenuous.

This is the same prime minister, who, on more than one occasion, sanctimoniously preached the gospel of inclusiveness without ever once invoking exceptions based on the George Orwell “Animal Farm” model.
The prime minister knows that we “can’t have our cake and eat it”. He knows too that we cannot talk seriously about equality under the law, the charter of civil rights, or justiciability, while simultaneously and piously promoting discrimination under the law, based on sexual orientation. We cannot do these things, yet stress gender, religious, racial or political equity. One does not have to be a proponent of homosexuality, bisexuality or lesbianism to know that what the prime minister is articulating is a furtherance of intolerance and homophobic vitriol toward people with different sexual interests and inclinations.

Did the prime minister, in appointing his Cabinet, ask members about their sexual preferences, whether dormant or active? If the prime minister subjected his Cabinet members to his brand of the sexual “fit and proper” litmus test, did it not run counter to Mr Golding’s own views and defence of an individual’s right to privacy? How certain is the prime minister that he has not breached his own standards, or does he have a Peeping Tom in the Cabinet, whose sole responsibility it is to report on people’s sexual activities?

Ironically, the same prime minister, who does not want homosexuals in his Cabinet, is deafeningly silent about accepting, seeking out, or working with, people who happen to be homosexuals and populate every sector of the Jamaican society. These men and women are public servants, academicians, lawyers, public policymakers, and owners of capital, and are in every industry of the private sector. Mr Golding, as you already know, leadership coined out of the principle of convenience is superficial. However, that which promotes a new direction and embarks upon a journey towards meaningful change and peaceful coexistence is truly profound.
Chicken backAs wishy-washy as the prime minister’s renewed homophobic stance was, he was not alone in demonstrating a lack of visionary and progressive leadership. Like heavy thunder, Opposition leader Mrs Simpson Miller roared on at a meeting in St Elizabeth and drew parallels between the price of chicken back during her tenure as prime minister, and the current price under the present Jamaica Labour Party government. Mrs Simpson Miller was “in her ackee” and was ably assisted, on this self-defeating mission by the former general secretary, who spared no efforts in reminding voters why they should not fail to vote for the PNP.

Now, of all the problems and struggles that beset this country, the best Mrs Simpson Miller had to offer was to dwell on, and politicise the price elasticity of chicken back. Mrs Simpson Miller knows how much I admire her strength and tremendous social conscience, but I am not one for malarkey, or political puppetry. Someone had better tell her to change course, because cheaper chicken chassis and jumping-jack tactics will not cut it. And, as stubborn as she appears, one hopes Mrs Simpson Miller takes heed. Whatever the motivation to pluck the cost of chicken back and leave the feathers on the multitude of other problems that confront us, the bone truth is: this will not curry-favour votes, given consumer awareness and global realities.
Understandably, leadership requires some amount of “symphonic actions”, as in understanding people’s concerns and connecting with their plight, but it also relies on practical intelligence – the kind Norman Manley spoke of – and a greater degree of awareness than is now being exhibited by Mrs Simpson Miller. We need “servant leadership” in this country. Lest we forget, Robert K Greenleaf first spoke of the servant-leader – where service takes pre-eminence. “It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve – and to serve first, then makes a conscious choice to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is ‘leader first’; perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive.”
Finally, we owe it to ourselves to reject, outrightly, this conniving bit of political expediency and hypocrisy, and to discard leaders who continue to speak out of both sides of their mouths like “Spanish machetes”, while riding the horse differently with each passing day. It is one thing to extol the intrinsic worth of one’s own political efforts and perceived accomplishments, but it is rather embarrassing and condescending to impose those merits on people whose past experiences and circumstances starkly contradict the self-acclaimed achievements being bandied about, particularly when the analogies are painfully dissimilar. Skilful leaders do not engage in silly semantics, they are driven by meaningful convictions sufficient to allow them to say, “This way, follow me.”

Author: GLBTQ Jamaica Moderator

Activist and concerned gay man in Jamaica with over 19 years experience in advocacy and HIV/AIDS prevention work, LGBT DJ since 1996.

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