Tolerance (Sunday Herald Editorial June 1, 2008)

Stokeley Marshall

Minister Bruce Golding’s recent comments on homosexuality in the now famous BBC interview may never be forgotten. He stated in clear, unequivocal terms that whilst homosexuals may be in a future Jamaican Cabinet, it would not be in his.
I agree with the remark in principle. However, the manner and tone in which he made the comments reflected the age-old attitude of many Jamaicans who still tend to look down on homosexual acts as the worst vice. I do not think Jamaicans are really homophobic. What the average Jamaican does not approve of is the open expression of homosexuality.

There are homosexuals who live among us, in the inner-city and elsewhere. Others either work or have worked with us. This includes serving in government on both sides of the political fence. However, the message remains that whilst you may live and work among us, do not expect that your lifestyle will be accepted by mainstream society.
This is contrary to the dominant ethos in certain developed countries in the West. It is politically incorrect to be critical of homosexuality in England. Clearly England is not Jamaica. So while the Prime Minister’s comments resonate with the average Jamaican, they will find little fertile soil in Britain. Several years ago, our Sandals hotel chain learnt that the hard way when it was forcefully influenced to alter the message in its visitor policy that had stated, “heterosexuals only”. The right to privacy?Based on the Prime Minister’s comments on the BBC, he seemed to acknowledge that persons will continue to conduct their sexual relations in private and that in time, the Jamaican people could shift their thinking somewhat on how people may wish to live their lives.
This could provide an opening that in the future, once the Jamaican people decide to permit same sex relations, whether in public or private, then maybe there could be shifts in the government’s position on this matter. This would be in keeping with democratic ideals that espouse rule by the majority.
What the PM was clear on is that no overseas lobby group would impose its will on the majority of Jamaicans. I see nothing wrong with that. In fact, it shows strong and bold leadership in the face of strong overseas opposition. As to whether some agree with his stance is another matter.
On the issue of privacy, the existing Constitution has no right to privacy that would include the right of consenting adult homosexual males to engage in same sex relations. However, we have signed onto international agreements such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
In that agreement, the right to privacy has been interpreted in the well-known human rights decision in Toonen vs. Australia, to include adult male consensual homosexual relations. If our draft Charter of Rights, which includes that right, were passed into law, it could allow such sexual relations unless some special provision were made to exclude it.
However, merely qualifying the right to privacy may not preserve the heterosexual nature of our laws on sexual relations, because one cannot predict if a court (to include the Privy Council or the Caribbean Court of Justice) will uphold the exclusion of same sex relations. This potentially places pressure on our anti-buggery laws. So in my view, the Prime Minister’s respect for the privacy of persons, if made a right under the Charter, could (unknowing to him) challenge his BBC comment — “Not in mine” (Cabinet).Science and social policyI recall that during the 2007 election debates, the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Dr. Peter Phillips squared off with the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Dr. Kenneth Baugh. Dr. Phillips was asked a question on fundamental rights as they relate to homosexuality, and in response, he asserted that there is no fundamental right to engage in those acts, that is, homosexual acts (paraphrasing). However, Dr. Baugh made a remark that I think is often forgotten. He indicated that the matter includes a scientific side that requires examination.
In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association de-listed homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. According to Wikipedia, this followed “controversy and protests” by homosexual activists at the association’s annual conferences from 1970—1973, as well as new material from researchers such as Alfred Kinsey and Evelyn Hooker. Their findings have been challenged and there has been furor that the de-listing was really political and not scientific.
In April 2008, prominent Spanish psychiatrist Enrique Rojas declared that 95 per cent of homosexuals became so inclined as a result of environmental factors, and that homosexuality is “a clinical process that has an etiology, pathogeny, treatment, and cure”. This places pressure on the view that homosexuality is innate and unchangeable, as is race.
Another noted psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Spitzer, who reportedly played a major role in the 1973 de-listing, stated a few years ago that based on a more recent study: “I thought that homosexual behaviour could be resisted, but sexual orientation could not be changed. I now believe that’s untrue — some people can and do change.”
In February 2008, Matt Foreman, then outgoing executive director of The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, challenged his own gay activist community by siding with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pro-family organisations and a growing number of homosexual activists who have been willing to admit that homosexual behaviour is both extremely high-risk and primarily responsible for the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United States.
This is not a licence to beat homosexuals or push them out of their jobs. For the record, I wish to register my disgust at the beating of homosexuals and those who describe themselves as transgender persons (although I am of the view that such reports are exaggerated), as well as the general scornful manner that many are treated with in certain quarters, to include some churches. It is wrong for persons to be ill-treated and made to feel “less than” because of some deviation in their behaviour, particularly if it does not pose any instant threat to society.
Hopefully, such biases will stop and those who have strong moral convictions against homosexual behaviour will learn to still love the homosexual and try to encourage the desired behavioural change through love and moral suasion and not by physical force. A continuation of such force, even in the few cases, would set the stage for the acceptance of homosexuals by the force of legislation. Which do you prefer? That’s how I see it. See you on Sunday, June 15.

Stokeley Marshall is an attorney-at-law.
He may be reached at stokeleymarshall@gmail.com

Homophobic prejudice?, Letters of the Day

Homophobic prejudice?
Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dear Editor,
In your editorial of May 26, you claim that the prime minister “got it right” with respect to his (reaffirmed) opposition to homosexuals serving in his Cabinet. With due respect, I think that both you and the prime minister got it entirely wrong.
Neither you nor the prime minister sees the fundamental folly of sexual orientation being a basis for excluding qualified Jamaicans from serving in the Cabinet. Given the prime minister’s stance, what is to prevent other public sector executives from excluding qualified (but gay) Jamaicans from jobs in the public service or statutory corporations?

Like the prime minister, you justify discrimination against homosexuals on the basis of Jamaica’s well-entrenched homophobic culture. Both you and the prime minister trot out this xenophobic mantra that Jamaica will not allow its values to be shaped by external pressures. This position appears to be grounded more in ignorance and prejudice than research and critical thinking.
A little research on your part might reveal that opposition to Jamaica’s anti-gay culture is not primarily or solely the province of “external” pressure groups. There are Jamaicans (albeit a minority) who have consistently advocated that Jamaica’s anti-homosexual culture violates fundamental human rights standards, such as the right to privacy and the right to equal treatment under the law.

Further, ultural exceptionalism does not exempt a state from its obligation to uphold international human rights. Accordingly, Jamaica’s homophobic culture does not exempt it from respecting international human rights for all Jamaicans, regardless of sexual orientation. Jamaica is a voluntary member of the international human rights community, as exemplified by its ratification of certain international human rights instruments such as the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the American Convention on Human Rights. In light of this, what rational basis do you or the prime minister have for privileging Jamaica’s homophobic culture over international human rights law?

So-called “external” lobby groups are more than entitled to demand that Jamaica lives up to its international obligations, in much the same way that Jamaica sought to “impose its values” on apartheid South Africa. Such a demand cannot be equated to “sullying Jamaica’s name” or forcing acceptance of a gay lifestyle on Jamaica.

On pandering to prejudice, both you and the prime minister got it right. On promoting principle over prejudice, you both got it wrong.

O Hilaire Sobers
ohilaire@yahoo.com

Mr Golding did not get it right

Mr Golding did not get it right
Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Dear Editor,Your editorial of May 26, “Mr Golding got it right”, is reprehensible. You fail to acknowledge that PM Golding’s stance can do nothing but bolster the perpetrators of the very anti-gay violence that you claim to abhor. You also fail to recognise that this sort of stance, taken by the highest elected official in the land, can lead to further discrimination in the workplace and in public facilities. If the PM can discriminate against gays, why can’t the rest of the society do the same?

No, Mr Editor, Mr Golding did not get it right, he got his priorities all mixed up. If this is the issue on which he wishes to spend his political capital, both in Jamaica and abroad, then he is not going to be able to achieve very much. There is a huge contradiction (which you also fail to point out), between the so-called softening of attitudes to gays that the PM spoke about in the BBC interview and his own hardened position. Where is the evidence of this softening, may I ask? Certainly not in the bellicose rantings heard on talk-radio, and not to mention the vulgarity that passes for discourse on the Internet.

Something that nobody has been able to explain to me is what necessitated the “no gays in my cabinet” statement in the first instance? Was he under some pressure from the dreaded “outside lobby groups” to include gays in his Cabinet? No, this is mere populism of the darkest kind and you, Mr Editor, have no business supporting it.
Contrary to what even some gays might say, homosexuality is not a privacy issue, about what two people of the same sex do behind closed doors. Most people keep their intimate sexual activities private, but heterosexuals proclaim their sexuality in public at every turn. Just watch a passa passa video, if you are unsure. Indeed, the issue revolves around the right of homosexuals to “come out”, to be able to do the same things that heterosexuals are allowed to do in public, without the fear of verbal or physical abuse.

If you are seriously against anti-gay violence, and this is not just a byline that “decent” people use when promoting their homophobic views, you should be calling on the prime minister to proclaim unreservedly his opposition to such acts. There is no record of him having done this and it is unclear that he wishes to do so. Instead, he brings up red herrings such as gay marriage in an effort at obfuscation and just plain old deceit. Our elected officials have an obligation, not an option, to protect the rights of minorities, and remaining silent on the issue of anti-gay violence is tantamount to supporting it. In this respect, Jamaica has been horribly served by this and the previous government.

Delain Navin
Georgetown, Guyana
delain.navin@gmail.com