the Gleaner on the Charter of Rights Bill Debate

Golding and Simpson Miller failed to lead their editorial 26.10.09 reads:

We wish to make two observations. First, when politicians are short of cogent and workable solutions, their default position, usually, is a reach for populist distractions – drawing the red herring, as it were.

The second is that the real test of a democracy is not only its ability to cater to the will of the majority, but how well it acknowledges and protects the rights of the minority, including people with whose ideas and concepts we may not agree. Indeed, it is this latter notion that makes a democracy, even as it remains the best form of government yet devised, the most difficult to manage.

We have been drawn to think on these issues in part because of some of the tone of the parliamentary debate on Jamaica’s proposed Charter of Rights, especially remarks by Prime Minister Bruce Golding and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller. They reached for the lowest common denominator and played to the gallery, which, of course, was not necessarily the people sitting in Gordon House. Rather, it was an appeal to their ever-narrowing political base.

Enumerative fashion

The Charter of Rights is a good thing, which has the broad support of this newspaper. It seeks to set out, in enumerative fashion and relatively simple language, the fundamental rights and freedoms of the Jamaican people. Importantly, it seeks to place greater limits on the capacity of the state to derogate those rights.

Significantly, however, there is no protection in this charter for the individual who faces discrimination because of his or her sexual orientation. A parliamentary committee that drafted the final recommendations contorted its way out of offering any such protection. That was, and remains, good political cover for Mr Golding and Mrs Simpson Miller and, we dare say, a goodly many members of parliament.

The fact is, Jamaica is deeply homophobic, or pretends to be. Homophobia attends the country’s sense of machismo; it frees us to go gay-bashing, and not just figuratively. Indeed, the week before the MPs began to sing their platitudes to the Charter of Rights, a young man was attacked by a mob for his perceived effeminate gait. Happily, he was rescued by the police, for which he might count himself lucky.

Lack of imagination

This brings us back to where we started. The debate is taking place in the middle of a deep economic crisis, to which the Government has, up to now, displayed a patent lack of imagination or acuity. It has talked!

We are not surprised, in the circumstances, that Mr Golding found it useful to weave into his remarks a declaration that “I will not accept that homosexuality must be accepted as a legitimate form of behaviour or the equivalent of (heterosexual) marriage”.

The Jamaican Parliament, Mr Golding added, would not make same-sex unions legal – “not as long as I sit here”. And he inveighed against gay-rights lobbyists who wanted to undermine the country’s “values or culture”.

Mrs Simpson Miller was not as extreme in hiding behind the supposed inability of leaders to be “too far in front of those who are being led” and for the positions of the majority to be taken “scrupulously into consideration”.

What, in reality, was on display was weak leadership and, we fear, an unintended endorsement of abuse of and discrimination against people because of their sexual orientation.

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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