Holding a corner for gays (flashback 26.04.07)

With today August 2nd being celebrated as Emancipation Day as August 1st was on a Sunday let us take a look in the flashback category of posts that appear here and on Gay Jamaica Watch and GLTBQ Jamaica (blogger) as to where as LGBTQI people are we in a so-called emancipated and independent nation.
With a weak Charter of Rights Bill that hasn’t even recognised humans as humans before distinguishing rights to same as to mention any item towards us would jeopardise the political establishment’s popularity, we are still highly a marginalised group held under the thumbs of biblical literalists and misguided christians on the face of it who do not understand or try to understand the thing they so readily condemn.
The article below was an editorial in the Gleaner published April 26, 2007 after a most unfortunate comment by Public Defender Mr. Earl Witter, an agent of the state openly displaying homophobic and stereotypical tendencies or a lack of understanding or ignorance on his part? you be the judge. This is the officer that is charged to protect the rights of citizens who otherwise would not have a voice or financial and legal means to do so in seeking redress for state matters.

One would have thought that in a functioning democracy we would have seen and learnt by now that all citizens are equal.

Emancipation and respect for us anytime soon?

here is the article:

EDITORIAL – Holding a corner for gays?

It is tempting, and perhaps easy, to be sympathetic to Public Defender Earl Witter’s suggestion to gays in Jamaica not to flaunt their tendencies to avoid being victims of violence.

Mr. Witter’s advice is particularly arresting, given his uncharacteristic retreat, in a speech on Tuesday (24.04.07), to the Jamaican vernacular, to tell homosexuals to “hold your corners”.

But while appreciating Mr. Witter’s intent we believe that his statement was unhelpful and his prescription unfortunate. Or perhaps more accurately, what Mr. Witter perceives to be his delicate balancing act is a rather ungainly and ungracious tilt into the arms of the vulgarians. He should instead be using both the real and symbolic authority of his office in breaking new legal ground in the expansion of individual rights and freedoms, as well as the promotion of tolerance.

As we understand it, the job of the Public Defender is to help in the protection of people’s constitutional rights, especially when these rights are infringed by the state. And to be fair to Mr. Witter, in his speech to Rotarians in Mandeville, he did abhor violence against gays and stressed the right of every single individual to protection under the law.

But Mr. Witter also made two other points that are of considerable significance. The first is that buggery, the main act of sex for homosexual males, remains an illegal and punishable offence in Jamaica; the other is that “tolerance has its limits”.

So, in the context of Jamaica’s homophobia and the legal sanctions against buggery, as Mr. Witter’s argument goes, gays should keep their behaviour to themselves and in their bedrooms so as not to “provoke disapproving reactions”.

That’s the easy way. For the question to be raised is what, in Mr. Witter’s view, constitutes provocative behaviour by gays. As the Public Defender should well know, this ‘provocation’ needs not be a public display of affection or anything which the courts would deem to be acts of public indecency.

It is enough for an individual to be assumed to be gay for that person to be subject to physical attacks, as happened to three young men recently at a Kingston mall. They found refuge in a store against a baying mob and had to be rescued by the police. Then there was the case of alleged male cross-dressers being attacked at a funeral service at a church in the same town in which Mr. Witter spoke.

The fundamental test of a democracy is not merely its tolerance of its minority, but how well that democracy protects their rights and freedoms – no matter how much the majority abhor the views and/or lifestyles of the disparaged group.

What we would have preferred and expected of Mr. Witter, therefore, is his insistence that not only should the state have no voyeuristic place in people’s bedrooms, but that anachronistic laws ought to be removed from the books.

He should have insisted, too, on the courage which he suggests is lacking in legislators. Mr. Witter should have demanded, too, that the police, even at this late stage, charge those who attacked the alleged gays at that Kingston mall.

The first stage of compromise is usually the rights of those we abhor, or of the vulnerable, but we don’t usually stop there.


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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