Given the criteria established by the prime minister, Mr Dane Lewis would not be eligible to sit Bruce Golding’s Cabinet.
Indeed, in many spheres of Jamaican life, Mr Lewis is likely to be the subject of discrimination and, perhaps, the victim of physical violence.
The point is that Mr Lewis is openly homosexual. He is the executive director of the gay lobby, the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG).
But whatever may be people’s personal views on homosexuality, Mr Lewis, we believe, makes an important observation which, even at this late stage, we commend to Prime Minister Golding, Opposition Leader Portia Simpson and the legislators from their respective parties.
It has to do with the proposed amendment to the Jamaican Constitution, to establish Charter of Fundamental Rights, which is now before the Senate for debate and expected to be passed today without demur.
Among the rights it proposes to establish is the right to freedom from discrimination based on gender, race, ethnicity, social class, colour, religion or political opinions.
There is, on the face of it, no freedom from discrimination because of a person’s sexual orientation. Or, in so far that there is, it is not a freedom immediately apparent and clear and a freedom which persons who face discrimination will possibly establish that they enjoy.
We understand why the various commissions, committees and legislators who drafted the charter failed to expressly declare people’s rights to freedom from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It has do with the receding, but still-entrenched homophobia in Jamaica that caused Mr Golding to declare, more than three years ago, that gays would not be welcome in his Cabinet. Politicians fear that any perception that they embrace or are soft on homosexuality will cost them votes and open them to discrimination and stigma.
The attitude, we insist, is cowardly, retrogressive, socially dangerous and offensive to human rights.
Serious concerns for all
To be clear, our position is neither an endorsement nor rejection of homosexuality. Frankly, we do not care. How consenting adults choose to live their lives is none of our business. There are, however, a couple of things that concern us and which we believe should be the concern of all Jamaicans.
First, while we note and commend the advances in individuals’ rights contained in the charter, we are aware that the possibility of discrimination against any group is a toehold for the erosion of the rights of others, notwithstanding the cover of constitutional protection.
Moreover, the fear of stigma, discrimination and violence pushes many people into the closet. Their talents are often underutilised, to the detriment of the society and economy. There is evidence, too, of the health problems faced by gays, many of whom prefer to live without treatment for their illnesses, including HIV/AIDS, for fear of discrimination. The public-health risks are obvious.
It is nearly 50 years since the promulgation of the Constitution; waiting a few more months to get a better charter won’t hurt.
Improving the charter will require that it lie in the legislature for months in accordance with the time stipulation for amending the Constitution. In the meantime, legislators should expunge the buggery law, the main bit of existing legislation that makes homosexuality illegal.
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