Sunday, May 4, 2014

Despite having sort-of decriminalised same-sex intercourse ...the government has not moved to cement legal protections for the equal treatment of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in The Bahamas

Lgbt Community: Too Tiny To Count?


The Bahamas government’s position on the issue of LGBT “rights” is tangled
The Bahamas government declined all recommendations concerning LGBT rights




“Like I’ve said before, I don’t know of any person who is gay in this country who doesn’t have the same rights as I do. And so for you or anyone to say that that’s discriminating and such, I don’t know. Someone has to prove it to me.”

– Rev Dr Randford Patterson, Bahamas Christian Council president.

THIS is the second time in my life that I’ve agreed with the Bahamas Christian Council on an issue. Our first mutual agreement came earlier in our conversation when Rev Patterson said that Bahamians were too passive. Try not to be too shocked, times are changing. As the vocal religious community shouts at an even smaller yet silent advocacy grouping, has anyone ever bothered to ask the Bahamian people how they feel?

Despite having sort-of decriminalised same-sex intercourse, the government has not moved to cement legal protections for the equal treatment of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Which begs the question of why the political strength to alter laws fell short of enacting supporting policy?

In the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Period Review last year, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, France, Uruguay and Argentina asked The Bahamas to consider measures to promote non-discrimination and tolerance regarding sexual orientation. In particular Uruguay noted that Bahamas law contained certain legal loopholes that “generated discrimination” against the LGBT community.

Perhaps it was the Sexual Offences Act, where the age of consent differs for same-sex acts between consenting individuals by two years, that left countries unconvinced that the government had necessary protections to protect human rights. Or perhaps the reference to “in a public place” with regard to same-sex?

Nevertheless, The Bahamas government declined all recommendations concerning LGBT rights.

The government’s position on the issue of LGBT “rights” is tangled. On one hand there is a strong stance on the protection of tourists and the tourism economy, from the product of state-sanctioned homophobia; and on the other there is a near total denial of sexual orientation discrimination in the local and national context.

Despite highlighting at every opportunity that his political career has suffered because of his marked support of LGBT rights Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell recently attempted to stratify discrimination. Apparently, there can be social, religious, and official discrimination – all coexisting yet only one with the political weight to effect changes. The issue surrounding gay rights, or lack thereof, in The Bahamas remains undefined, undocumented and under reported, yet it is clearly marked as an agenda. This characterisation allows the government to sidestep the matter under the guise of focusing on more pressing national issues such as crime, or unemployment, both of which apparently only take place under nondiscriminatory circumstances.

Also last month, Saint Lucian activist Kenita Placide presented a statement on behalf of the LGBT caucus at the 58th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). Ms Placide said: “The criminalisation of adult consensual sexual activity and our communities, along with efforts by political and religious authorities to manipulate and stoke fears about sexual orientation and gender identity, only makes matters worse. Whether at the national level or at the CSW, decision makers must stop using these issues and our lives for their geopolitical gain.”

But where is the motive, where is the activism? In 2014, there are still no local reporting mechanisms to characterise crimes against persons based on sexual orientation, and as a result no concrete evidence of human rights abuses.

In a study released last year the Pew Research Centre found global correlation between age, secularism and affluence on individual attitudes on homosexuality. Basically it’s looking like the young, rich and not-so-religious are cool with gay people. Not too promising for the Caribbean, where the masses straddle the poverty line with hyper-spirituality, and the old show no signs of relinquishing influence.

But what do we know statistically? The 2013 Guyana study conducted by Caribbean Development Research Services Inc (CADRES) discovered that the majority of Guyanese are tolerant or accepting of homosexuals despite a pervading belief that being homosexual is a matter of choice. CADRES, a political consulting firm, reported that 58 per cent of Guyanese are tolerant or accepting, 17 per cent are undecided and 25 per cent homophobic.

Perhaps the crowning glory of the study is the data indicating that three per cent of Guyanese identify as homosexual and four per cent admitted to bisexuality. CADRES goes on to uncover that the majority of Guyanese support the retention of the buggery law – though it was explained that many were unaware of the law and its implications.

During her presentation lecturer Dr Melissa Ifill said the study was critical to expanding a research body that has been limited, and inevitably stigmatised, by contextual focus on HIV/AIDS research, which has been the primary donor of prior qualitative studies.

In Trinidad and Tobago there is also active discussion on the inclusion of sexual orientation protections in the constitution. The country recently completed its constitutional reform commission and the resulting report has been characterised as fuel for political cowardice on the issue.

In an interview following the report’s release, Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) spokesman Colin Robinson slammed the commission for enabling political cowardice at the sacrifice of human rights to a measurable number of citizens. On the issue of protections the Trinidad and Tobago commission ruled that there should be more dialogue on the issue.

Mr Robinson said: “We estimated 3,500 adults are homosexual based on 2013 poll – this is a very conservative estimate. That number is equal or larger than a number of ethnic and racial minorities and we don’t have debates about their rights … what are we waiting for? We’ve had the national debate, we’ve seen movement on this issue, we’ve seen visibility of citizens, we’ve seen a constitutional reform commission deeply understand and get it right, get the conclusion of the issue right, but then get the solution wrong.”

Herein lies the challenge: who is going to prove it to Rev Patterson, and how? Where are the hard facts to stand up against people who insist that legal technicality is the ceiling as far as LGBT rights are concerned; to embolden politicians? To Rev Patterson and many others afforded a national platform, the campaign to amend laws for protection based on sexual orientation is a non-issue.

By framing LGBT rights as agenda and not a human rights issue we delegitimise victims’ claims by creating division between two fictional groups. It also characterises any lobby for increased protections as an “agenda”, a term that has been used by detractors to connote direct personal gain of one group over or against the will of another. In this case the larger group represents a nameless, faceless and emotionless majority that are somehow diametrically opposed to homosexuality yet don’t feel strongly enough to negatively harm the tiny community.

Five years ago former Tribune news editor Paco Nuñez wrote: “The problem with constructing a national identity out of generalisations is that it forces you to leave out the details, especially the ones that go against your polished version of the truth.”

Debate over gay rights in the Bahamas has been dominated by faith-based institutions and geographically bounded to New Providence for too long. The discrimination and social exclusion of the LGBT community is negatively correlated to the education and sensitivity training for public servants on the issue. The government must first educate public servants of their duty to LGBT members and sensitise workers on how the denial of public services constitutes a human rights abuse.

By denying discrimination - and resulting dialogue - validity on a national platform, the government authorises a culture of silence on human rights abuse. In light of statistics emerging from the region the time has come for local research to determine public attitudes on the issue and the way forward.

Bolstered by empirical data, evidence-based dialogue can provide constructive rebuttal to the vocal minority that dominates the public sphere in a bid to extend generational fears and stigma. Or to be fair, it may prove once and for all that the LGBT community is in fact, too tiny to count.

April 28, 2014