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Editorial: Confront anti-gay bigots

Published:Tuesday | April 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

When Barack Obama referenced Angeline Jackson in his remarks to young leaders during his visit to Jamaica, it was more than a statement about the bravery of an individual and the right of people, whatever their sexual orientation, to enjoy their fundamental human rights in a free and democratic society.

It was a declaration, too, of the nature of leadership: that, at its best, it is conditioned by neither opportunism nor narrow expedience.

We hope that Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller heard and was inspired to lead her administration in a frontal legislative defence of this country's gay and lesbian community to love who they wish, without fear of discrimination, official, or otherwise. In other words, it is not enough for the prime minister to designate a member of the Cabinet - as the Americans may have been advised she has done - to trove for complaints about government agencies that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and then use moral suasion in an effort to reverse such bigotry. Nor should such an initiative be secret, as it appears to be.

Ms Jackson was 19 when she was raped. Her rapists hid behind the chimera of their action being some kind of corrective therapy for her lesbianism. Instead of slinking off in the darkness, Ms Jackson formed an advocacy organisation, Quality Life Jamaica, for women like herself who have faced such trauma and, as President Obama put it, to push back against such stereotypes.

Said Mr Obama: "But more than anything else, she cares about Jamaica and making it a place where everybody - no matter their colour, or their class, or their sexual orientation - can live in quality and opportunity."

It was a sentiment similar to President Obama's and the bravery of Ms Jackson that we perceived in Mrs Simpson Miller when, during the 2011 election campaign, she rejected notions of a sexuality check for prospective members of Cabinet and promised a parliamentary conscience vote on the law against buggery, the major weapon of terror used to intimidate gay men.

Mrs Simpson Miller and her Government have done little publicly to advance this issue, which requires a major public-education campaign and would benefit from her unique skills of communicating with most Jamaicans.

 

GOVERNMENT CONSTRAINED

 

It is easy to understand why Mrs Simpson Miller and Government may be tentative. A Bill Johnson poll for this newspaper last year found that 95 per cent of Jamaicans were in favour of retaining the buggery law. And while more than 80 per cent agreed that gays were not treated fairly in the society, two-thirds felt that they that should not enjoy the same rights as straight people. In other words, it is right for the law and other institutions to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.

Such attitudes are fanned by fundamentalist Christians, whose unevolved fire-and-brimstone interpretation of scripture helps, in too many circumstances, to reinforce bigotry and constrain governments keen on socially progressive and transformative actions. Put crudely, they influence votes. It would make sense that the fundamentalists undertake a review of their bearings.

At the same time, Mrs Simpson Miller might find that the hold of the fundamentalists and the bigots might be not as powerful as they assume if her leadership advances to the protection of people like Angeline Jackson.