Tue | Apr 25, 2017

Politicians, sexual orientation and homophobia

Published:Thursday | September 10, 2015 | 9:00 AM

Politicians clearly have to begin to address lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues head on in a more open and constructive way. Unsurprisingly, politicians continue to be affected by the level of homophobia in our country though many of them pretend this isn't the case. Too often, the real or perceived sexual orientation of our political leaders seeking office is used to malign them in an effort to boot or keep them out of political office.

This tactic of using what we know (as factual) or have conjured with others to shame people is so juvenile. We have seen this happen countless times through political rallies campaigns - appallingly even within parties and on social media. It even happens on our university campuses. Both males and females have suffered over the years. We have an insatiable appetite for information about who someone loves and perhaps is sleeping with - especially if it is LGBT-related. Those inciting such smear campaigns should be ashamed of themselves.

grand scheme of things

Why are we so fixated on people's sexual orientation or gender identity anyway? Why do we place so much emphasis and 'value' on all the wrong things? Does it really matter if the person you vote for loves someone of the same sex/gender? Or is their competence and track record not so important in the grand scheme of things? Where on earth did we get the idea that someone's sexual orientation or association with people who are LGBT somehow make them unfit for office?

This is very unfortunate. It is time we take responsibility and address these issues.

The Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica and in the Americas, 2014: Democratic Governance across 10 Years of the AmericasBarometer which was published recently shows there is a 'tendency of social and political exclusion by Jamaicans when it comes to the LGBT community.' According to Harriott, Lewis and Zechmeister (2015), 69 per cent of persons surveyed indicate that they are strongly opposed 'to the idea of affording homosexuals the basic democratic right of running for public office.' That is a whopping seven out of every 10 persons denying their civil and political right to run for office. Only five per cent of people approved of LGBT people running for public office.

Isn't this frightening? What is it that makes us believe LGBT people should not participate in the highest levels of governance in our country? Is this not a cause for concern? I know so many competent gays and lesbians who desire to be councillors, members of parliament, and senators as well as advisers to persons in the political directorate. Sadly, their dreams will never come true if their opponent, and this nation, get a hint that they are members of the LGBT community. Do our political parties not realise that they may be denying themselves some really good support (don't be stupid, I know there might already be LGBT people who are very involved in political parties).

It is high time our political leaders divorce their skirting around these issues. Ignoring them and pretending they don't exist won't address the matter at hand. Too often, (potentially) good/hardworking people continue to be at a disadvantage because of our intolerance and the widely held belief that LGBT people should not be legislators. We cannot continue to be resigned in the comfort of our silence and deny ourselves and our values.

significant contribution

LGBT Jamaicans make significant contributions to this country's development in many spheres. Sadly, the vast majority of them have to do so while denying themselves and being dishonest with their colleagues, to be accepted, appreciated and valued. Sadly, as I have said in a previous column, 'LGBT people's contribution to our national vision to make Jamaica a developed country by 2030 will never truly materialise with, the distinctions which currently exist in our society about the respect for one set of people over another.'

Our collective silence is hindering our progress. Silence doesn't guarantee safety. It might be the case that one piece of the revolution that so many of us have been longing for with respect to some vulnerable and marginalised populations such as, LGBT people is those in or seeking political office standing up and speaking out. We don't address issues by ignoring them and putting a veil over our faces while pretending they aren't really problems and they only affect some people.

n Jaevion Nelson is a youth development, HIV and human rights advocate. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and jaevion@gmail.com.