Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Jaevion Nelson| The Orlando shootings – a wake-up call for everyone

Published:Thursday | June 16, 2016 | 6:00 AM

This past weekend, I was reminded of the fact that, despite much progress worldwide - even in our own country - for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, much work remains to be done to secure rights for everyone, everywhere.

The horrifying incident that occurred in Orlando, USA, this past weekend is a call to action for all of us, not just for the United States (US). It is imperative that this incident becomes the catalyst for much-needed changes to ensure greater protection for everyone, especially those who are more at risk of being a victim of crime or having their rights infringed in other ways for one reason or another.

The 49 lives lost, including at least two Jamaicans, and those 50-odd bodies that are now nursing their injuries as well as scores of others who are tending to the psychological impact of what took place before their eyes, impress upon us that we cannot relent to ensure greater safety, peace, cohesiveness and justice in our communities. I am particularly pleased that both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller have stood in solidarity with our family and friends in the US. This is leadership. I sincerely hope that they will do more to address these issues locally and play a more active role globally to do same.

Unsurprisingly, the ghastly incident has prodded quite a bit of discussion about lots of things. We are now reminded that gay men - in the US and elsewhere - are unable to donate blood for no other reason than the fact that they have sex with other men, and that the US must exercise greater control as it relates to the ease of access to firearms which they have cherished for so long. Talks about terrorism and religious extremism (for the two are distinctly different) are also a part of the discussions. I must commend the LGBT Muslim community in the US, including my Pakistan-born friend Urooj Arshad, for the tremendous work she and others have been doing following the incident.

 

PERSONAL VIEW

 

And, while everyone was mourning the many lives lost and condemning the incident, we disrupted that solemn moment by drawing global attention to the country in a most unpleasant and uncharacteristic tweet. Attorney General (AG) Marlene Malahoo Forte has, in response to the raising of the US flag and the symbolic rainbow flag at half mast at US Embassy in Kingston, chided that it is 'disrespectful of Jamaica's laws'. It is not clear what has informed this 'personal view' but my research thus far has not indicated any improper act on the part of the embassy. Quite appropriately, the US Embassy's response to the attorney general's tweet questions what supposed laws the AG was referring to, in what is now widely accepted as a most unfortunate tweet.

Indeed, we are all entitled to our opinions and freedom of speech, as many persons and groups such as the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society have posited in their rush to defend the expressed sentiments of the AG. However, the AG ought to be cognisant that her role as chief legal adviser to the Government of Jamaica places on her a higher duty of care for her utterances. Her condemnation of the Orlando shootings followed by a 'but' gives the impression of a lack of compassion and a disregard for our common humanity.

Some have vehemently postulated that Jamaicans are intolerant of the 'gay lifestyle', and as such the US Embassy should have been respectful of that fact. I am not sure why we think our bigotry is the gold standard for decency and morality or that it is some badge of honour. As Jamaicans, we need to be aware of the simple fact that LGBT people and their allies do not need our permission to demonstrate their appreciation, love and respect for their personhood and humanity. In the aftermath of a grave tragedy of this magnitude, I am reminded of an old English adage - 'A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess in tears'.

It's perturbing how persistent we are at justifying our bigotry/intolerance. Let us endeavour to be known for more than our narrow-mindedness.

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