Wed | Nov 20, 2019

Editorial | Humiliated MoBay arts council should resign

Published:Sunday | October 20, 2019 | 1:35 AM

Josef Forstmayr’s public intervention in the debate over Mayor Homer Davis’ decision to exclude Montego Bay Pride from the city’s cultural centre is significant and illuminating, even as it raises new questions about how Mr Davis conducts business and what is the authority of boards that oversee local and national institutions.

In the case of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, it appears that its board hasn’t acquitted itself, meekly acquiescing to the wishes of Mr Davis.

What is commonly known is that Mr Davis is the chairman of the St James Municipal Corporation, a position that makes him head of the parish’s local government and mayor of its capital city, Montego Bay. He is also in court with Montego Bay Pride, a gay-rights organisation, over his decision last month to rescind, or prevent, their permission to hold a symposium on same-sex marriage at the city’s cultural centre.

The mayor seemingly swung into action at a municipal corporation meeting when it was brought to his attention by one of his colleagues, Charles Sinclair, that MoBay Pride had advertised the event for the centre. He not only said that he wouldn’t give permission for the use of the premises, but suggested that a gay-sponsored event there would defile “the sacredness and purpose of that building”.

That, on the face of it, was a monstrous display of extreme prejudice, without regard to the principles of equity and the constitutional guarantees of free speech and freedom of association. Mr Davis’ unilateral action seems an expropriation of the decision-making authority of the group that has oversight of the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, the city’s arts council, of which Mr Forstmayr, a well-known hotelier, and a self-declared gay man, is the chair. Even if Mayor Davis conjures, and attempts to hide behind, some city ordinance or regulation as the technical reason for his action, his prior public statement betrayed a disposition to act in bad faith, which is likely to have precluded a fair hearing for MoBay Pride.

Neither do the broader circumstances of this case, including some of the personalities involved, suggest Mr Davis was motivated by large, enduring principles, rather than opportunism.

That Mr Forstmayr is gay, ‘married’, and openly cohabits with his male partner, would have been well known long before his appointment to the board which, apart from Mayor Davis, has seven other members, all of whom are stalwarts of the community, including former parliamentarian and newspaper editor, Lloyd B. Smith.

VOICE MISSING

In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable to assume that Mr Davis was a hypocritical political player to the homophobic gallery once the symposium and its venue became a public issue. It was, some might insist, without serious moral or ethical tether.

These failures, however, rest not only with Mayor Davis. In a way, he received a free pass in his discrimination against a class of Jamaicans who ought to enjoy all the rights and privileges afforded to all citizens by the Constitution.

Mr Fortsmayr told this newspaper that his council had no problem renting the civic centre to any group or institution once “they behave themselves, obey the rules of the rental agreement and pay their money”. That is as it should be. It’s a principle.

There is no evidence that MoBay Pride didn’t, or didn’t intend to, abide by its obligations, before their plan was summarily overturned by Mr Davis. What is disturbing is that Mr Fortsmayr appears to still be the chairman of the arts council. Neither he nor any of the other members seem to have resigned in the face of humiliation by Mayor Davis. Unless they agreed with his action.

Even more perplexing is the quietude of Mr Smith, the newspaperman, former member of parliament and deputy speaker of the House, whose social conscience used to be writ large and his voice loud on matters of principle and rights. We hope that Mr Smith has not surrendered the attributes that contributed to the respect and esteem in which he is held. We are missing his voice.