Sat | Jun 6, 2020

Carolyn Cooper | Gays out of the closet into the Cabinet

Published:Sunday | February 23, 2020 | 12:00 AM

It’s definitely not the same as out of the frying pan into the fire. Gay politicians in Jamaica are not prepared to come out of the proverbial closet. But, I speculate, they would be quite pleased to find themselves in the Cabinet, a rather prestigious place where so many important decisions are made about governance.

It would appear, though, that it’s not so easy for an openly gay politician to get into the Cabinet in Jamaica. People’s National Party (PNP) or Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), it seems to make no difference. In a 2008 HARDtalk interview with Stephen Sackur on the BBC, former Prime Minister Bruce Golding refused to back down on his infamous declaration that homosexuals would find no solace in his Cabinet. Golding’s word choice is disturbing. Solace means “comfort or consolation in a time of great distress or sadness”.

Golding wouldn’t give solace to a homosexual. But he could hug up Dudus, a notorious outlaw. In Jamaica, homosexuality is still seen as such a horrendous crime that it makes all others fade into insignificance. Politicians routinely use rumours of homosexuality as a whip to beat their opponents. It makes you wonder if this verbal abuse gives them sexual pleasure. Or if it’s a cover for their anxieties about their own sexuality.

Without any evidence, the now deceased Edward Seaga insinuated that former prime minister P.J. Patterson was gay. Seaga also called P.J. a black scandal bag and the leader of a “mongrel party”. Presumably, P.J. was a mongrel like the rest of his party. But I’m certain that the homosexual slur was the most damning of the intended insults.

Poor P.J. was forced to make a spectacular declaration on national radio: “My credentials as a lifelong heterosexual person are impeccable”. ‘Credentials’ is not a word that’s usually associated with sexuality. It refers to qualifications for a job. But, as it turns out, P.J. was quite right to use that word. In Jamaica, heterosexuality appears to be an essential credential for the job of public servant.

‘THE CULTURE IS EVOLVING’

A decade after Golding’s combative BBC interview, The Gleaner published an article on April 17, 2018 with this headline: ‘No problem with gays in my Cabinet – Holness’. Interviewed in Brussels during a meeting of the African, Caribbean and Pacific states, Holness beat around the bush on the topic of homosexuality:

“The culture is evolving. People are evolving. Even in the Church, which 10 years ago, [sic] had a unified position, the Church in Jamaica now has multiple positions on this. I think Jamaica ought to be given space to find its own position to the problems. But, you know, I think we are generally very liberal, but more so very tolerant. And I think that the first step is that the State protect the human rights of every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation or inclination.”

But is the culture actually evolving? Are Jamaicans really very liberal and very tolerant about homosexuality? Is the state protecting the human rights of all citizens? If so, why hasn’t the law that criminalises homosexuality been struck down? In 2011, Portia Simpson Miller declared on the campaign trail that she would be willing to have gays in her Cabinet. But she did absolutely nothing about revoking the antiquated law. The culture of verbal and physical abuse of gay people is as strong as ever.

‘PLATFORM INTOXICATION’

Just last Sunday, St Catherine East Central MP Alando Terrelonge became the latest victim of homophobic verbal violence perpetrated by his political rivals. Terrelonge is not a member of Holness’ Cabinet. He’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information. At a PNP party meeting to present Dr Winston De La Haye, the candidate who is going to run against Terrelonge, three top-ranking politicians made disparaging remarks that I will not repeat.

I was alarmed to learn that Opposition Spokesman on Finance Mark Golding was one of the accomplices. I’ve had great respect for this Golding who, in my opinion, is not wash-over gold. He’s the genuine article. Golding would be the ideal candidate to replace Peter Phillips when he finally steps down as leader of the PNP.

Mark Golding must check himself. He evasively blames his grave error of judgement on “platform intoxication”. But the intoxicating self-righteousness that propels the mob to attack perceived homosexuals is not confined to the political platform. It’s manifested everywhere in Jamaican society.

Golding should go much further than simply apologising for his disreputable behaviour. He should encourage his party to make the decriminalisation of homosexuality a major plank in their election campaign. The PNP have nothing to lose. The prophets of doom have already declared that the party is going to lose the next general election. Only a miracle could make them win.

The PNP might as well go down for a cause, instead of being a casualty of inept leadership. The party could make history as revolutionaries who finally decriminalised homosexuality. All the gay politicians could come out of the closet and take their place in the Cabinet. On both sides of the aisle!

- Carolyn Cooper, PhD, is a specialist on culture and development. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com