Wed | Nov 20, 2019

Mark Wignall | Politicians are scared of promoting gay rights

Published:Sunday | October 20, 2019 | 1:24 AM

It may not dawn on many of our politicians, church groups, and macho voices who claim unease in the presence of gay men that should a gay-rights group be allowed to hold a forum on gay marriage at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, it is more than likely that Jamaica will survive and will not catastrophically sink beneath the waves in a God-inspired earthquake.

At the debate during the next elections, politicians will be trying to squirm their way out of answering pointed questions on Jamaica bringing legislation to increase the rights of LGBT people. Each party is hoping that if local and international pressure on gay rights reaches a tipping point in this country, the fates find that party in opposition.

“If my party, the PNP, push gay rights and gay marriage on the Jamaican people, it not gwine get my vote,” said a wholesaler from the Constant Spring area.

A 56-year-old owner of three taxis, who also drives one of them, has long been a JLP supporter. His views: “Mi neva vote fi the PNP yet, but to answer yu question, if di JLP shub man a married man pon wi, a swear a would punish dem by voting PNP.”

Many Jamaicans still remember the strident response by then Prime Minister Bruce Golding in 2008 when after much verbal battling, he was asked by a BBC interviewer, “Do you, in the future, want to live in a Jamaica where a gay man or a gay woman can be in the Cabinet?”

Golding’s response was, “Sure they can be in the Cabinet; not mine.”

Has anything changed since that? Just as how I have evolved in my tolerance towards homosexuals, I am certain that many other Jamaicans have arrived at that spot, too.

When I was a child in the 1950s, albinos were literally spat on by many Jamaicans, and too many of them found themselves living on the streets because their mothers abandoned them as children and they were forced to hop in and out of various government children facilities.

With the rise of Yellowman to the top of the charts in the 1980s, many in the society began to change. To me, it is the same with gay people. At some stage, a significant percentage of Jamaican people determined that straight people could not ‘catch it’ any more than a man could ‘catch’ menopause from a woman.

CRIMINALITY AND BETTER JOBS THE PRIORITY

Poor road conditions, water supplies, crime, and jobs for young people are usually those problems that tend to crop up as the items people are most concerned with when they are questioned.

Politicians know that matters like gay rights and corruption are not those items that people see as having any direct impact on their lives. People living in depressed communities, especially those with increased police presence, would like later hours whenever they keep the regular dance.

Last Monday, a young woman told me of an incident that took place as the police locked down a bar caught up in the SOE in the South St Andrew police division.

“Dem lock it dung, and when di owner woman trying to collect from the patrons, the police dem start to run out the people. The woman haffi talk up fi har rights while one policeman look like him wan lick har,” she shared.

There has been a visible uptick in construction across many communities, where, like in Havendale, many houses are being transformed into apartment complexes. The men on those sites tend to know what the earning rates are so in time, their needs meet their expectations.

Among the parents who have gone farther with educating their children, the complaint is always that a better paying job is difficult to find.

“She just earning $14,000 per week and she has a first degree,” said a woman living in Duhaney Park. “The living space is small, so she can stay with me, but if she decides to go on her own, it almost impossible. And I don’t want to force her to go and live with any man who not gwine treat her good.”

JLP HAS A BETTER CHANCE IN WINNING POLITICAL DEBATES

With the decision made on three debates to be had in the weeks leading up to the next general elections, it is my belief that the JLP is likely to score a two-one win there.

Let me explain.

One will be on social issues, the other economic, and there will be the grand face-off between Andrew Holness and Peter Phillips.

On social issues, if the PNP brings out one of its brightest, highly degreed stars and ensures that it is not Damion Crawford-prone-to-foot-in-mouth-itis, then I can see the PNP punching many holes in the social issues besetting this country, including among the urban dwellers and those seemingly forgotten in the rural areas, where drought and survival go hand in hand.

With the present spate of infrastructural roadworks, an economy heading (slowly) in the right direction, and unemployment at an all-time low, Dr Nigel Clarke ought to totally dismember anyone that the PNP can throw out to face him.

In recent months, Finance Minister Clarke has cracked the code in terms of simplifying the science of his hifalutin economics. More people are beginning to actually understand what he is saying. Plus, I get the sense that Clarke is enjoying his job.

PHILLIPS WILL PLACE SECOND TO HOLNESS

Two Sundays ago, PM Andrew Holness did what was needed. He gave a presentation on where his party, and, more importantly, his government stood with corruption. I believe that there were those among his advisers who told him that he should never find himself trying to play catchup with the Opposition Leader, Dr Peter Phillips. On any matter.

Those fully in tune with the matter knew that where the PM and the opposition leader to stand to address a similar matter, based on the trend of previous polling, it is more than likely that Holness would smother Phillips politically.

This is not to say that Phillips would be anyone for Holness to walk over. What tends to happen whenever Phillips begins to speak is that people tend to tune out quicker than they would while listening to Holness.

In stridently addressing matters of corruption and punching back at the PNP in specific, questionable matters that took place in the past, Holness was attempting to claw back at a narrative that threatened to move ahead of him.

So to recap.

At this stage, I am prepared to give the PNP the win in the social-issues debate even though it is still early days. On the economic issues, I cannot see the PNP using even income inequality to make a case for an uptick in poverty while, overall, the general economic trend is in positive territory. On that, Nigel Clarke is about 60 per cent of the way.

There was something about Andrew Holness as he spoke two Sundays ago on corruption. While we know that speeches from politicians are part theatre and part political oratory, I got the sense that the PM was on a quest to practise a more important speech sometime next year.

I would, of course, advise the handlers of Dr Peter Phillips to sharpen him up for the presentation he must make at that very time. He must learn to remake himself, and, if that is deemed impossible, he, too, must develop his stage skills.

I am not here making fun of viable policy proposals and the efficiency that they require, but if not properly handled when these items are just at the early stages as words on paper, the audience will tune out, and one political leader stands to lose a lot more than the other.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.