Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Don't shield gays from criticism

Published:Sunday | June 16, 2013 | 12:00 AM
Gay-rights activism not only rallies counteraction by conservatives in Jamaica, but in the United States, too. Here, protesters demonstrate against a move in the Boy Scout movement to allow for gay scouts, although adult gays are still outlawed from participating in the organisation. - AP

Ian Boyne, Contributor

Religion is the greatest barrier to the acceptance of homosexuality as normal and moral. Gay people know this, and that is why so many are fiercely and bitterly hostile to religion and seek to undermine and ridicule it. Especially in fundamentalist religious cultures like Jamaica's, the fight for gay rights is necessarily a fight against conservative religion.

The authoritative Pew Research Center in the United States (US), just a few days ago, released a study on The Global Divide on Homosexuality, stating, "There is a strong relationship between a country's religiosity and opinions about homosexuality. There is far less acceptance of homosexuality in countries where religion is central to people's lives - measured by whether they consider religion to be very important, whether they believe it is necessary to believe in God in order to be moral, and whether they pray at least once a day."

Russia and China, not surprisingly, are exceptions among non-religious countries where homosexuality has little acceptance, but generally secular and affluent societies are more accepting of homosexuality.

Even the US (60 per cent, according to Pew) acceptance of homosexuality is considered low among developed countries, compared to Germany (87 per cent), France (77 per cent), Britain (76 per cent), Italy (74 per cent) and Canada (80 per cent), growing by more than 10 per cent in just six years. In Muslim countries and areas where religion is still strong, like Africa, homosexuality gets a bad rap. Even in South Africa, where gay marriage is legal, some 61 per cent of people say homosexuality should not be accepted.

In a paper published in June last year, Homophobia in Jamaica: A Study of Cultural Heterosexism in Praxis, Angela Allyn shows that aversion to homosexuality is not part of the African tradition, as has been alleged, and that pre-colonial Africans who were gay were not closeted outcasts who lived in shame and terror of exposure and censure. She quotes one African researcher as saying that, significantly, "Outside of Christian countries, everywhere else in the world, gay people are a blessing."

Says researcher Allyn: "The reasons why we have been slow to learn about African homosexualities are because anthropology and sociology ... have long been blind to the history of homosexualities ... and have deliberately ignored and suppressed the evidence of same-sex acts because of European Christian-based cultural prejudices." Christianity is the culprit again.

And in a 2012 study done by University of the West Indies researchers, headed by Professor Ian Boxill, National Survey of Attitudes of Jamaicans Towards Same-Sex Relationships, it was found that "positive attitudes to homosexuals are still more likely to be found in less religious individuals". The study found, not shockingly, that most opponents of homosexuality are churchgoers. Again, a nexus between opposition to homosexuality and religious influence or affiliation.

WAR WITH RELIGION

The just-released Political Culture of Democracy in Jamaica and in the Americas 2012 report says that the Church has "explicitly and implicitly contributed to the marginalisation of homosexuals by citing the lifestyle as an affront to the teachings of the Bible."

The struggle for gay rights in Jamaica will become a struggle against religion - at least conservative religion. Listen to the tone of the combatants in this debate over homosexuality in Jamaica. Pro-gay advocates are not hiding their contempt for religion and religious people (and, yes, religious people don't hide theirs for homosexuals and gay-rights advocates either). But I believe those who swear by the canons of reason (atheists) should, by their own rationalist creed, be held to a higher standard for discourse.

The debate between pro-gay advocates and religious people will become more incendiary and vehement. I don't mind the debate. I wish for a more civil, rational and intellectually delightful debate, but even if it descends into incivility and crassness - which I utterly deplore - I still believe that kind of speech is preferable to censorship. A number of pro-gay advocates are pushing the debate in a direction to curtail religious people's right to publicly express their convictions.

This is not just alarmist ranting by a scared and fanatical religious Right. Many gay activists, particularly in North America and Europe, are saying openly that homosexuals have a right not to be offended and insulted. I categorically reject that view. I believe it is totally unacceptable for people to be offensive and insulting. It is crude and demeaning communication which should be rejected and censured, but not censored.

It is not proper, acceptable speech to be rude, insulting and demeaning. But an open, pluralistic society must tolerate speech excesses and find socially appropriate ways to express disapproval. Once free speech is limited where offence is concerned, we have transgressed democratic norms.

Gay people are not consistent. They want to have the night to insult and offend Christians and Muslims, for example, but they must not be offended or insulted. Lest you ask
about racist speech, may I stop you in your tracks: I believe racists
must have the right to call me a nigger and use racist epithets at me,
without any legal sanction. I believe Western society has gone too far
in political correctness. I believe that Holocaust denial should not be
criminalised, as it is in Germany. I disagree profoundly with where
hate-speech legislation has gone, and believe it is a threat to
democratic principles.

TRY TO LEASH
CHURCH

Christians will soon find that they don't have
the right to label homosexuality an abomination and label homosexuals as
sinners on their way to an eternal hellfire. The conservative Christian
view that homosexuality is morally degenerate and that homosexuals are
morally sick persons who need healing is offensive and insulting to most
gays. They don't believe media should have a right to carry those
'prejudices' and harmful stereotypes. Besides, they believe that these
depictions of homosexuality incite hate and
violence.

A few years ago, the British House of Lords
and the House of Commons released a report titled 'Legislative
Scrutiny: Sexual Orientation Regulations'
, where it says most
explicitly: "Homosexual pupils (should) not be subjected to teaching as
part of the religious education or other curriculum that their sexual
orientation is sinful or morally wrong." These Lords are saying that
"the Lord's teaching" that homosexuality is inherently sinful and
morally degrading constitutes a kind of emotional
harassment.

They say that even in the case of private
religious schools, any teaching that homosexuality is sinful and morally
reprehensible "would likely lead in practice to breaches of the pupils'
rights not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual
orientation".

In other words, homosexual students have
a right not to be "emotionally harmed" or "injured", and a right not to
be offended or insulted or made to feel badly about themselves. Why
should black people and women have a right not to have racist and sexist
rhetoric thrown at them and gay people should be
different?

So if the Bible is guilty of homophobia,
and if the Bible puts forward a view that homosexuals are necessarily
sinners who need to repent - and homosexuality is part of homosexuals'
identity, their being - the Bible is speaking against their person and
that should not be tolerated in a just society? This is where the debate
is going, and you might as well start preparing for
this.

BOGUS FREEDOM?

It is not
alarmism. Listen to gay advocates themselves. Read Dr Patrick White's
Letter of the Day in last Tuesday's Gleaner, where he
contemptuously dismissed me with just one word 'Pastor' (which means
fool, bigot, non-bright). He understands idiots (my word) like me "who
have a business to run ... by maintaining a highly selective,
ignorance-based, i.e., Bible-driven code of
behaviours."

He dismisses as "bogus freedom-of-speech
arguments" the view of Dr Orville Taylor and "Pastor Boyne", which
result in "the indiscriminate maligning of a group of
people".

In Britain, eminent people are saying just as
laws and norms governing race and gender have to be applied in all
institutions without exemption, gay rights have to be followed by
religious institutions, and no exceptions can be made for them. Just as
how you are not free to teach that black people come from monkeys, and
that blacks are inferior to whites, so you should not be free to teach
that heterosexuals are morally superior to homosexuals and that
something is morally degrading about the behavior of homosexual students
and citizens.

The British House of Lords and House of
Commons report says, "We do not consider that the right to freedom of
conscience and religion requires the school curriculum to be exempted
from the scope of sexual-orientation regulations." Gay-rights advocates
have narrowed freedom to mere 'freedom of thought' and 'freedom of
conscience', but not freedom to use media and your schools to push your
'religious prejudice' that homosexuality is morally degrading and
inherently sinful.

Going too far

So
you can believe that - have your freedom of personal belief - and you
can have your religious conscience satisfied, knowing that you are
refraining from 'the evil of homosexuality', but you have no darn right
to use media and public spaces to push your view that homosexuality is
despicable. This is where the debate has reached.

Of
course, politically, it is not expedient for gays to push these issues
here, for fear of a backlash. But what cannot be denied is what is
happening in Scandinavia, Canada, Britain and Continental Europe. People
are charging preachers for causing 'distress' and 'emotional injury' by
preaching that homosexuality is morally degenerate.

I
am consistent. I believe atheists and gay activists should be free to
virulently attack religion and central religious figures - even deities -
in Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, etc. The Danish cartoonist should
have had the right to insult the prophet Muhammad. Salman Rushdie should
have the right to publish his Satanic Verses.

Richard
Dawkins, the late Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett
(the last less strident) were justifiably free to publish their books
blasting and insulting cherished religious doctrines. Javed Jaghai,
Lloyd D'Aguilar and Hilaire Sobers must be free to disparage the Bible,
God, Jesus Christ, and the media should be free to publish those
views.

I deplore and abhor uncivil and insulting
dialogue. That's why, as a principle, I never dignify it with a reply
when it is directed at me. But, like Voltaire, I will defend to death
people's right to engage in it.

Ian Boyne is a
veteran journalist. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and
ianboyne1@yahoo.com.