Wed | Jun 28, 2017

No threat to 'straight rights'

Published:Sunday | August 10, 2014 | 8:00 AM

Tripp Johnson, Guest Columnist

Opposition to the rights of LGBT persons is, if nothing else, predictable. Of course, prior to the emergence of the manifold medical/psychiatric/legal apparatus of the 18-19th centuries, the idea of one having a 'sexual orientation' at all would have been alien.

Since antiquity, humans were recognised as being creatures with sexual appetites, but were not necessarily defined by what whet their palates. While sexual activity conducted between men, or toward children, or before marriage were all activities that carried sanctions of some sort, the host of labels by which to identify entire groups of persons on the basis of their sexual proclivities quite simply didn't exist.

What this means is that as we understand them, the ideas of heterosexuality, homosexuality (and so also homophobia) are all relatively recent creations. While people would be punished for acts they committed, they could not so easily be disciplined for who they apparently were. We could say this hearkens back to traditional notions of sin and the sinner.

Yet as time has gone on, and humankind has exercised its capacity for marking-identifying-labelling all differences between persons, aversion of the identified sin transformed into an aversion of the labelled sinner.

Since I began writing about LGBT matters, I have been called and told many things, much of it expected: someone who does not understand Jamaican culture; a bybwoy deserving death; and if you can name a profane clt, I assure you I was called that as well. It may come as a surprise, but I consider the first point the most pernicious.

Majority punishing minority

The word 'culture' provides conversational economy at the obvious expense of linguistic precision. We should be careful to bear this in mind. The point at issue isn't 'culture', but is rather the persecution, the delegitimising, of human beings by other human beings. This is a matter of personal opinions of the majority collectively punishing the minority. These instances, of which homophobia/miseo is but one part, are global phenomena, and are not reducible to so-called matters of 'culture'.

The invocation of the word 'culture' to explain away apparent differences forecloses, rather than sustains, an important conversation. If we wish to foster the growth of a pluralistic, democratic polity, ending the conversation prematurely is precisely what we should avoid.

I am a male who is attracted to females, but I support the extension of rights to those who are not like myself. I am not Jamaican, but neither am I a tourist. I am a resident of several discontinuous years who, being conscious of the deplorable legacies of colonialism (of which I and others of my skin tone are the unjust beneficiaries), largely abstains from engaging in arguments over 'right' and 'wrong' ways of living. So long as someone's way of life is not immediately harmful to others, and does not contribute to the oppression of others, who cares?!

Irrespective of personal opinions on LGBT-identified persons, I am sure most would agree that the persecution of a group of people for acts committed between fully consenting individuals is wrong. We can feel, however, we wish about what they do - it's our right after all. But we are not entitled to allow our opinions of such persons to dictate how they live their lives.

Which of these scenarios is more destructive to society - two persons engaging in a consensual act, or falling in love, and being happy? Or, alternatively, is the socially instituted exile of those two persons more harmful? Their condemnation by friends, family, and community? Their survival-motivated decision to publicly deny their attractions, their loves, and so avoid the status of social pariahs but in the process exile their own psyche?

This is not a matter of privileging 'gay rights' over 'straight rights'; although until both ideas are vanquished in favour of a more inclusive understanding of rights as such, the dialogue will inevitably re-create the same false dichotomy. It is a matter of recognising where our opinions regarding others rightfully end, and the rights of others should begin.

Tripp Johnson is a researcher at Johnson Survey Research and student of social and political theory. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and wtg.tripp.johnson@gmail.com.