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Flag fuss - Local Christian groups support Malahoo Forte despite pressure over 'insensitive' tweet

Published:Tuesday | June 14, 2016 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke and Jovan Johnson
Malahoo Forte

THE parliamentary Opposition last night said the Andrew Holness administration might have to apologise to the United States Embassy here over comments by Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte, who had accused the mission of disrespecting Jamaican laws by flying a gay-rights flag in solidarity with victims of the Orlando, Florida, shooting at a nightclub on the weekend.

Forty-nine persons were killed at the gay nightclub, Pulse, and 53 others injured when a gunman opened fire inside.

Two Christian lobbies, the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship and the Jamaica Coalition for a Healthy Society (JCHS), have come out in support of the embattled attorney-at-law and former judge.

However, the People's National Party said it was concerned and surprised that "the Jamaican Government has to be reminded that the conduct of business on premises on which embassies and high commissions are located must be regarded as business being conducted on foreign soil.

"We believe there is a requirement for clarification and, if necessary, apology by our foreign ministry to the government and people of the United States consequent on the recent comments of the attorney general regarding business taking place on the grounds of their embassy in Kingston and which is consistent with business that is taking place at their embassies across the globe," Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Spokesman Dr Morais Guy said in a statement yesterday.




But the Christian lobbies, which condemned the Orlando killings, are claiming that the flying of the rainbow flag is "provocative, insensitive" and in support of a "gay agenda".

The Fellowship's president, Helene Coley-Nicholson, stated in a release that "the flying of the rainbow flag, a counter-cultural symbol of a movement dedicated to undermining Jamaica's buggery and marriage laws, sends an overt symbol that the United States Embassy in Jamaica is aligned with those who would break our laws".

The statement read: "Notwithstanding the fact that the embassy is considered American territory in international law, the LCF asks US Ambassador Luis G. Moreno to immediately take down the flag and, in so doing, eliminate potential misunderstanding and barriers to the natural outpouring of sympathy and support for the United States and those who have suffered."

Meanwhile, the JCHS questioned if the US Embassy had flown any school or military or church flags after previous mass killings in the US.

"While the US Embassy Kingston is considered to be on US soil, the embassy is still a guest of the Jamaican Government and people and is expected to conduct its affairs in a respectful manner," the JCHS said.

Jamaica has a law banning buggery but none outlawing homosexuality. There is also a strong anti-gay culture.

Late Monday, Malahoo-Forte tweeted: "I strongly condemn #OrlandoNightClubShooting but find it disrespectful of Jamaica's laws to have #RainbowFlag flown here #MyPersonalView."

Her post prompted the US Embassy to respond, asking for an explanation. "@mmalahooforte we're listening. Explain the legal reasoning? It [the Orlando shooting] was an attack of terror and hate, targeting the LGBT community!"

The tweet went viral, earning her support and criticism.

Some called her post insensitive, in light of the fact that Prime Minister Holness himself sent a letter of condolence to Moreno, pledging Jamaica's support to the people of the US.

Malahoo Forte refused to answer questions from the media as she left Gordon House yesterday where she attended a sitting of the House of Representatives.

Joshua Polacheck, counsellor for public affairs at the US Embassy, offered that since the attack on Sunday, there has been a deep outpouring of sympathy from Jamaicans, which shows the country's goodwill to its neighbour and friend, the US.

"We are aware of the social media posts, but the fact the Jamaican prime minister himself sent a letter to Ambassador Moreno shows that for the most part, Jamaica understands that the attack was against humanity, irrespective of sexual orientation or religious beliefs," Polacheck said.

"Your prime minister is the highest government official and so we have taken his words as the word for all Jamaica. We are mourning an attack on victims, who are firstly Americans; they were targeted for being LGBT."

Yesterday, Holness tweeted that "the bullet of terrorism does not discriminate; it does not know gender, class or sexual orientation. We all grieve the 49 lives lost".

There has been no formal communication from the Government over the Malahoo Forte controversy.

Polacheck said the relationship between Jamaica and the United States remains strong and robust.

Twenty-nine-year-old American of Afghan heritage, Omar Mateen, of Fort Pierce, Florida, had reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State terror group as he gunned down 49 people and injured 53.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade said it was looking into reports that two of the dead were Jamaicans.

Mateen was subsequently shot and killed by the police.