Columns

Homosexuality and religion in our politics

MARK WIGNALL

Thursday, June 28, 2012    

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In light of an openly gay female US politician exhorting us to make a monumental culture leap by electing openly gay politicians, it is useful to examine the delicate preconditions which have to be "openly" admitted before anyone enters the political race in Jamaica.

While the term "monumental culture leap" is of my own making for the sake of bringing reality to the Jamaican situation, according to 30-year-old Texas state-elect representative Mary E Gonzalez, "I came from a community that also had struggles with inclusivity and equality when it comes to homosexuality. I think when we realise that sexism and heterosexism are interconnected, and racism and sexism are interconnected, the struggles of one people impact the struggles of other people, and so if we were to start to promote liberation for all people, we would see less oppression around the world."

Jamaica has always elected a few gay politicians, only that in our anti-gay society they have to be creatively deceptive, not a factor strange to politicians anywhere and especially in Jamaica.

In 2008, then Prime Minister Bruce Golding announced his now famous (or infamous) response to the BBC's HARDtalk host, Stephen Sackur, when asked if he would appoint gays to his Cabinet: "Not in my Cabinet!" Golding was at that time figuratively thumping his chest as he attempted to appeal indirectly to his constituents back home. With an increased line-up of gay politicians in the PNP set to enter the competitive race in 2011, in the pre-election debate between then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller and then PM Andrew Holness, Simpson Miller stated she would have no problem including gays in her Cabinet.

Apparently things are changing, but we should not hold our collective breaths waiting for any Jamaican politician to speak from the political platform next year, pronounce on behalf of homosexuality and inclusivity and take the added step of announcing his own homosexuality. 'Fahget it!'

It is similar with religion. While the vast majority of our people here and globally subscribe to a religion, it would be impossible for any irreligious person or atheist to get elected here or in the United States. The perception is that people with such tendencies are evil to the bone.

A few months ago a poll result was shown on MSNBC which asked which religious status of a politician would most deter respondents from voting for him or her. Not surprisingly, Atheist was at the top of the list in the mid 60 per cent. Following that was Muslim in the high 40 per cent then a significant dip to Mormon, Jewish and a number of other Christian demoninations.

All politicians must know the cardinal rule when pronouncing from the podium. First, arrange to have a cleric lead off in prayer and say at the end, "God bless you all."

All politicians in Jamaica must know that even if one's sexual persuasion is "suspect", it must never be admitted if one is homosexual. In Jamaica's macho culture, politicians like the late Michael Manley and Hugh Shearer were known as "ladies' men" and were widely admired. One past governor general also had such a reputation.

With our female politicians, we adopt the same double standards as our heterosexual men use in making judgement of gay men versus lesbians. We abhor what gay men are said to do to each other while always giving lesbians a season pass.

Promiscuous male politicians are highly rated by our men, but a "loose woman" in politics is never admired. "Who, Michael, him never pardon nutten," said a man when I brought up the subject recently. "A so man fi run it," he said of the late prime minister who had this country in the palm of his hands in the 1970s.

Michael Manley would always have a "May God bless you all" in his platform speeches and, one assumes, a lady on his mind in the evening after the hustle and bustle of the daytime. He had the best of both worlds and the people loved him.

With an added stock of gay males in the political roster for 2011, will there be one brave MP willing to accept the challenge from Mary Gonzalez and admit his sexual status? Certainly if that should happen, it would prove that the prime minister is more bite than bark.

Although I do not expect this to happen, I cannot help but harbour a smidgen of resentment towards those outsiders who believe that they have earned the stripes of power and persuasion to tell us "backward" people where to go in recalibrating our cultural norms.

At the same time, it is quite possible that the local gay lobby in PNP politics is working in tandem with US political interests by using the US politicians as their surrogates. To say what the Jamaican politicians cannot say.

It doesn't take rocket science to pronounce that the first term of this administration will run its full course and the cultural norms in terms of homosexuality will not change by any measurable level. Our people are simply not ready to make the desired quantum leap, especially to suit the cultural desires of powerful outsiders.

God and the macho male will rule for now and the Americans can talk all they want until the cows come home and the chickens return to the roost.

We will make the change when a host of other factors are also changed. We need to be more tolerant of others who are not like us, and more important, we need to be a more educated, gentler society.

We are miles away from that now.

— observemark@gmail.com

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