Columns

The LGBT community needs to be tolerant too

The Point Is...

BY ROBERT MORGAN

Sunday, June 08, 2014    

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It is troubling that we have evolved as a society where institutions like the University of the West Indies (UWI) seem to be captured by special interests to the extent where someone of the reputation of Brendan Bain could be so harshly treated.

While we are focused on what has happened to Professor Bain, in another sector, Queen Ifrika is facing the same challenge. She expressed her non-violent opinion supporting heterosexual-only unions and has now been blacklisted, unable to perform in the United States.

These two issues, while different in terms of context and discipline, are similar in outcome in that they seem to show an increasing intolerance among some in the LGBT community towards persons who don't share their view.

I believe in tolerance and non-discrimination. I also believe that my support of these principles as a way of life does not mean that I embrace any way of life other than a heterosexual one. I believe advocates on behalf of the LGBT community have as much right to state their piece on any matter, as persons who are not members of that community.

These beliefs, of course, are qualified by saying I don't believe either "grouping" should have the right to preach hate or violence against the other. This, to my mind, is true tolerance and non-discrimination.

However, I believe that we, as a society, must be afforded the freedom to determine how our society looks, what type of behaviours it supports and what it discourages. We must be given the right to determine what our children are exposed to and what can be deemed as normal.

I put it to the LGBT community that unenforced laws against anal sex should not be their main focus. I really have never heard of the arrest of any gay men under the relevant section of the Offences Against the Person Act that did not relate to a non-consensual act, and I have never heard any advocate of the LGBT community provide any such data in support of their argument that the law is enforced as a means of stigmatisation or oppression of gay persons.

While I understand that the issue of stigma and discrimination might affect some healthcare-seeking behaviours, it certainly seems that "the buggery law" has become little more than a symbol for the community rather than a law which can be shown by empirical data to be conclusively linked to HIV prevalence.

I put it to the LGBT community that their anger against Professor Bain was misplaced, as his 30 years of work have done more than any lobby group in the Caribbean to assist in understanding and formulating strategies to address issues of HIV infection within the gay community. To have damaged him in this way is sad, and does nothing to win hearts and minds for the community.

So while the gay community can now celebrate their victory, it could well turn out to be a pyrrhic one, inimical to their cause. More specifically, it appears to be building and hardening positions against the LGBT community -- providing a cause celebre and "proof", if you will, that this community is not seeking tolerance, it is ultimately seeking dominance.

Essentially, it is undermining the very thing on which the LGBT community should be focused, ie the promotion of tolerance and non-discrimination. The acceptance by society, not of the "normalcy" of anal sex, but of the fact that a community of LGBT persons exists, and are entitled to human rights of access to health care, education and safety.

Why this issue matters to so many people

Societies all have rules, mores, values and laws. These are important as they hold the fabric of society together. It is true that while society might frown upon an act, it might still be practised, but that does not mean it is publicly accepted as a norm. Take, for example, the issue of infidelity. We all know that many married men and women cheat and some may say this is very prevalent in the society. But is it accepted as something that should happen?

In the case of buggery, we all know that there are Jamaicans from all walks of life who practise buggery, both in heterosexual and gay relations. The question is, though, whether this should be an accepted norm in our society.

It should also be noted that the current buggery law is not an anti-gay law but a gender-neutral anti-buggery law. If you bugger a woman you are just as liable for prosecution under the Act.

I am not in favour of police kicking down doors and carting off anyone for their consenting-adult actions in the privacy of their homes. I believe the police have serious crimes to solve.

I also believe, however, that society sets parameters of acceptable behaviour to which a majority of us agree. That is what gives a society its identity and holds it together.

Yes to a referendum

This is why I believe that before any changes are made to the "buggery law", Jamaicans should have a say through a grand referendum that could also include issues of the Caribbean Court of Justice, whether Jamaica should become a republic, and even abortion.

I believe this is important as societies are continually evolving, and when decisions as fundamental as these are to be made, people should be given the ultimate choice.

I am a bit surprised that people are afraid of a referendum on these issues. Democracy in its purest form means rule by the majority, and a referendum is one of the most potent tools which could be used to decide on matters that cut deep into the fabric of the society.

If the LGBT community doesn't support a referendum on the issue, is it that they believe that their agenda should be promoted by any government, even without the support of the people?

Is it time for a change of perspective?

I say to the LGBT community that it remains to be seen whether this most recent lobby, resulting in the firing of a well-respected professional who worked in support of the health and betterment of Jamaicans, will increase the likelihood of the Government reviewing the laws, or whether it will result in greater emotional retrenchment of society and therefore government.

J-FLAG could lead the way in the fight for hearts and minds by telling their supporters and funders that not every person who speaks out against homosexuality is seeking to disenfranchise gays. With a view to promoting the culture change of tolerance which is much needed, people like Queen Ifrica and Professor Bain should be allowed to express their opinions without fear of being punished, once they are not preaching hate or violence.

I really hope the LGBT community will adjust their antagonism towards persons who object to their lifestyle and recognise that lobbying efforts to destroy careers will only lead to a loss of the gains they have made over the years and greater resentment within the population.

Jamaica is Jamaica, and as a people, on practically any issue, we all need to be won over, not bullied into submission. That's just how we are. This should be at least something to think about.

Robert Nesta Morgan is a communications consultant and media manager in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition

Follow me @nestaJA

The views expressed are expressly mine

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