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Time for T&T to join the modern world

Thursday, February 13, 2014
London Calling
Colin Robinson of Caiso speaking at the Constitutional Reform Commission’s public consultation on Tuesday.

There are people in the UK who are wary of coming to the Caribbean because of its reputation for homophobia. Recently, a world map was published online with countries where homosexuality is illegal marked in red. There were a few pockets: the Middle East, parts of Africa and these paradise islands.


It seems ludicrous that such an idyll can still produce hate of any kind, let alone hate inspired by other people’s love. Men loving other men and women loving other women. It doesn’t fit with the elements the modern Caribbean brands itself with—freedom, equality, hedonism. 


I’ve never researched Bob Marley’s views on homosexuality. I don’t want to know. If he was homophobic, would that mean I’d have to stop listening to his records? I don’t want to imagine that Bob, with his redemption songs about getting together and feeling all right, could have hate for anybody. Unlike Buju Banton and, more comically, Shabba Ranks.


In 1994, when the Buju Banton song Boom Bye Bye was banned in England, Shabba appeared on a music talk show. When asked if he was a Buju Banton fan, he made what was possibly his worst PR move ever, forgot that he wasn’t supposed to be homophobic on national television. 


“Most definitely,” Ranks growled, “if you forfeit the law of God almighty you deserve crucifixion.” But Ranks, having dug his trench, was determined to bury himself. He further said, “I live by the concept of the Bible. And the Bible say man must multiply. Multiplication is done by a male and a female...”


Clearly having offended a great many people, his records never sold successfully again in England. Boom Bye Bye went further than homophobia. It reduced gays and lesbians in Jamaica to the lowest status in society, worthy of death, creating a climate of constant fear for gays and lesbians. At Pier One, Montego Bay in 2008, I saw the whole club put their trigger fingers in the air and sing, “Boom bye bye in a batty boy head.” It confirmed a sickening truth I didn’t want to believe. Even the girl I was dancing with was doing it. I left the club. When a young, gay British- Jamaican asked if he should visit Jamaica and if it was safe, I had to tell him that story. 


“You Brits love your gays,” a Trini friend said. We do. We’re precious about them and very protective.


I think a lot of Trinis love their gays too. They’re just not as comfortable admitting it. There’s an element of school playground sniggering, machismo to live up to. Hearing Colin Robinson of the gay rights organisation, CAISO, eloquently tell the Constitutional Reform Commission about his wish that within his lifetime he might see “people like me” afforded dignity and legal protection, felt like listening to footage from the 1960s US civil rights struggle. Nobody should have to fight for their rights in 2014.


Several members of the public stood up in support of gay rights and denounced the commission’s cop-out. The draft report published last month let down the LGBT community by failing to say the rewritten Constitution would protect same-sex relationships. Instead, it said further discussion was needed because some people opposed it.


Human rights issues must be government-led. If there aren’t significant numbers of people prepared to demand change, the government must lead the charge.


People will get used to it, some more slowly than others, perhaps. One man told the commission, “Sexual orientation: what place does it have in a Constitution? They are free to indulge in their unnatural, biological behaviour in their home, they have a right to hold office and even the right to be called honourable, they even have a right to display themselves in public, what more do they want?”


Another said, “The sodomites, for that’s what the Bible calls them, are free to practise their sodomy in the privacy of their own homes, there’s no law against it…” But that’s exactly the point. There is a law against it. And while those laws remain, young men, like a friend from south, contemplate suicide rather than tell their parents they are gay.


I wanted to ask the two haters how exactly “sodomy” affects their lives, but I was rendered speechless that I live in a country where somebody could pour forth such bile without being chased from the auditorium. Their words attempted to shame Robinson and “people like him.” But the shame is all theirs. And God, if he exists, would be ashamed of them and their misguided notion that God hates gays.


Doesn’t God love everybody? Isn’t that the whole point? God would be proud of the priest, Fr Stephen Geofroy, who spoke in support of gay rights, although it would have carried more weight a year ago. Now that Pope Francis has voiced his support, it’s easier for others to follow.


But one can’t expect the Catholic church to lead on the issue: historically it’s one of the worst persecutors of gays, whilst, ironically, sodomising thousands of young boys at the same time. The priest made front page news.


Newsday even went so far as to say Gays Must Not Suffer in its headline. Wow, have they just realised? It’s a desolate state when a country like T&T, which prides itself on tolerance, togetherness and modernity, should be stuck in a mediaeval quagmire it doesn’t seem to know how to pull itself out of. Pulling itself out of the swamp and into the 21st century is so simple it beggars belief (not “buggers,” that’s illegal.)


Writing these words shouldn’t be necessary. Make the change, Prime Minister, that you promised in 2012. Make the change, Parliament, Senate, judiciary, UNC, PNM, COP. Enshrine equality in the Constitution and remove the archaic colonial law.


The Buggery Law in England dates back to 1533. It took until 1965 for homosexuality to be decriminalised in England and Wales and, bizarrely, until 1981 in Scotland. I don’t know why Scotland dragged its heels and why T&T continues to do so. The nation has nothing to fear by joining the modern world. 


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