By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday warned that a negative stance on LGBT rights as human rights abuses could engender cutbacks in US assistance.
Describing the Bahamas as a “a liberal democracy in a secular state”, Mr Mitchell blasted Opposition Shadow Minister Hubert Chipman over alleged homophobic statements that have made him the target of “abusive language”.
Mr Mitchell charged that as the nation’s “lead diplomat”, he executes policy with the full support of Cabinet policy or the Head of the Government.
Mr Mitchell said: “Religion is a right of all and so are our moral choices. We also have an abiding respect for Christian values and the rule of law. Wherever I go, that is the image I portray. The country, I’m thankful to say, has a good image.”
During his contribution in the House yesterday, Mr Mitchell pointed to recent comments by US President Barack Obama, discouraging the passing of anti-homosexuality laws in Uganda.
Mr Mitchell advised that the country should watch US policy closely as the country’s closest trading partner.
Mr Mitchell said: “You will be aware that this country receives millions of dollars in military assistance and that, given the way American foreign policy works, human rights abuses may lead to cutbacks in that assistance mandated by law. So as we shape our social domestic policies, we are always cognisant of that fact.
“We don’t have to like it or agree with it. The fact is that is the way they operate and while there is no instant threat of that, it is the job of the Foreign Minister to guard against any such issue arising and to be proactive in doing so.”
Referring to questions raised by Mr Chipman on whether Mr Mitchell was presenting personal views on gay rights as government policy, Mr Mitchell charged that his public support for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-gender (LGBT) rights was in line with stated positions by the former and current administration, and “broke no new ground”.
Mr Mitchell added: “The clear intent of the [Chipman] statement was homophobic. It is what Andrew Allen called a dog whistle and, knowing his Catholic upbringing, I am surprised. Because what it does and it is intended to do is to unleash torrent of abusive language at me to damage me politically with scatological comments that are without merit.
He said: “Some of the things I have seen written about me over this simple statement in Trinidad, which broke no new ground, is tantamount to the public outrage that would have ensued if a white man had called a black man a nigger.
“Yet people in polite society can think it acceptable to use these nasty, filthy, bad and vile words with impunity on the grounds of their moral beliefs. It is simply unacceptable and this Member will not stand for it.”
Mr Mitchell revealed that childhood bullying has strengthened his resolve on the LGBT issue, and all forms of discrimination.
Mr Mitchell said he was routinely harassed to the point of “mortal terror” by a girl who would physically abuse him after school on his route home.
Despite attempts by his parents to intervene, Mr Mitchell said the attacks in junior school continued until he transferred to a private institution.
During his contribution in support of amendments to the Tariff and Excise Tax Acts yesterday, Mr Mitchell said: “One difficulty I have is that the Member [Chipman] does not apparently remember what his own party’s stand is on this matter and what the agreed policy is with regard to sexual orientation as expressed by Parliament, when this behavior was addressed by the then Prime Minister the Rt Hon Hubert Ingraham in 1998.”
Mr Mitchell referred to comments by Mr Ingraham, in which he quoted him as saying: “I have been chilled by the vehemence of the expressions against gay persons made by some in our newspapers and over our radio talk shows. Admittedly, there have also been expressions of reason and understanding on this matter on the editorial pages but these have been largely lost in a sea of bitter, poorly-reasoned diatribe…
“I do not believe that the future of The Bahamas will be placed in danger because chartered cruises by gay persons are permitted to continue to call at Bahamian ports. The future of The Bahamas is not threatened by foreign persons of homosexual orientation. Homosexuality is not a contagious disease; and it is not a crime in The Bahamas.”