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Mitchell And Gay Rights

EDITOR, The Tribune.

Nowadays Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell makes a stand for the defence of the rights of gays and lesbians in The Bahamas. I find it strange that Mr. Mitchell claims that his political career has suffered because of his support of LGBT rights. If that is the case, I am curious as to the reason for his new found zeal for this cause.

Mr Mitchell has been elected to Parliament three times. He is serving his second time as the Minister of Foreign Affairs. Now, as the LGBT community has begun to achieve significant strides toward full equality in developed societies in North America and Western Europe, he is seeking to insinuate himself into the lives of those who have been in the trenches – the Erin Greenes and the Helen Esfakises – championing recognition of LBGT rights in The Bahamas.

I don’t recall, for example, Mr Mitchell’s public support for the bold steps taken by the then PLP Government to decriminalise homosexuality in 1991. I believe, at the time he was still flirting with his ill-fated party, the PDF and then with the FNM. I don’t recall the PDF ever adopting a position opposing discrimination based on sexual orientation.

When, in 1998, some extremist in the Bahamas Christian Council mounted vocal demonstrations against “Gay Cruises” calling at ports in The Bahamas, Fred Mitchell was again absent from the reasoned voices opposing bigotry in our country. I don’t even recall him publicly associating himself with the progressive statement then Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham made on the matter at the time. Mr Ingraham decried the vehemence and hysteria whipped up by some segments in our community attacking gays and their lifestyles, behaviour that the then prime minister described as un-Christian and irresponsible. Now, 16 years later, Mr Mitchell conveniently remembers the former prime minister’s statement asserting that all people including gays are welcome in The Bahamas.

It was an FNM-led Government that in 2001 amended our Labour Laws to include a prohibition against discrimination against individuals based on among other things marital or HIV status. I have no recollection of Mr Mitchell’s position on the amendment at that time. I am fairly certain that he did not advocate then for the inclusion of a clause dealing with discrimination based on sexual orientation. And I do not recall him having proposed such an amendment since that time.

It is true that Mr Mitchell has had a long association with human rights groups in The Bahamas but that association has been singular in its focus on racial discrimination, most particularly in South Africa. Once Apartheid ended and the ANC formed a majority government in South Africa, Mr Mitchell disappeared from the leadership of The Bahamas’ role in the international human rights fight.

Mr Mitchell’s voice has also been silent on the massive human rights issue of equality for women under Bahamian law. And so we must continue to link Mr Mitchell’s name to his 2002 inglorious vote as a PLP Senator when he began the campaign to defeat the FNM Government’s initiative to remove the discriminatory clauses against women from our Constitution. He then led the PLP charge to defeat the Constitutional Referendum which would have made all Bahamian citizens, male and female, equal before the law.

Mr Mitchell’s voice is again silent today in relation to the pejorative statements against women uttered by his Parliamentary colleague, Leslie Miller, in the House of Assembly. In fact he appears to be as paralysed as are all the leadership of the PLP on the issue of women’s rights. For Mr Mitchell, supporting the human dignity of Bahamian women is not so important.

It seems to me that Mr Mitchell is an opportunist. Not even acknowledging the hard and long fight for equality of the Bahamian LGBT community, he is trying to ride on the coat tails of the international LGBT communities’ successes in the developed world. He has never seen fit to address any concrete issue that impacts the lives of the LGBT Bahamian community.

If Mr Mitchell’s support for LGBT rights is genuine, there are a few things that he might seek to do from his position of power and influence as a senior member of the Cabinet of the Government of The Bahamas. He might seek to:

  1. Persuade the PLP to include a non-discrimination clause in its party constitution with regard to sexual orientation;

  2. Motivate the Government to amend the Employment Act to specifically include sexual orientation among grounds on which employees may not be discriminated against;

  3. Convince the Government to amend the Criminal Code so as to remove “buggery” from the list of crimes;

  4. Persuade the Government to amend the Sexual Offences Act so that the age of consent is the same for heterosexual and homosexual acts between consenting individuals, and remove the reference to “in a public place” with regard to homosexual relations thereby treating homosexual relations on an equal footing with heterosexual relations – that is, sexual relations between any two consenting adults in a public place regardless to the gender of the individuals concerned constitutes indecent behaviour subject to the law dealing with indecent public behaviour.

The Minister’s failure up to this time to promote or campaign for any single legal advance for the Bahamian LGBT community is leading some to believe that he may be using vague language now to cover his real intent of promoting recognition of same sex marriage in The Bahamas as is happening in North America and Western Europe. If that is what Minister Mitchell seeks, he should say so as clearly as Mr Andrew Allen did when he outlined his long-standing support for equal rights for gays and lesbians in The Bahamas.

MARGARET COOPER

Nassau,

March 11, 2014

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