Fred Smith and Fred Mitchell.
By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
FOREIGN Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell yesterday accused the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association of being ‘“disingenuous” and trying to “stir up trouble” after the group commended the government for its “support for gay rights” at the United Nations.
Mr Mitchell was responding to Fred Smith, president of the GBHRA, who in a statement congratulated Mr Mitchell and the government for “taking a stand, on the world stage, against discrimination on the basis of sexual preference”.
The GBHRA was referring to a vote that took place at the UN last Tuesday, over whether to extend staff benefits to all same-sex couples.
“Last week, the government of The Bahamas contributed to the United Nation’s rejection of an attempt to stop the spouses of UN General Assembly staff who are in same-sex marriages from enjoying the same privileges as traditional couples,” the statement said.
“The policy, introduced by Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, entitles all staff to receive the same family benefits, regardless of the laws on same-sex marriage in their own countries. The Bahamas was among 80 countries that opposed an effort led by Russia to block the policy; 43 countries supported and 37 abstained.”
When contacted, Mr Mitchell refused to comment on the vote itself other than to say, “What happened was public record.”
However, he said Mr Smith is attempting to make “something out of nothing”.
“He is being contentious and disingenuous and I do not want to say much more than that,” Mr Mitchell said.
“This is just a baiting exercise and I will not engage in his stupidity. The vote was on record, so the public can see what it is and form their own opinions. His description is off and he is trying to create a problem where there is none.”
Mr Smith said he saw the UN vote, Mr Mitchell’s repeated support of gay rights and recent comments Prime Minister Perry Christie made about conservative countries co-existing with shifting views on homosexuality as “further evidence of a concerted stance by this government against discrimination on the basis of sexual preference”.
He added: “With regard to its enlightened and progressive stance on gay rights, we wholeheartedly support the government, and would like to express our willingness to work with the Christie administration on any effort to enhance the protections and privileges extended to all groups that are marginalised and discriminated against in the Bahamas today.
“Further, we urge Messrs Christie and Mitchell to translate their concern for this issue into meaningful support for local LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender) causes, which have struggled courageously for years in what is a hostile and sometimes even dangerous environment. We also urge all other parties in the Bahamas to learn a lesson in political bravery from the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP). On this issue at least, it is standing on principle, regardless of prevailing public opinion. Sometimes, this is the only way real progress can be achieved.”
Last week, Mr Christie told COB students that despite their conservative traditions, countries like the Bahamas must learn to “co-exist” in a world where attitudes to homosexuality are shifting.
“America has now legalised same sex marriages,” Mr Christie said. “It’s happening. And so you have to assume therefore in the region we have this kind of discussion all the time amongst prime ministers about the conservatism that exists in our countries. How do we coexist in a world where the vice-president of the United States has said culture of countries do not trump human rights?
“Human rights are then elevated to the highest levels. And therefore you see the traditional norms of the world being changed and the levels of what was phobia are being rejected and are now becoming norms. Countries like The Bahamas have to look very carefully at it, not to change it, but how do you go about accepting it?”