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Call To Fast-Track Laws On Tackling Hate Crimes

By RICARDO WELLS

Tribune Staff Reporter

rwells@tribunemedia.net

CALLS for parliamentarians to fast-track hate crime legislation were widely supported by members of the LGBT community yesterday.

Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) secretary Paco Nunez renewed the organization’s plea for the government to place laws banning hate crime in The Bahamas at the top of its legislative agenda.

In a press statement, Mr Nunez said the GBHRA is very concerned that legislators have failed to acknowledge and address the increasingly hostile atmosphere for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals in the country.

He urged them to take action before it is too late.

“At the end of the day, a law banning hate crimes would be in the same spirit as the push for gender equality, amounting to official recognition that any form of discrimination on the basis of individual identity is unacceptable.

“The point is that everyone should be allowed to express themselves and promote their own interests and the interests of their community with having to face humiliation or suffer fear for their safety, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, heritage, religion, political persuasion, or any other arbitrary consideration,” Mr Nunez said.

Erin Greene, human rights activist and a leading advocate of LGBT rights in the Bahamas yesterday called the initiative a challenge that was “timely and necessary”.

She underscored that social conditions for the LGBT community have deteriorated as a result of the public vitriol incited by bill four of the upcoming gender equality referendum.

The bill, which seeks to put an end to discrimination based on sex, has sparked widespread debate over whether the change will lead to same-sex marriage.

According to Mrs Greene, the lack of clarification on current misunderstandings has left LGBT members exposed on a personal level.

The government has repeatedly rejected claims that suggest the June 7 referendum is being used to secretly advance same-sex marriages and specialised rights for members of the LGBT and transgender communities.

Alexus D’Marco, head of Bahamas Transgender Intersex United (BTIU), said she also recognised the immediate need for such a legislation, stressing that members of her association, and to a wider extent the LGBT community, are now among the most vulnerable in The Bahamas.

Ms D’Marco said while she hasn’t seen any of the recommendations being put forward by the GBHRA, she is fully on board with the move to protect LGBT and BTIU members from recrimination and ill-treatment.

Both Ms D’Marco and Ms Greene said they were interested in assisting the GBHRA with drafting a document to present to the House of Assembly on the needs of their respective organizations.

Yesterday, Mr Nunez pointed to a “shocking escalation” of hate speech towards LGBT members. He referred to comments made by Tall Pines MP Leslie Miller, who suggested that members of the transgender community should be exiled to a private island.

Mr Nunez said the video of a Nassau Street brawl on the sidelines of Bahamas Junkanoo Carnival has evidenced that conditions have escalated to physical violence.

It was alleged that two festival-goers were chased and beaten by a mob in a homophobic attack.

However, sources within the Royal Bahamas Police Force have suggested that the resulting investigation did not connect the matter to hate crimes.

Additionally, The Tribune understands that no formal charges were sought in connection with the fight.

Last week, PLP Chairman Bradley Roberts called on the Royal Bahamas Police Force to fully investigate the allegations. Mr Roberts warned that hate speech used on social media to advance an agenda against the upcoming gender equality referendum could encourage “hate crimes”, and called for a full investigation and prosecution.

“Perhaps most alarmingly,” Mr Nunez said, “a video of the incident circulated on social media appears to show several police officers standing by, doing nothing at all to restrain the attackers or protect the clearly terrified victims.”

“Political leaders must pay attention to the signs. These incidents should not be viewed as isolated; collectively they point to a extremely worrying trend in Bahamian society where those seeking to express their individuality are being maligned and vilified with impunity.”

“We are at a very dangerous crossroads as a nation and if we are not careful, this could quickly degenerate into a society where any perceived failure to conform with the biases of the majority is punishable by harassment and violence,” he said.

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