The Politics of Homosexuality
Portia Simpson Miller’s assurance that she would not bar homosexuals from her Cabinet, should she form a government, has ignited a firestorm of controversy over the issue of homosexuality. From a widespread condemnation of her comments by the church, to alleged threats to the life of a JLP candidate; the issue of homosexuality has been put squarely before the electorate ahead of Thursday’s general election. As I read the comments posted to the Jamaica Observer’s website it occurred to me that Mrs. Simpson Miller has made homosexuality and gay rights a political issue, reminiscent of American Presidential politics. I now believe my commendations for Simpson Miller’s brave answer was premature; I had not anticipated the massive fall out that this has resulted in. The issue now is, has the Opposition Leader secured the “gay vote”? Will Christians punish the PNP at the polls? Is the PNP politicising homosexuality for political mileage?
On the first point, I’m not sure the PNP has secured the gay vote or if it has helped them at all. On further reflection, I realised admitting a homosexual to the Cabinet without adequate sensitizing of the population would be disastrous. A Minister of Government would need to inspire the confidence of the electorate; without the “stain” of homosexuality hanging over his head. I’m not sure such a Minister would be able to perform well in his or her capacity. Sexuality would become an unnecessary and burdensome distraction, one which would adversely affect the Minister in the proper execution of his duty. The so called “gay vote” is certainly hard to pin down. How many homosexuals vote in national polls? How many homosexuals trust the commitment of the Opposition Leader? How many homosexuals are excited about the prospect of serving openly in the Cabinet, being mindful of the public resistance I mentioned earlier? Finally, how many homosexuals can overcome the deep seated internalisation of self hatred to accept that they deserve to be judged on qualifications and not on their sexual orientation? The more I think about the issue, the more complex it seems.
On the point of Christians punishing the PNP, this seems very likely. If the words of the Political Ombudsman, Bishop Herro Blair, are to be trusted, the Christian population will reject and repudiate the Opposition Leader’s suggestion when they cast their ballots on Thursday, perhaps expectedly so. As an aside, I wish to use this medium to call for the resignation of the Political Ombudsman. It was grossly irresponsible of the guardian of fairness and equity in our electoral process to so maliciously inject himself in the process by preaching against the PNP’s proposal. This highlights the conflict with having an ombudsman with interests to pander to in the execution of his duties. He should step aside and allow an individual who can impartially hold the office to do so. But I digress.
Jamaica is a “Christian nation”, at least on paper, therefore the Opposition Leader should have been mindful of this. I’ve always maintained that the issue of homosexuality will not be resolved easily in Jamaica. There is bound to be a dangerous and sustained confrontation between social interests and the conservative stance of the church, could this be the beginning of that? I think so.
Finally, is the People’s National Party politicising homosexuality for political mileage? I think so. In American presidential politics, this is quite common. The Democrats frequently use gay rights issues to “rev up” their base while the Republicans use it to motivate their base in opposition of such an agenda. The difficult question here is, can we decide what the PNP and JLP bases look like? Are the two very different? What is unfortunate about this whole affair is that human rights will suffer. It will suffer because at the end of the day, politicians generally lack the necessary political will to implement social change; and where they do, it is a painfully slow process, moving at a glacial pace which sees them exacting as much political mileage as they can possibly muster from it. The PNP must be careful not to do this. They must treat the issue as a human rights issue, one which deserves more than lip service and one which must be handled in a genuine manner, with political representatives voting not with their own prejudices, but as directed by their constituents. I do not support the Opposition leader in her call for a conscience vote. I generally do not support these consciences votes because they only seek to advance the prejudices of the particular Member of Parliament. This, I believe, defeats the essence of democracy. If it is for, of and by the people, then the people should direct the voting record of the politicians.
Much like race, class, poverty and education, the issue of homosexuality is a political one; political because it could very well become a determining factor in Jamaican politics. In light of this, I often wonder if this will be for better or worse, and how will all of this affect the social fabric of our country?