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Never thought I’d see the day
I sat three rows from Theresa May when, as part of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, she apologised for Britain’s role in criminalising same-sex conduct in former colonies. “I am all too aware that these laws were often put in place by my own country,” she said, “They were wrong then and they are wrong now.”
Apologies by Britain should come hard and fast, for colonialism itself, the slave trade, inconceivably vast economic extraction and impoverishment, anti-democratic laws kept in place by a “savings clause,” and more.
This apology should not be diminished, for it results from courageous and sustained global South struggle, across at least 36 countries. Nonetheless, as Justice Rampersad pointed out in his April 12 decision, changing discriminatory laws is a matter for emancipatory Caribbean jurisprudence.
We didn’t need the British empire’s “benevolent” mission of colonising and civilising. We don’t need a 21st century version of civilising now.
On the same stage that morning, Jamaica’s PM Andrew Holness spoke, quite brilliantly, highlighting what sustainability, prosperity, inclusiveness and security mean from a Caribbean perspective in which equity and accountability among nations count.
In an earlier response on having gays in his Cabinet, Holness said: “I think that the first step is that the State protect the human rights of every citizen, regardless of sexual orientation or inclination.”
This was a major shift in public position from Bruce Golding’s infamous “not in my Cabinet” statement, and highlights increasing openings for equitable and accountable Caribbean leadership.
Here at home, President Weekes herself has said: “I think in terms of the State and the law all citizens and all persons under the protection of our jurisdiction should have equal treatment whatever their gender, whatever their sexual orientation, whatever their race we need to have absolute equality across the board in terms of State obligations and constitutional rights.”
Having been involved in LBGTI rights advocacy since about 2005, I didn’t expect to hear such public declarations in my lifetime. I have a beautiful memory of CAISO’s 2010 campaign, conceptualised in many ways by Colin Robinson’s politics of claiming belonging to a nation of “many bodies,” and the dual flying of national and rainbow flags high in the air at massive UNC rallies.
It wasn’t an easy space, and the PNM campaign trail would have been significantly worse, for those were the infamous “big C” days, but to publicly declare equal citizenship involved great courage. There are forgotten foot soldiers, among many, who have moved popular culture forward over the last decade.
I thought about all this in relation to Guardian’s front-page expose on Michelle-Lee Ahye.
There’s much to disparage about “rescuing” someone from social media smearing, and doing this using her partner’s photos, in a still homophobic society. There’s much to say about the problems of prying into the private lives of women in public life though that’s long been debunked as illegitimate, irrelevant and sexist.
However, more important, was the public backlash to the newspaper, rather than Ahye’s choices. Many were clear that her sexuality was a non-story, and were outraged it would be headlined, supposedly and misguidedly for her protection.
Being a woman-loving woman, or any woman who has sex outside of heterosexual marriage, might be a basis for idle gossip, but it doesn’t tarnish her achievement of gold nor does it reduce her right to privacy.
That this could be expressed as a widely held view was an unintended, progressive outcome of that story.
In 2005, I couldn’t predict all this. Advocacy felt exhausting and ongoing without any progress.
Even seeing hundreds proudly, joyfully gathering with rainbow flags over these past weeks was unimaginable as late as 2010.
Hope has been reborn in me.
Yet, the evictions and firings of LBGTI citizens following Justice Rampersad’s decision signal continued need to tirelessly press back against continued vulnerability, believing that together we can actually aspire and achieve.
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