Who is vulnerable?

Who’s Next? is a free noon event on Thursday at NGC Bocas Lit Fest at the Old Fire Station in Port of Spain. Seven intriguing new voices offer a tease of T&T’s writing future. The literary festival is overflowing with treats. I’d promised to unwrap more today, but life has overtaken literature.

There’ve been resignations, and calls for resignations: independent senator Ramkhelawan over the resale of First Citizens employee sharesminister Chandresh Sharma over a charge of hitting a woman in Grand Bazaar; Glenn Ramadharsingh wasn’t allowed to resign, but was fired. But, as of my deadline, I don’t know if Tobago MP and minister Delmon Baker will. Or should.

Allegations about Delmon Baker pose one of the toughest ethical and political challenges the local LGBTI movement has faced. The only thing I’m clear about is that if I were a parliamentarian who was gay or bisexual, I would come out this week.

Media houses report claims by an articulate 27-year-old man (who cites scripture to deny he is gay or bisexual) that, in a four-year friendship, on at least three occasions in times of need he visited the home of the now 37- year-old MP, who touched him sexually or intimatelyThe accuser is described as “vulnerable,” related perhaps to his children’s home upbringing. He says the touching was unwelcome, and showed e-mails in which he shared his distress (but I’ve seen no timeline of the alleged incidents and communication).

Gabrielle Hosein reminded us last week how easily accusers get demonised. But this one has not painted a sympathetic picture of himself. He says he was inspired to break his story by Patricia Singh, who accused Minister Ramadharsingh of soliciting oral sex for help getting a house. But his demand for a public apology for private acts seems odd. Another newspaper reports he has fraud charges and court matters pending.

Homophobia skews public discussion about such allegations, and Baker’s legal team’s preaction protocol letters have silenced legitimate debate about them, leaving much of it up to scandal rags and social mediawhere it is least helpful.

Peeling away the feeding frenzy by those who smell a badly bloodied government is hard too. One test I’ve tried to apply to clarify the ethics of the matter is to change the sex of the complainant. But so much is genuinely different about this. Including the Government’s responses—like refusing Baker’s resignationpastor Rodger Samuel counselling the alleger to pray; and he and the communications minister invoking the legal response to dodge comment.

It’s complicated. Many ask: why did the accuser go back, after the first unwanted sexual advance? I know I’ve gone back. What sort of sexual advances are legitimate between friends, and in relationships that have nothing to do with any office?

In a 2002 decision soundly criticised in a UWI-commissioned law paper by SeShauna Wheattlea former Chief Justice freed Marvin Marcano for Christopher Lynch’s murder, saying his victim’s same-sex sexual advance was so unnatural it would send any right-thinking person crazy. Women don’t enjoy that protection. Twelve years later, a few months after the paperthe retired CJ mused that same-sex love is not repugnant and hurts no one.

But take Baker out of the picture. What about the other MPs, on different benches in both houses, who are lesbian, gay or bisexual? Who is “vulnerable” when they make sexual advances? Does our culture of scandal and stigma around same-sex desire make such office holders especially susceptible to sexual blackmail? Do our unenforced laws that make such behaviour illegal, even when it’s consensual, drive talented people away from—or out of—public service? Does the forced secrecy around such desire drive powerful people to seek sex from the vulnerable?

Public debate has also not yet turned on the fact—perhaps because few know this—that 25 years after Independence, the PNM created a new law criminalising with a five-year jail sentence a man playing with another man sexually in private— regardless of consent (though no one may have ever been prosecuted for consensual conduct). No parliamentarian is calling for such laws—which could be used to prosecute them—to be repealed.

But some things are refreshing. Despite the “No man, woman or goat is safe from this Government” picong—the titillation of prime time TV reporting—and the broadcast of a purported recording of a grown politician in tears on the phone—I’ve heard no loud voice say no homosexual belongs in the nation’s CabinetLast week the chief justice, attorney general, police commissioner, house speaker and arts minister all turned out to embrace the visiting American couple whose son, Matthew Shepard, was murdered, and listen to their message of acceptance and equal rights (though Rodger Samuelput in charge of national diversity, was notably absent.)

Hopefully Dr Baker and his accuser will be judged on the ethics of their conduct and not the other’s sex.

Forging the liberty to love: one nation…many bodies…boundless faith

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