Tomorrow’s election seems historic— “Sexual orientation” in a party manifesto for the first time. A transgender candidate attracting international visibility. A safe-seat candidate everyone knows is gay. LGBTI groups asking President Carmona for an Independent Senator representing their 35,000 numbers. LGBTI-related election rights on the Commonwealth observers’ radar. And Jack Warner—if you take him seriously—asking you whether stewardship of the nation remains in the hands of a member of the LGBTI community.
Yet, there’s little beyond performance on big national issues to sway LGBTI voters to any party/candidate. Definitely not their promises. The one proposing to champion LGBTI issues, Nazma Muller’s Caribbean Collective for Justice, didn’t bother to run. Jowelle deSouza’s policy statements show disappointing disconnection from the lives of other LGBTI people. The PNM is transparent their manifesto avoids any LGBTI positions.
“As fashionable as they are…We’re not making fashion statements on these matters,” the political leader answered. These “fashionable” matters are inalienable rights…and they are making statements. Their manifesto gender promises cite a 2009 Gender Policy that famously declared it would not deal with sexual orientation. The troublesome PNM vision of “restoring morality” in public affairs grounds the manifesto. They say the party simply hasn’t discussed LGBTI issues; it will—“in government”. Promising to take a position seems to be their position. Keith Rowley promised to in 2012.
Unprecedented declarations “The People’s Partnership is committed to all citizens enjoying equal human rights under the law and to ensuring that there is no discrimination on the basis of…gender…and sexual orientation” (p25) and to “take human rights seriously…supported by enlightened legislation” (p92) should be cause for celebration, but no leader or candidate shows any pride or ownership in those words. Kamla’s representation at the manifesto’s launch was “My Government has taken no position on gay rights—that is to legalise—decriminalise or otherwise.” Days later, she’d broken the manifesto promise—before the election. “Our position is…that that is not a decision that could be made by us or the Cabinet sitting. It is a matter that requires tremendous…stakeholder consultations to arrive at the consensus view…Gay rights…with the greatest of respect is not my decision to make, but is one that will require full consultation with the national population.”
Evangelical churches’ January newspaper ad boasts this abdication to protect LGBTI citizens’ rights from majority tyranny is in fact a 2010 campaign promise she made when they endorsed her. And Keith Rowley’s COP opponent, on 107.1FM-The Word, framed parliamentary service as an “opportunity to make a statement and represent the voice of God, because at the end of the day it is about eternity.”
The ILP leader says he too doesn’t “think that I should impose my view on the nation or on anybody”. His actions say a lot more.
I long assumed (and assumed many others did) that an affair with the Prime Minister might explain young Reshmi Ramnarine’s elevation. I imagined the scandal of a prime minister installing her secret same-sex lover as chief spy might bring down a Government, irreparably damaging efforts to normalise and dignify sexual diversity and LGBTI worthiness for office.
No story emerged, to my relief, in 2011. But Jack’s crawl-on-my-belly electoral/extradition campaign has thrust allegations about Ramnarine into the media. As with Delmon Baker last year, the nation has hardly blinked. Except Camille Robinson-Regis now jokes Kamla monkey-see-monkey-does Rowley in everything, even being accused of running down women.
Many people—especially LGBTI ones—eagerly want to silence such talk. Sheila Rampersad makes a legitimate case for some discussion of politicians’ sex-lives. I agree. Such sunshine also counters the pretence that fuels the nation’s poor sexual health.
Where to draw the line isn’t always clear, e.g. platform picong by people who bluntly say they support LGBTI rights. Sometimes it is: One PNM candidate faced repeated hazing in party Facebook groups about his sexual orientation. Now anti-PNM activists are circulating screenshots of the abuse—to expose the party cannibalising its own. The most troubling homophobia of the campaign, however, is state media talkshow host Marcia Braveboy’s escalating social media slurs targeting Rampersad and her colleagues.
What distinguishes the main parties—whose 60-to-70-something-year-old leaders’ all refuse to champion LGBTI equality for a future generation—is not policy. LGBTI people visibly active in the UNC and COP have had leaders send tacit signals of inclusion, including whispers about candidates’ orientation. (Can we then name them?) Their cautiousness on LGBTI issues seems more political expediency than values. But LGBTI PNMites seem ineffectual in moving their party, where supporters who aren’t champions coexist with gatekeepers with strong opposing moral beliefs. Both parties understand it’s not in their interest to promote homophobia. The PNM, though, seems happy to profit from it.
How to make my LGBTI vote count? I’m not one of 135,000 voters in five marginal seats who’ll decide the election. I can’t re-elect Amery Browne, who reliably spoke up on LGBTI issues. Timothy Hamel-Smith seems a clown, hopping from Senate firing to UNC meeting to Third Force launch to its collapse to NOTA ballot-spoiling. But I too decided that was the best way I could make my franchise matter. I’ll write Constitutional Reform. [I wrote “LGBTI-Gay Rights” too.] Even Scanny Martin’s brother-in-law recognizes that’s what matters most.