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Honest dialogue, not intolerance, needed on sexuality issues

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I had planned to use this column to make some comments on the Town Hall meeting held last Wednesday evening at Frenches House, as an important public exchange on the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) between a CCJ delegation led by its Vincentian President, His Worship Justice Adrian Saunders, and Vincentian people.

However, though I am sticking to my commitment, permit me this week, a few other comments on issues which have arisen in the Vincentian society since then and which demand some level of comment.

First, my congratulations to the Police for responding to public concerns about noise levels on the road. I notice that not only has there been a prosecution, but a conviction as well. Two reminders are in order though. One is to ensure that the vigilance is not just restricted to Kingstown and its environs, but to cast a wide net. The second is for consistency and persistency. One remembers when drivers first began to tint vehicles and the warnings that ensued. What happened to that? If Police do not follow up, by the next few weeks we are back to square one.

The second issue relates to the alleged assault of two effeminate-looking young men in the Calliaqua area last weekend. Increasingly there have been signs of open hostility on the part of many young men, and some young women too, towards such persons who are called all sorts of derogatory names.

This is fuelled by our religious background, the social “norms” which arise and prevailing sub-culture best manifested in certain kinds of music.

I consider myself to be of the “old school” as the vast majority of my generation happen to be. But it is one thing to hold personal beliefs as to what is “right” or “wrong”, quite another to try and impose those views on others. All around the world today there is debate and re-examination of views towards sexuality. Many countries have amended their laws or passed new legislation in keeping with current realities.

Many of us may disagree with them, for one reason or another, and some openly advocate updating and changing legislation, but until changes are made the laws on the books remain. There are also laws governing indecent behaviour in public which need to be observed. If a person is not breaking any of these laws, we may disagree with and frown on how they dress, but their fundamental human rights must be respected.

Does the fact that men appear in public dressed like females give others the right to harass or physically assault them? Who gives us the right to take the law into our own hands? Who has appointed us as individual custodians of morality and decency? Is this not another blatant example of intolerance and ignorance in our society?

Currently many young men deliberately wear their pants below their waist openly exposing their boxer shorts. Would it be right for, say, older men who disagree with such manner of dress, to harass or assault such younger folk? Though we profess to live in a “democracy”, it has always been difficult to ensure respect for minority views. Our prevailing political culture promotes intolerance.

In our society, even in this day and age, Rastafarians still have to fight to get their rights respected. Yet there are persons of that faith who would deny that right to others considered as being of “queer” sexual orientation. Politicians, who should know better, publicly disparage lesbians and gays. Muslims and their faith are still regarded here as being, not just different, but not on the same level as Christians. Just recall the comments, out of ignorance, about a recent Muslim funeral here! As for anyone to profess a lack of belief in religion, then such atheistic outlook is almost tantamount to treason. So much for our “democratic” beliefs!

This is the background to the rampant spread of homophobia, fuelled by some dance hall music and conservative Christian teaching. Yet those who insist on society accepting new forms of dress and behaviour on their part, want to define for others their mores. Conservative Christians often rant against so-called “Muslim fundamentalism”, but consider it their right to define for others how they should live their lives. How would Jesus Christ have handled such expressions of social diversity?

Such topics can be uncomfortable for persons indoctrinated in certain beliefs which are backed by law and reinforced by social practices. Yet we must find a way to discuss them, for our own good and that of the society in which we live.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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