Jamaican prime minister Bruce Golding was in the United Kingdom this week for talks with his British counterpart, but it is Golding's interview on the BBC's HardTalk programme on 20 May that has made headlines and raised controversy back in the Caribbean. (See the video footage split up into three files on YouTube: 1, 2, 3.)
When asked by journalist Stephen Sackur to comment on attitudes towards homosexuals and gay rights in Jamaica, Golding replied: “We do have a long-standing culture that is very opposed to homosexuality. I think that is changing. I believe there is greater acceptance now that people have different lifestyles, that their privacy must be respected.” But then Sackur quoted a statement Golding made during the general election campaign last year: “Homosexuals will find no solace in any cabinet formed by me.” Sackur asked: “Do you not have a duty to consider people on their merits — for cabinet positions, indeed in any part of government?” Golding's response was unequivocal: “A prime minister must decide what he feels would represent to the Jamaican people a cabinet of ministers who will be able to discharge their function without fear, without favour, without intimidation…. Jamaica is not going to allow values to be imposed on it from outside.”
The interview, and Golding's assertion that there is no room for homosexuals in his Cabinet, was widely replayed and excerpted in the Jamaican media, and hotly discussed on radio call-in shows, in the newspaper letters pages, and even in the blogosphere. The Jamaica Gleaner ran an editorial describing Golding's comments as “Homophobic silliness and a failure of leadership”, but many Jamaicans seemed pleased and proud that their prime minister was standing up to what they see as international pressure to conform to an alien morality.
Only a couple of Jamaican bloggers commented on the issue in the days after the interview was broadcast, and their tone was decidedly measured. Dennis Jones, a Jamaican economist based in Barbados, began by saying there was nothing surprising about Golding's statement. For Golding, Jones said,
… the political calculus is that an openly gay person is a risk–and it is that way in many countries, even those who proclaim to have more liberal views than Jamaica about homosexuality. In the Caribbean being open about homosexuality is suicidal or an invitation to serious violence, with Jamaica right near the top as places where that is likely to be the case.
But he added:
I am more uneasy about whether he truly believes that gays are equal under the law in Jamaica–that to me is “being economical with the truth”…. I am also more uneasy about whether he can craft for me and all Jamaicans a society that is much less prone to murdering each other and one where police brutality is far less commonplace.
Francis Wade, blogging at Moving Back to Jamaica, was more explicit:
My Prime Minister has just communicated to the world that he is a bigot, and that he hates gay people, and that he is prepared to deny someone who is gay a position they deserve simply because they are homosexual.
Let's see what this means. A gay man, a lesbian woman, a bisexual person…. they all would find the door closed regardless of their accomplishments.
It looks to me as if we'll have to feel the tangible consequences of our collective bigotry before anything changes, because now, things are likely to become much, much worse for us.
In another post, Wade remarked:
[Golding] sounded like any Jamaican speaking here in Kingston, just a lot milder in his comments than the average man in the street. In Jamaica, it's said that he couldn't say his real feelings, because the world couldn't handle them.
However, in the rest of the world, I imagine, his spoken words on the BBC HardTalk programme are enough to provoke outrage, boycotts, demonstrations and calls for Jamaica to join the company of civilized nations.
Bloggers elsewhere in the Caribbean also voiced their opinions. Two Barbadian bloggers came out in staunch support of Golding. Bajan Global Report wrote:
Jamaica is not the only Caribbean island to have anti-homosexual laws on its books but because of its influence on the world namely through its music, there is an international campaign to discredit Jamaica image abroad…. As powerful as gay rights groups are, they still outside of their jurisdiction when it comes to bullying a sovereign country.
Barbados Underground, describing homosexuality as a “vexing issue”, suggested that “the homosexual movement has become an unrelenting force”, and expressed the hope that the Barbados government might follow in Golding's lead.
On the other hand, Trinidadian blog The Liming House described Caribbean homophobia as “a morass of Victorian prudishness and religious fundamentalism combined with an extreme interpretation of masculinity and imbued with a sense of developing-country nationalism and a post-colonial assertion of sovereignty”. But Liming House argued that “The Caribbean, in asserting sovereign rights, needs to take some sovereign responsibility”, and quoted a letter published in the Jamaica Gleaner, asking for hate crimes legislation:
In reality, it only takes an assumption or a suspicion of being homosexual in some Jamaican communities for someone to be attacked and brutalised. Of the many cases that have come to public attention of ‘gay’ men being beaten and even killed, very few have been as a result of these said men being caught in compromising positions. Yet, they are set upon and, in what might seem like sanctioned events, the all too familiar scene unfolds.
Meanwhile, apparently by coincidence, two days after Golding's interview was aired, A Radical in Bermuda posted a passionate plea for “an autonomous movement of queer liberation”:
A movement where gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals and all others who do not fit societies narrow view of sexual and gender normality can come together and make their own demands and develop their own leadership and power.