Yesterday [July 13] politicians debated adding an amendment to the Human Rights Act to ban discrimination based on age and sexual discrimination, with the majority of MPs who spoke in favour of extending the Human Rights Act,.
Those speaking in support of extending the Human Rights Act to cover sexual orientation included Pat Gordon Pamplin [OBA], Shawn Crockwell [OBA], Kim Swan [UBP], Michael Scott [PLP], Zane DeSilva [PLP], Wayne Perinchief [PLP], while those speaking against included PLP MPs Derrick Burgess, Dennis Lister, Darius Tucker and Marc Bean.
17 of the the 36 MPs spoke on the matter; two were UBP, two were OBA and thirteen were PLP. Both UBP MPs — Kim Swan, Charles Swan — spoke; while Pat Gordon Pamplin and Shawn Crockwell from the OBA also spoke.
The PLP MPs who spoke were Premier Paula Cox, Derrick Burgess, Zane DeSilva, Marc Bean, Wayne Perinchief, Darius Tucker, Neletha Butterfield, Dame Jennifer Smith, Terry Lister, Lovitta Foggo, Michael Scott, Dennis Lister, and Glenn Blakeney.
Those that, for whatever reason, did not speak on the take note motion included [PLP] Walter Lister, Randy Horton, Elvin James, Dale Butler, Alex Scott, Ashfield Devent, Michael Weeks, Walter Roban, Patrice Minors, Wayne Furbert, [OBA] Craig Cannonier, Mark Pettingill, Dr Grant Gibbons, Louise Jackson, Trevor Moniz, Bob Richards, Cole Simons, and Donte Hunt.
Minister Glenn Blakeney lead the debate on the take note motion “That this Honourable House take note of the merits of introducing an Equality Act which will establish measures protecting persons from age discrimination, and discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation, particularly in circumstances relating to employment, accommodation and the procurement of goods and services.”
Support for banning age discrimination was almost universal among MPs, while the debate on banning discrimination based on sexual orientation was more varied.
After Minister Blakeney’s speech, the OBA’s Shawn Crockwell was the first MP to speak, saying the OBA believes in “eradicating all forms of discrimination.”
“We were not elected just to protect the majority, but we were elected to ensure everyone receives protection under the law,” Mr Crockwell said. “Everyone deserves representation in this House of Assembly, and everyone deserves protection under the law.”
Mr Crockwell went on to say: “Surely the Minister cannot be serious, to stand up and say this Government has been committed to eradicating discrimination as it relates to age and sexual orientation, because if the Government was committed to doing it we would have a bill before the House today.”
Minister Blakeney interrupted with a ‘point of order’, saying “My point of order is his opinion is out of order.” The Minister and Mr Crockwell went back and forth on certain points, with Speaker of the House Stanley Lowe interrupting them, giving a short lecture, and saying “let’s get on with it.”
“It’s time this Government stops playing politics with people’s human rights. It’s as simple as that,” said Mr Crockwell.
PLP MP Derrick Burgess spoke after Mr Crockwell, saying: “When it comes to the discrimination based on sexual orientation, I will take my lead from my Church. I am not for discriminating against anyone, but I do have a problem with what our children see today…”
“I will take my lead from the Church, I am from the AME Church, and I think their stance on that is no secret. When it comes to age discrimination, I certainly will always be against that,” said Mr Burgess.
UBP MP Charlie Swan then spoke, saying that while in his view it is impossible to eradicate all discrimination, he said that discrimination of any form is wrong, “it doesn’t matter who its perpetrated against.”
“I believe everyone deserves equal treatment when it comes to hiring and employment, these are concrete things. If they are gay or lesbian and they can do the job they should be considered on their merits.”
Minister Michael Scott spoke next, and was clear in his support for adding banning discrimination based on sexual orientation or age.
“I support the removal of discrimination against homosexuals, the introduction of two simple words – sexual orientation – within the framework of our laws.”
OBA Pat Gordon Pamplin referenced Mr Crockwell’s statement, and said we are “singular in our position regarding equality” and encouraged the Minister to bring the legislation. She also noted we are talking in “terms of sexual orientation not sexual behaviour, we have to make that distinction.”
She noted Mr Burgess’ statement about following his Church, and said while she respects that position, “at no time does any Pastor say that because your sexual orientation is different from mine don’t give me your collection on a Sunday. That doesn’t happen. And that’s being very real.”
UBP MP Kim Swan said, “”I do not feel that God has created anyone in this earth that doesn’t deserve the same protection I have,” and quoted Coretta Scott King [below].
My husband, Martin Luther King Jr., once said, “We are all tied together in a single garment of destiny… an inescapable network of mutuality,… I can never be what I ought to be until you are allowed to be what you ought to be.” Therefore, I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.
Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Ga. and St. Augustine, Fla., and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.
Minister Dame Jennifer Smith spoke next saying, ”I believe the Human Rights Act, as it is written, covers the rights of all humans as is.”
“Even though I am a member of the AME Church, and even though I think its fine as it is, I would be willing to vote for that change as ‘those who feel it know it.’ There is one judge, and that judge will judge all of us when that day comes.”
PLP MP Terry Lister followed Dame Jennifer, he did not really touch on the issue of sexual orientation, however spoke in support of banning age discrimination.
Following Mr Lister was PLP MP Lovitta Foggo who said some will try to use the legislation as the “biggest political football you can imagine,” and commended Minister Blakeney for bringing the matter to debate.
Minister Zane DeSilva spoke in support of banning discrimination based on age, and moving onto sexual orientation pointed out that it “goes both ways” and gay people could discriminate against straight people as well.
“When it comes to the gay community, I don’t mind what anyone does in their own home. I’m not in that category, but I have some very good friends who are gay, I have no problem with that.”
PLP MP Neletha Butterfield was the next to contribute, thanking Minister Blakeney for bringing the matter to debate. “Lets show respect, the church has its duty to do, and we have our duty to do as we pass legislation in this House,” said Ms Butterfield.
“We are all God’s children,” said Ms Butterfield. “If you cut us we will all bleed the same colour, I haven’t seen anyone bleed different yet.”
PLP MP Dennis Lister said he supported banning discrimination based on age, and noted that the matter of discrimination based on sexual orientation has come to the House on two other occasions, and he voted against both motions. ”I still have not been moved from where I have been in the past, and I want to be noted for that…” he said.
“I am not opposed to the individual, I don’t want individuals to get offended or take it personally….it’s always the behaviour that I have my concern in that regard. As a member of the Church, I feel we should love and forgive everyone – always.”
“Maybe one day, by time you get around to bringing legislation, you can find a way to change my viewpoint, but I haven’t moved from that yet,” said Mr Lister.
Minister Marc Bean spoke first on age discrimination, mentioning the various contributions made by senior citizens to the community and said it “is never too late until you have to go see Chippo Augustus.”
Moving onto sexual orientation, Minister Bean said he doesn’t feel there is any need to alter the Human Right Act.
The Minister said that: “Governments should guarantee the rights of every single human being, not because they are black, or gay or women but as they are human beings.”
He spoke on public and private rights, and used renting apartments as an example noting some landlords do not want pets or smokers. “You have every right to say that, because it’s your property.”
“If I am a landlord and I do not want gay persons in my apartment, I think it’s their right to deny anyone to rent their apartment. You know why, because they are responsible for that mortgage, it’s their house, it’s their property.
Minister Bean said that is a private right, but under public rights everyone can buy their own house, and do what they like in the privacy of their own house.
“In other words, gay people can go and buy a mansion and they can have the biggest rainbow circle gay parties and bashments all they like on their property. And even if their next door neighbour doesn’t like it, even if their next door neighbour is a Bishop of a Church, that Bishop has to suck it up.”
Minister Bean also noted that there have been, are are today, MPs who are “openly or not so openly gay.”
PLP MP Darius Tucker was next, and said: “We have a Human Acts Right in place and under that Act all humans are protected,” and said there is enough legislation in place without “defining what a human being is.”
“I personally don’t feel we need to go down this road, because as a human being the necessary protections are in place for every human being within this country,” said Mr Tucker. “We are fine with the Human Rights Act, and don’t need to add any words to it…”
Next to speak was Minister Wayne Perinchief, with the 71-year-old saying he is “creeping to the top of ageism” and noted that “wisdom comes with age”, and spoke against discrimination based on age.
He also spoke in support of banning discrimination based on sexual orientation. ”To presume that a person’s behaviour is immoral is to put oneself in a position of being judge and jury, and the sole arbiter of human behaviour,” said the Minister.
“I do not believe we as individuals — with all our frailties and foibles — have the right to set ourselves up as the paragons of virtue. That, to me, is an arrogant position.”
“I believe that most right thinking people feel honestly that gay people should not be discriminated against,” said Minister Perinchief. “Those of us who have experienced discrimination know that it’s sometimes covert. It’s not always in your face.”
“Any type of discrimination is wrong, and if we believe that gay people are being discriminated against, we must right that wrong and put it into legislation that they shall not, and will not, be discriminated against and make that amendment in our Human Rights Act.”
Premier Paula Cox was the last to speak on the matter, commencing at around 9.15pm. On the matter of discrimination based on sexual orientation she referenced the motion former MP Renee Webb brought and said: “My position, particularly as a lawyer, is clear.
“And it was clear then to the Honourable Member Ms Webb, she didn’t like it, but I said that I thought that widening it so you just had blanket sexual orientation wasn’t appropriate.
“But I did think that you should have the ability to have discrimination based on employment, accommodation and services. I think you cannot, in my view, discriminate on those grounds.”
Noting she was talking about consenting adults and not anyone taking advantage of someone of a young age or mental disability, the Premier said: “To be quite honest, its not our jobs to get into people’s bedrooms.
“We should not be using that as a way to disqualify or dis-entitle people based on their employment and accommodation and services. “
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