The LGBT debate: A historic perspective
Nassau, The Bahamas
Although Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell has come under fire over comments he made in support of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, The Bahamas has a long history of legislatively supporting all people, regardless of race, creed or sexual orientation.
Mitchell recently told a group of university students in Trinidad that his political career suffers because he supports the rights of LGBT people.
Bahamas Faith Ministries International President Dr. Myles Munroe has accused Mitchell of having convictions that are not shared by the majority of Bahamians and has called for his removal.
However, as Mitchell has said, his views are nothing new.
In fact, many politicians have spoken in support of the rights of LGBT people in The Bahamas from as far back as 1989.
During the last term of the Pindling administration, the government brought two amendments to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act, the first in 1989 and the latter in 1991.
Both amendments dealt with a wide range of matters, including the controversial issue of homosexuality and sparked debate in the House of Assembly and the country.
In October 1989, the government made amendments to the Sexual Offences and Domestic Violence Act that, among other things, made buggery and “unnatural connection” with any animal an offense with a prison term of 20 years. The amendment also made sex between two women an offense that also carried a 20-year penalty.
It should be noted that buggery was a crime in the country long before the 1989 amendment.
At the time, National Security Minister Paul Adderley said the bill sought to “limit people’s choice in the matter of sexual preference”.
Even then, MPs were outspoken against policing the “bedroom business of Bahamians”.
Bamboo Town MP Tennyson Wells said the government “had no right to legislate the private lives of individuals”.
While he described homosexuality and lesbianism as unnatural, Wells said if the bill was passed, it could never be fully enforced, unless the country became a police state.
Ann’s Town MP A.D. Hanna, who spoke out against the bill, said the issue was a question of morality.
“And as we are tidying up…go all the way, like true PLPs, and spell out what adultery is permitted and what adultery is not permitted in the law,” he said.
Hanna said the government should think twice before making homosexuality a crime without investigating it.
He said he did not think gays and lesbians were a scourge on society or that homosexuality was practiced widely in the country.
Hubert Ingraham, who at the time was the MP for Cooper’s Town, retorted that Hanna was wrong and that “even Parliament is not excluded from having its per centum of gays”.
House Speaker Sir Clifford Darling said that was news to him.
“I didn’t know parliamentarians were gay,” he said.
The amendments were later passed.
In 1991, the government made further amendments to the Sexual Offences Act.
Section 16 of the bill made it an offense for someone to have sex with a member of the same sex, with or without the consent of that other person, in a public place or with a minor.
The amended law removed the criminalization of buggery and lesbianism in private. But that was not how the bill entered Parliament.
According to previous Nassau Guardian stories at the time, the government’s first draft seems not to have included the phrase, in a public place.
Many MPs voiced opposition to legislating morality.
Marathon MP Algernon Allen asked, “Is homosexuality so heinous and offensive a form of social conduct that we ought to imprison persons for that conduct?”
He said Parliament is “really the worst judge of morality”.
Rolleville MP George Smith said while he does not support unnatural sexual acts, he had to temper his views. He said the government should be careful that the bill does not result in a police force conducting witch-hunts for homosexuals.
Saint Barnabas MP Matthew Rose said it was nobody’s business if someone wants to engage in homosexual acts.
At the time, he said the government should address the topic of homosexuality instead of trying to send homosexuals to prison.
Opposition Leader Hubert Ingraham said he had never seen so many MPs better prepared for a debate nor had he seen them do so much research for one either.
“Hopefully these tongues are not only going to be loosened when they are talking about homosexuality and lesbians,” he said at the time.
The bill was later amended and passed.
On February 3, 1998, members of the Bahamas Christian Council along with at least 100 supporters protested on Bay Street against a gay cruise ship that was scheduled to visit the Berry Islands. The ship reportedly had 900 openly gay visitors.
Christian Council Vice President Simeon Hall said while the group had no quarrel with lesbian and gay people, it did not want the promotion of homosexuality on Bahamian shores.
In March of that year, the Save The Bahamas group, made up of church leaders, led hundreds of people in a protest on Bay Street against a Holland American cruise ship, that was allegedly carrying gay passengers.
Pastor Mario Moxey, president of the group, called on the government to acknowledge that Bahamians were outraged by gay cruises visits.
A day before the protest, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham said the country would not turn away any tourists who classified themselves as gay.
On March 8, Ingraham released the government’s official position on gay cruises.
He said he was “chilled by the vehemence of expressions” against gay and lesbian people by the public.
Ingraham added that the future of the country would not be placed in “danger because chartered cruises by gay persons is permitted to continue to call at Bahamian ports”.
A cruise ship carrying 800 lesbians in April faced similar anti-gay protestors. Confronted by hundreds of angry protestors and anti-gay placards, passengers of the Seabreeze reportedly vowed never to return to The Bahamas.
Amid the controversy, National Security Minister Frank Watson affirmed the government’s position of gay and lesbians serving in the country’s armed forces.
He said the government will not discriminate against homosexuals in the police force, Defence Force and officers serving at the prison.
“What consenting adults do between themselves in the privacy of their home is nobody’s business,” he said.
This was a far cry from the 1989 amendments that criminalized sexual intercourse between homosexuals.
In 2004, gay and lesbian passengers on the Norwegian Dawn that docked in Nassau were greeted by hundreds of angry protestors from Save The Bahamas.
Protestors were yelling anti-gay chants, “Gay ways are not God’s ways”.
R. Family Vacations, a company created by openly gay American TV talk show host Rosie O’Donnell and her wife Kelli, organized the cruise.
Members of The Bahamas Rainbow Alliance, a now defunct pro LGBT group, also greeted the passengers.
It was unclear if Prime Minister Perry Christie offered any position on the matter.
In September 2005, Miss Teen Bahamas Gari McDonald, 18, was stripped of her crown a week after she publicly admitted that she was a lesbian.
McDonald alleged that the she was given an ultimatum by the beauty pageant’s committee of “gracefully stepping down or having to deal with the embarrassment of being stripped” on the basis of an accusation of harassment and her sexuality.
McDonald said prior to entering the pageant, the question of sexuality never arose. She was crowned on November 4, 2004.
Miss Teen Bahamas Director Richa Sands said McDonald “put to the media and the world at large her sexual orientation as a teenager”.
“For us that is a major problem because we don’t stand for that,” she said.
Sands said moving forward, the committee would have to deal with the matter and ensure that something similar never happens again.
In 2006, the Bahamas Plays and Films Control Board banned the movie Brokeback Mountain because it featured “extreme homosexuality, nudity and profanity”.
The Rainbow Alliance called it “a farce” that a small group of people should try to “provide the moral compass for the entire country”.
In 2011, Foreign Affairs Minister Brent Symonette said the government supported a United Nations Human Rights Council resolution that affirmed equal rights for LGBT people.
The resolution, which was introduced by South Africa, expressed grave concern about the discrimination of gays throughout the world and affirmed that freedom to choose sexuality is a human right.
It was the first ever UN resolution on the human rights of LGBT people.
While The Bahamas did not have a seat on the council, Symonette said the government is in favor of the resolution.
“Our record is clear, we continue to support freedom of expression and the right for people to express their opinions,” he said in June 2011.
Later that month at a press conference, Opposition Leader Perry Christie said the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) supported the resolution. He said the PLP has “always been committed to progressive policies - policies that emphasize our commitment to human rights”.
The LGBT debate has once again hit the public consciousness with Dr. Myles Munroe and the foreign minister, Mitchell, being embroiled in a nasty public spat.
Speaking recently on the popular Love 97 FM talk show, Jones and Co., former Parliamentarian Algernon Allen said his Christianity is not confined, but all encompassing.
Allen spoke of tolerance and said the government has to pursue certain objectives for the good of the state.
Former parliamentarian George Smith told The Guardian recently that human rights transcends whether a person is gay or straight.
‘We have to hold up the rights of all human beings,” he said.
March 17, 2014