The Royal Gazette
Opinion (June 07, 2006)
It’s too early to declare Friday’s Parliamentary protest a turning point in Bermudian politics, but it was significant.
If those who converged on the hill to confront their mute politicians take one thing from the exercise it should be that a little anger, appropriately channeled, produces results.
After indicating that he’d be taking up the Parliamentary salary increases, the Premier changed course, acutely aware that for MPs to raise their own pay, hard on the heels of an unexpectedly large protest, would further inflame matters.
Rest assured that our elected representatives do take notice when they’re being watched by a public no longer willing to tolerate fast-ones being pulled at their expense.
There are a number of important lessons from the past several weeks, as well as the unintentional exploding of some long held myths and misconceptions – to borrow a quaint phrase from the Bamboozle Indoctrinate and Condition (BIC) Report – about Bermuda politics.
First, one of the lessons.
While the churches have received a disproportionate amount of attention for their political lobbying, their methods should be emulated not attacked. Churches will always be a potent political force; they’re active, organized and unafraid to air their views. That’s not a negative.
Those angered over the lack of debate and rejection of the Human Rights Code (HRC) amendment shouldn’t get mad, they should get even by tearing a page out of the Church’s handbook: get active, organized and air your views.
Sitting around with the expectation that politicians will understand what’s expected – simply by osmosis – and do the right thing is pointless.
On Friday, the protestors succeeded in getting the attention of the Premier, Dale Butler, the Opposition Leader and most of their colleagues. While they’d all wish the issue went away, it continues to dominate the news cycle.
This issue has legs. The next step is to keep up the pressure.
Another important outcome of this Human Rights saga is that an old political adage may have been turned on its head; what you see is not always what you get, perception doesn’t always equal reality.
For decades the PLP have presented themselves as the party of principle, a de facto civil rights movement which views the world through a prism of right and wrong; a collection of individuals committed without exception to the cause of equality and human rights.
The lie has been put to that idea. It’s evident that the PLP leadership does not stand against discrimination nor for equality; they’re not interested in right and wrong, only black and white.
This pro-discrimination view was laid bare by PLP Central Committee member Laverne Furbert in her recent – no doubt angrily penned and hence highly revealing – Letter to the Editor (The Royal Gazette, June 2nd, 2006).
Setting aside the classic ‘but I have gay friends’ lead-in and subsequent inference that homosexuals are AIDS riddled heroin addicts, her defense of discrimination was rife with hypocrisy and prejudice, the likes of which she’d rightly rage against were the word “homosexual” exchanged for “black”.
Ms. Furbert confidently states that a sexual orientation amendment to the HRC is unnecessary as she “saw no evidence of either of [the only two gay people she’s ever known but who are now dead] being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.”
Is that so?
What would the reaction be if someone were to make the following statement?
“I know a couple of black people and I’ve never seen any evidence of them being discriminated against because of their race, therefore there’s no need to list race in the HRC.”
Rest-assured you should run for cover while Ms. Furbert and her PLP colleagues fuel their flame-throwers.
And let’s dispense early with the predictable response to this comparison: homosexuality is a choice, race is not, therefore there is no parallel. While meaty fodder for debate, it’s absolutely irrelevant from a human rights perspective.
Not only is Ms. Furbert protected from discrimination based on her race, so are her political and religious views which are choices. The Human Rights Code doesn’t just cover matters genetic, it covers choices such as those political or religious; ironically the very protected classes which are being used as the foundation for her pro sexual discrimination stance.
The most damning and revealing statement in the letter comes at the end, with the suggestion that in Bermuda a hierarchy of discrimination exists, with race firmly perched on top:
“I must remind those who think that the matter should have been debated last Friday, that slavery was abolished in Bermuda in 1834, however it took over 100 years of debate, public demonstrations, and other forms of protest before blacks were legally considered equal to whites”.
Which is loosely translated to “race trumps sexual orientation, you’ve got another hundred or so years before you should expect to be treated as an equal.”
A lovely sentiment indeed. Not only does it cut to the heart of the politics of the PLP but it exposes a key myth.
The PLP Government and their puppet masters don’t value broad based human rights; they’re interested in race and only race. Everything else comes a distant second, as confirmed on Friday by one unmoved PLP MP who was overheard saying “these are your people” to a UBP MP, reflecting on the complexion of the protestors.
This myth feeds into another, one long overdue for debunking.
How many times have we seen supremely-assured-in-their-blackness PLP members verbally assault black UBP members as “sell-outs”, “Uncle Tom’s” or “House N**gers” for their involvement in a supposedly “white” (ie. anti-black) party?
Apply this same logic to Dale Butler for example, who recently espoused this position when he accused blacks who join the UBP as wanting “to be white” – and for the record Mr. Butler, no-one buys your belated “I said wanted to be ‘right’ not white” nonsense.
So how do these racial attacks, black or white, all or nothing positions reconcile with his stance on sexual orientation?
Mr. Butler is a supporter of the amendment (but had to pee), was unable to garner the support of his political colleagues yet continues to serve in a party espousing an anti-gay pro-discrimination agenda?
The answer is they don’t.
Even more striking were Julian Hall’s comments about the PLP leadership, which touched on the open secret of Bermuda politics (and the ultimate irony of the defeat of the sexual orientation amendment):
“It isn’t for me to ‘out’ anybody but they have enough gay and bisexual members in their own ranks, I would have thought, to protect.”
Uh-oh. Sell-outs anyone?
Bermuda’s political evolution has been held hostage to a single issue for too long. It’s time to get active, organized and unafraid. Race is but one human rights issue, not the only one.