Government senator Cromwell Shakir is absolutely right to call for the current debate on discrimination against gays to be elevated. Although “debate” is perhaps not the word to describe the hysterical outpouring of ignorance and hatred that has followed the recent Home Is Where The Hatred rally at City Hall.
The bizarre and hateful comments of preacher Scott Smith about rally leader Krystl Assan and how gays would bring “damnation” to Bermuda have been well documented. What is equally disturbing to me though are the online comments and posts either supporting Mr Smith or attacking him. Many of us are guilty in the Facebook age of firing off an angry, ill-considered post rather than having a civilised discussion about an issue.
I’m certainly not advocating a curtailing of free speech but I do think editors and online moderators need to think more about what letters and comments they publish. If such inflammatory comments were attacking Jews, Muslims or blacks, in most western democracies they would face prosecution as an incitement to hatred. Yet in Bermuda we allow such attacks on gays – and for that matter, expatriate workers – even though The Royal Gazette clearly states that Letters To The Editor written under a pen name should not contain personal attacks. Freedom of speech, as I’ve said before on this blog, comes with responsibility.
While I understand that some people – and Mr Smith is far from an isolated case, of course – find the thought of gay relationships and physical sex abhorrent, I don’t understand the level of hatred that they express. Many gay people that I know did not “choose” to be gay and often went through much trauma and suffering before coming to terms with their sexuality. They could no more choose to be gay than Mr. Smith “chooses” to be black or I “choose” to be white, or the disabled person “chooses” to spend his life in a wheelchair. It’s not an option, simple as that.
I don’t understand quite what it is the anti-gay lobby is afraid of. Do they think gays are asking for the right to have sex on the steps of City Hall? Do they think that because someone is gay that they have an agenda to somehow try and “persuade” children to “become” gay? Not only is this nonsense but I would be far more concerned about children being influenced by the abusive, drug-taking, violent and adulterous actions of heterosexuals we witness every day.
There is much hysterical talk about a “gay lifestyle”, whatever that is. One’s lifestyle choices may or may not be influenced by your background, upbringing, race or gender. Most gays in my experience live a pretty normal existence like the rest of us. What they do in the privacy of their home is none of my business. Being gay does not preclude anyone from being an intelligent, caring and productive member of society any more than it precludes them from the foibles we all share as human beings regardless of race, religion or ethnicity. These haters must surely know that plenty of Bermuda’s politicians, lawyers, accountants, captains of industry, doctors and nurses – people they trust with their very lives – are gay?
At times like this I almost wish many of our prominent gays would stand up and be counted. But why should they? Being gay is a private matter and one’s sexuality shouldn’t matter. I could fill the rest of this page with the names of gay Bermudians I admire who have made valuable and lasting contributions to Bermuda’s community and history. But I won’t do so for the same reason many Bermudian gays won’t go public: in the present climate they may at the very least be ostracised socially or worse, face downright discrimination or even physical assaults. That is a sad and unacceptable state of affairs in a place like Bermuda in the 21st century.
Would it be right or acceptable to refuse Scott Smith service in a restaurant or entrance to a movie theatre because of the colour of his skin? Of course not. Refusing to acknowledge the human rights of gays isn’t either.
I suggest that the next time Mr. Smith and others who share his beliefs are in Washington, D.C, they visit the Holocaust Memorial Museum. I hope it will give them food for thought.