Thursday, August 22, 2013

Sexual Orientation Beyond Athletes (Gleaner Editorial)

Jamaica Gleaner Company

On the face of it, the Jamaican Government cares naught about the sexual orientation of the country's athletes and feels there is no need for any special policy to protect gays in sports.

Sport, says Natalie Neita-Headley, the minister with responsibility for that portfolio, "is a right and privilege" of all Jamaicans.

"We have not been in the business of seeking to find out who is this and who is not and what is your sexual preference," she told this newspaper.

We agree with the principle.

Indeed, no one, we can recall, asks about the sexual orientation of our athletes or rejects the glory they bring to sport.

But this fact, and the non-discriminatory sports policy highlighted by Mrs Neita-Headley, masks the crisis of discrimination faced by gays in Jamaica, which the State has done too little to tackle.

The greatest metaphor for Jamaica's anti-gay discrimination is the maintenance of the law against buggery, which makes anal sex an offence.


Despite its potential for trapping heterosexual couples, this legislation is primarily aimed at homosexual males, presuming their relationship to be criminal. Further, it casts the State as a voyeur and, in a sense, helps to give credence to Jamaica's thick overlay of homophobia.

So, it is good of an athlete to run fast and jump high and win medals for Jamaica, for which he or she is likely to receive great adulation.

Yet, if that athlete, say, a male, were to cross-dress and attend a dance, he could well be beaten, stabbed, shot, his body dumped in bushes, then have people rationalise his murder. It would be hardly surprising to anyone if the investigative authorities were lethargic in pursuing such a case, especially if the victim was not socially high-placed and of renown.

Attitudes towards gays in Jamaica have indeed improved in recent years, but real transformation and full acceptance of their rights as individuals in accordance with the Constitution demands leadership. That, primarily, is the responsibility of the Government, from which it has been lacking.


Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller made a small, but politically courageous step in this direction during the campaign for the last election with her declaration that sexual orientation would not be an issue in determining her Cabinet.

She also promised a parliamentary conscience vote on the buggery law. But the prime minister has caused her administration to do little about arguing the logic, morality, in terms of human rights, and other merits of the law's repeal. In this respect, it is perhaps a good thing that the vote has been delayed.

Additionally, there is the matter of the Government's Public Broadcasting Corporation of Jamaica (PBCJ) being joined in a constitutional-rights case for having refused to broadcast an advertisement promoting tolerance and respect for gays. It may be by statute that the PBCJ is barred from accepting paid advertisements.

However, it would seem to us that a policy directive could be for such a programme to be aired as a free, public-service broadcast. In any event, the Government, as a signal of its moral leadership, could direct PBCJ to, if not concede the legal issue, negotiate settlement of the matter.

The opinions on their page, except for the above, do not necessarily reflect the views of The Gleaner. To respond to a Gleaner editorial, email them: or fax: 922-6223. Responses should be no longer than 400 words. Not all responses will be published.


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