“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” – Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham Jail”
There is pride. And then there is pride.
There is “the pride that makes no wanton boast of what it has withstood/ that binds our hearts from coast to coast/ the pride of nationhood” – as our national anthem extols. There is the pride supposedly self-evident in the motto on our coat of arms – Pride and Industry.
There is pride, too, that cometh before a fall; baseless, needless, self-righteous, arrogance, a sense of superiority, exceptionalism, the fruits of which are prejudice and discrimination.
And there is the pride, too, of accepting, embracing and even rejoicing in, differences.
Last month, the pride of several of our citizens in expressing the love that for far too long dare not speak its name, was on national display during what was PRIDE Month.
In Barbados and elsewhere in our globe, scores, then hundreds, then thousands, then millions marched in public to demonstrate their lack of shame and disgrace for choosing to love who they love. And we are proud of them as much as we are increasingly proud that our nation continues to grow up, with yet more tolerance, acceptance, and sisterly and brotherly love of the other.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transexual and other-gendered people (LGBT+) have for too long worn in this country a scarlet letter that sets them apart from the mainstream of our society, denied in many instances the full fruits of citizenship.
Many of us, in our private places, religious places and workspaces have practised discrimination, prejudice, hatred, fear, ostracism, cruelty and ignorance against people who mostly through no active choice or active malice on their part, find themselves loving who they love.
Perhaps, as racism is the original sin of a once enslaving nation, homophobia is the enduring sin of modern Barbados. We posit that homophobia harms so-called straight people as much as it does LGBT+ people; for no one who enters into an oppressive environment escapes unscathed.
We are a people so crushed by homophobia and sexism that males cannot embrace each other, display affection or tender emotion or indeed deep feelings, save for toxic masculinity, rage, abuse, or consider themselves nurturers. How imprisoning it is to be held behind bars, where only violent thoughts, expressions and actions are given free rein.
We, the descendants of formerly enslaved people and their former owners and masters, should know a thing or two about oppression and should dedicate our lives, as many of our ancestors did, to ensuring that this nation rises up fully free.
But to the extent that some members of our society are compelled to wear shackles of oppression, this nation cannot declare itself to be truly free.
We do, however, acknowledge that as a work in progress, our nation is making positive steps in recognising the sheer humanity of LGBT+ people.
This was evident in the month-long celebrations just concluded with a lively parade through Bridgetown on the last day of June.
Leading that parade of pride were advocates for justice and equality, Didi Winston and Ro-Ann Mohammed, who along with others have worked tirelessly to shift public attitudes.
The fight is not yet over. Homophobia, transphobia and the lack of ease of accessing services continues to dog efforts at achieving equality
But together with social progress, there needs to be legislative change.
We, therefore, think it is high time that antiquated, unjust, colonial-era laws against homosexuality be erased from our statute books, just as our forebears abolished the laws that bound slavery to this island for the first 210 years of its existence. There has been no evidence of fact or figure that has yet been presented to demonstrate that decriminalisation leads to any weakening of national moral fibre or indeed, demographic alteration. On the contrary, there is ample testimony to a people’s stunted growth in climates of authoritarianism and apartheid.
Indeed, we are doing great injustice to what many describe as a Christian nation – though we are indeed a multicultural, multifaith society – by not adhering to the central tenet of loving our neighbours as ourselves.
We call upon our religious leaders to abandon Old Testament fire-and-brimstone oratory and help bind our collective wounds with the Gospel of love, acceptance, understanding, tolerance and forgiveness.
Not 200 years ago, the “reality” was that the vast majority of the populace of this country were, by virtue of the colour of their skin, inherently inferior, could never govern themselves, their scions being ultimately incapable of reaching the lofty heights of human endeavour and civilised conduct. That lie was carried with religious fervour and firm conviction by people who swore that as true as John 3:16, we were meant to be hewers of wood and drawers of water. Forever.
We must forgive them, for they knew not that Reality is a social construct. It can change with the power of one and change others with the power of many.
Thus, that reality of institutionalised slavery, discrimination and exploitation happily were erased by the simple, inexorable truth of the humanity of all people.
But just as that mote was removed from the eye of both slaver and enslaved, is it not time to take the beam out of our eyes as we seek to judge not the conduct of others for their choice of partner but the conduct of our ourselves as human beings to other human beings?
On Sunday, Ro-Ann Mohammed told this newspaper: “We talk about legislative change a lot but I do think that societal change is equally important and I think it is important to see allies stepping out and holding their counterparts accountable, and showing their support for the community because it is a great thing to be an ally in private and in secret but there is no point of you allyship if you cannot come out and stand up with those who the actual vulnerable ones.”
We could not agree more.
We accept that many Barbadians are still riddled with guilt, shame, remorse and fear over what many consider a taboo. Indeed, a great many important things keep many Barbadians cowering in their homes.
But just as the abolitionists of the 18th and 19th centuries slowly but surely drew the common man and woman out of the crusty shell of racist prejudice to defeat slavery, surely it is time for us as a people to crawl out of an exoskeleton of homophobia and transphobia.
It is time to join hands with all our fellow citizens and walk towards a new, emancipated dawn for our nation where, as strict guardians of our heritage and firm craftsmen of our fate, all of us live a life that is equal before the law and our Creator, and is inspired, exulting, free.