Political Scientist Peter Wickham has praised Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s apparent intention to gradually address discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation still entrenched in law.
But he has also warned that too much negative publicity about the country’s “colonial” laws could have a negative impact on the success of an ongoing campaign to attract remote workers to the country.
Initially, Government’s online application process for the Welcome Stamp initiative indicated that the lead applicant would be allowed to bring his or her spouse. It restricted the definition of a spouse to a relationship between a man and a woman.
The development drew ire from numerous observers including Wickham. He described it as “obvious discrimination” and an indictment on his own same-sex marriage.
Since then, the policy was amended to reflect a more neutral and inclusive position, which was followed by a declaration from the Prime Minister that her administration would not preside over discriminatory policies.
“There is an issue as to who Barbados will welcome and who it will not welcome, and I want to say that as long as I am Prime Minister of this nation, we welcome all. Everyone,” she declared to rousing applause from her colleagues in the House of Assembly.
“This country that has been forged, regrettably in the bowels of discrimination cannot now want to discriminate against anybody for any reason. All must breathe. All must breathe in this world and in this country.”
She also acknowledged that there are other difficult discussions about discrimination that needed to be addressed, and pledged to facilitate such talks at a later date.
The Prime Minister said: “We get it. There are difficult discussions that we must have as a nation and now is not the time to have those discussions, and what I do know is that the member for St Peter has a bill before this honorable chamber that says there shall be no discrimination on any grounds in the workplace.
No discrimination on the grounds of race, no discrimination on the grounds of age, no discrimination on the grounds of colour, no discrimination on the grounds of gender and no discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.”
When asked to respond to the Prime Minister’s assertions, Wickham praised her for “seizing the moment”, but admitted the process would require many more small steps to reach the ultimate goal.
The political scientist, currently living in France, said: “We made a big one today by acknowledging that something needed to be said about a misleading statement that the government made online. This is a process and I am expecting that ultimately we will end up in a completely different place than we are now as a country.
“I love Barbados, I love my country, and I appreciate that France would have gone through a similar process years ago, and Barbados is now moving in that direction. I have to temper my anxiety with an appreciation for the fact that we are going somewhere.”
But he warned that the Welcome Stamp initiative that has gained tremendous traction in the international media could be swiftly discredited if the country’s discriminatory laws become a major talking point.
Wickham explained: “The majority of people who are going to take up the stamp are not going to be homosexual, but a lot of people in Europe especially are conscious of progressive environments.
“And so, they may not be gay, but they do not like to be in homophobic spaces. They don’t want to be in an environment that is being backward, even in terms of the disabled community and ‘fat discrimination’.
“I do feel it could have a negative impact because of the fact that it has become so popular overnight, and now it is being clouded by this. For that reason, I am happy that the Prime Minister came out quickly and responded.”