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Discrimination, homophobia, privilege and hate speech in Cayman Islands Legislative Assembly

Screen Shot 2015-08-22 at 6.47.47 PMBy James Austen- Smith From Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission

Like many others in Cayman, and elsewhere, the members of the Human Rights Commission were shocked to read reports of a ‘debate’ which took place in the Legislative Assembly on 13 August 2015 during which MLAs purported to discuss the definition of marriage. The Commission was disappointed that certain Members utilised the privilege afforded to them by their elected positions to peddle inaccurate, vitriolic, and thoroughly hateful misinformation concerning an already maligned section of the public — members of our LGBTI community.

suckooThese comments were widely reported and the Commission does not propose to dignify such poisonous hate speech and threats of violence by repeating them further. It is, however, quite clear that (even if not deliberately calculated to do so) these statements were likely to incite hatred against the LGBTI community. Parliamentary privilege is just that — a privilege; with it comes great responsibility. It was disappointing to see it so disgracefully abused last week. It is also a source of particular regret that, apparently, the overwhelming majority of Members present at that ‘debate’ did not see fit to challenge these statements in any way.

edenNotwithstanding this thoroughly shameful episode, the Commission was heartened to read the comments made yesterday by the Hon Wayne Panton, Minister of Financial Services, standing up for those members of our community subjected to discrimination, abuse, bullying and even violence because of their sexual orientation. LGBTI individuals’ sexual orientation causes no harm to others in our community, yet they are the victims of some of its most disgraceful treatment and discriminated against by laws passed by the very body responsible for their protection. Mr Panton’s brave and principled stand in the face of these venomous comments and the silence of the majority of his fellow MLAs is to be applauded in the strongest possible terms.

caymanAs a result of the statements made in the Legislative Assembly the Chairman of the Commission has written to the Honourable Premier asking him to restate the government’s commitment to the prevention of discrimination against individuals based on their sexual orientation under both its domestic and international obligations. A copy of that letter follows:

From: Cayman Islands Human Rights Commission
To: Honourable Alden McLaughlin Jr., MBE, JP
Premier and Minister of Home and Community Affairs
5th Floor Government Administration Building
Grand Cayman KY1-9000

19 August 2015

Dear Honourable Premier,

I write further to the reports of a debate in the Legislative Assembly on 13th August 2015 during which the Members discussed a motion to retain the definition of marriage articulated in section 2 of the Marriage Law (2010 Revision).

I was shocked to read the statements attributed to certain members of the Legislative Assembly. I infer from the fact that the Members in question have not sought to distance themselves from the comments attributed to them that the reports are accurate.

During the debate various statements were made which included:
 Equating homosexuality with bestiality
 Equating homosexuality with pedophilia
 Claiming that homosexuality was “deviant behavior”, “wicked and immoral” and a
“social and moral evil”
 Making personal threats of violence towards homosexuals
 Suggesting that “crushing a baby’s skull and sucking their brains out had become a
human right”

I was disappointed that not one Member (of those present) appears to have challenged statements that were clearly false and, even if not actually calculated to incite hatred, were certainly likely to. Had these statements been made outside the privilege provided by the Legislative Assembly it is quite likely that they could have constituted the commission of a criminal offence contrary to, inter alia, section 88B of the Penal Code (2013 Revision). The protection from suit accorded to Members of the Legislative Assembly is wide-ranging. It is necessary in a democracy to ensure freedom of speech and to encourage proper debate. It is though a privilege in every sense of the word and with it comes great responsibility; to take advantage of it venomously to perpetuate discrimination against an already maligned section of the public is an abuse of that responsibility.

Throughout the Cayman Islands many of our citizens and residents are subject to discrimination on a daily basis. That discrimination against LGBTI people is enshrined in the laws of the Cayman Islands is a stain on our nation. That a Member of the Legislative Assembly, and of your Government, should articulate such views unchallenged is a cause for the utmost regret.

As you are aware the European Court of Human Rights has recently ruled that same-sex couples in stable relationships are entitled to have those relationships legally recognised (as articulated in our press release of 27 July 2015). That ruling was merely the latest in a long series of judgments upholding and protecting the rights of LGBTI individuals. Against that background these statements demonstrate not only a total absence of compassion, but also a complete failure to appreciate that, within the jurisdiction of that court, the time when individuals could be persecuted on the basis of their sexual orientation has now long passed.

I invite you to join with the Human Rights Commission in condemning in the strongest possible terms the most unstatesmanlike, inaccurate, vitriolic, and thoroughly hateful statements made in the Legislative Assembly.

The Human Rights Commission recommends that the Government immediately:
1. Introduce legislation to recognise same-sex unions;
2. Introduce legislation to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; and,
3. Issue a statement condemning the statements made in the Legislative Assembly in the strongest possible terms and confirming its commitment to uphold the principles of non-discrimination enshrined in section 16 of our Constitution and required under our international treaty obligations.

Given the gravity of the issues concerned I look forward to receiving your response at your earliest possible convenience and in any event (in accordance with section 116(7) of the Constitution) within seven days.

Yours sincerely,

James Austin-Smith
Chairman, Human Rights Commission

cc: Her Excellency the Governor

2nd Floor Artemis House, Fort Street, George Town, Grand Cayman P.O. Box 391 │ Grand Cayman KY1-1106 │ CAYMAN ISLANDS Telephone: 1.345.244.3685 Facsimile: 1.345.945.8649

Related story

Look which fabulous vacation island destination just unanimously voted against marriage equality

By Michael Fitzgerald From Towleroad

Planning on closing out your summer with a Caribbean vacation? You may want to steer clear of spending your hard earned cash in this British Overseas Territory.

In an unanimous vote last Thursday, lawmakers in the Legislative Assembly of the Cayman Islands rejected same-sex marriage, according to the Cayman Reporter.

Filed by Legislative Assembly member Anthony Eden, the Preservation of Traditional Marriages motion maintains the Constitutional definition of “traditional marriage.”

The 2009 Constitution states that the law “shall respect the right of every unmarried man and woman of marriageable age” to “marry a person of the opposite sex and found a family.” A 2010 revision defines marriage as “the union between a man and a woman as husband and wife.”

Eden argued that “a behavior that for thousands of years was understood as a social and moral evil — a perversion and an abomination in God’s sight — is now being promoted not only as normal behavior, but as something everyone should accept as good.”

Cayman LGBT activist Billie Bryan said:

“This kind of language exemplifies the outright religious oppression that has long been so prevalent in our nation. Religious beliefs should be a personal choice and removed entirely from government

“To add insult to injury, members of our Legislative Assembly have gone as far as to openly and publicly criticize homosexuals, accusing them of being evil and living lives of sin.

“While I understand that the Cayman Islands is historically a Christian nation—and I take no issue with that, when you use your worldview as a tool of oppression to infringe upon or deny entirely the rights of others who don’t share your beliefs, that is morally reprehensible and blatant bigotry.”

Seconding the motion, MLA Alva Suckoo said he “shouldn’t be expected to support legislation that would allow sin.”

Suckoo added:

“I know there are those who will think we must be bigots and homophobes and probably worse. But I as a representative cannot support a lifestyle or concept that I think clashes with our chosen value systems here and our religious values.”

Back in 2008, a Massachusetts gay man was arrested in Cayman for kissing his partner on a dance floor.

For more on this story go to:

See also iNews Cayman related story today “President of Cayman Islands Law School replies to Legislative Assembly hate speech”


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