Anthony Eden’s remarks on the floor of the Legislative Assembly regarding homosexuality could not have been more ill-conceived – but they were also ill-timed.
Today, the United Nations Security Council is holding its first meeting dedicated to the persecution of those in the LGBT community.
The meeting follows President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Kenya (where homosexuality is punishable by up to 14 years in prison). Mr. Obama publicly told the Kenyan president, “The state should not discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation. The idea that they are going to be treated differently or abused because of who they love is wrong. Full stop.”
Many of us on the day of Mr. Eden’s mid-summer, mid-week monologue, frankly, never saw it coming. Even at the Cayman Compass, where we pay attention to all matters in the Legislative Assembly, we had no premonition of what was to disrupt a relatively placid Wednesday news day.
We do, however, at all times keep a newsroom television tuned to the government channel which broadcasts live the proceedings of the Legislative Assembly, and a growing group of reporters and editors quickly gathered round. Soon all of us were transfixed.
We were not the only ones; in no time, what a decade or so ago would have been a local story was being recounted in blogs and other “immediate media” around the world. It appears that Mr. Eden did not take into account how his words might reverberate beyond our borders and offend, in particular, a large and sensitive segment of tourists – the homosexual community – who daily visit our shores and routinely are welcomed and treated well here.
Moses Kirkconnell, our minister of tourism, has been mum on Mr. Eden’s remarks, but we cannot imagine he was pleased. Pity our poor premier, Alden McLaughlin, who, perhaps not courageously but possibly wisely, absented himself from both the debate and the vote on Mr. Eden’s resolution (which reaffirmed the Constitutional protection that marriage in the Cayman Islands was between a man and a woman).
Now Mr. McLaughlin and the Progressives party he leads have a problem he probably didn’t foresee and certainly doesn’t welcome. Because the Progressives-led government is a patchwork of dissimilar representatives from diverse districts (united more by convenience than conviction), he somehow must find a way to keep harmony among disagreeing, and sometimes disagreeable, members. This will not be easy.
Bodden Town, not for the first time, presents the challenge. As everyone knows, Mr. Eden is the senior (and popular) representative from that district. Nevertheless, a junior member of the Bodden Town delegation, Wayne Panton, has now stepped forward to take issue with his colleague’s remarks. Another Bodden Town member, Alva Suckoo, (who seconded Mr. Eden’s motion), has issued a statement, in effect supporting Mr. Eden but apologizing to, well, everybody if he has offended anyone.
Mr. Suckoo took particular umbrage at the Human Rights Commission and, in particular, its chairman, James Austin-Smith. The Commission on Thursday issued a statement condemning the use of elected office “to peddle inaccurate, vitriolic and thoroughly hateful information” concerning the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
If this were not enough, Olivia Connolly, the organizer of a lecture series on gender rights held in January, on Friday disseminated an open letter defending the focus of the series. Ms. Connolly, who is president of the Truman Bodden Law School Student Society, is the daughter of Cayman Governor Helen Kilpatrick, who spoke at the conference.
Because this is such a contentious, and momentous, issue, it is tempting, but unwise, to conflate Mr. Eden’s position on gay marriage, which is defensible, with his inflammatory rhetoric, which is not.