The organizer of a lecture series on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and gender rights in the Cayman Islands has responded to critical remarks made by Bodden Town MLA Anthony Eden during a recent meeting of the Legislative Assembly.
During his presentation on a motion to maintain the definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, Mr. Eden criticized the lecture series, which took place in January at the Truman Bodden Law School. Olivia Connolly, president of the Truman Bodden Law School Student Society, was the lead organizer of the lecture series. She says she was not surprised that the lecture series was brought up during discussion on the motion, but she was surprised “at the manner in which it was referred to.”
During his remarks to the government, Mr. Eden was said he was “really bothered” by the content of one lecture in particular, given by King’s College London professor Robert Wintemute.
In his lecture, Mr. Wintemute told the audience that the Cayman Islands is 14 years behind the case law of the European Court of Human Rights, which it must comply with. He noted that there is no anti-discrimination legislation on the basis of sexual orientation, that the age of consent for sexual activity is unequal, and there is no civil partnership or other legal representation of same-sex marriage.
Mr. Wintemute said during his lecture that the issues the series deals with concern “the lives of real people” in the Cayman Islands, estimating that 2 percent of the population is lesbian or gay.
“If you think of your 50 closest friends, within that group there might be one lesbian or gay member,” Mr. Wintemute said. “So I think that’s the thing to remember, that we’re not talking about abstract homosexuals out there who are a threat to society; you’re talking about your family members and your friends.”
Mr. Eden told the Legislative Assembly that he thinks “the focus of some of these people that come here,” in reference to the lawyers at the lecture, did not align with Caymanian concerns or values. He said it “blew” his mind that Mr. Wintemute suggested that the age of consent for homosexual sexual activity should be lowered from 18 to 16, to make it equal with the age of consent for heterosexual sexual activity.
“I’ve heard enough about the European Convention to last my lifetime,” Mr. Eden said.
Ms. Connolly said the intention of the lecture series was to provide an academic platform and debate, and she thinks it is a “shame that our choice of topic was criticized in the Legislative Assembly of all places, it being a place … symbolic of democracy in the Cayman Islands.”
“I think it is concerning that a student initiative which provoked a review of legislation should be met with hostility by someone elected to represent the views and listen to the concerns of others,” Ms. Connolly added.
She disseminated a letter to the members of the media last week defending the focus of the series.
Although she does not reference Mr. Eden’s presentation in her letter, she states that it has “been suggested by a (high-profile) minority that the focus of this lecture series may have been misplaced.”
“The choice of topic does not indicate a lack of guidance,” Ms. Connolly said in the letter. “On the contrary, it was very prescient of the Student Society to have anticipated issues that the Cayman Islands are now facing as a result of the recent ECtHR’s [European Court of Human Rights] decision, requiring member states to offer more legal protection to same sex couples, omnisciently foreshadowed by Professor Robert Wintemute’s first lecture.”
In a passage underlined for emphasis in the letter, Ms. Connolly said that the lecture series “prompted a mature public debate” about LGBT rights in the Cayman Islands.
“I believe that the criticism of the lecture series and hostility to open debate is concerning in and of itself, notwithstanding the more substantive issue of the pain and anguish that has been caused to the Island’s LGBT community by those comments,” she said.