On Monday, July 2nd, the campaign group ‘Two Words & a Comma’ officially launched. Obviously the behind the scenes organising of this group has been going on for some time, I beleive originating in the Lunch for Democracy demo last June that rallied up at the House of Assembly to protest the lack of debate concerning Renee Webbs amendment to the Human Rights Act. As the group states, the amendment of this act to include protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, requires legally nothing more than (just about) two words and a comma. However, before this amendment can be made to the HRAct I believe it is necessary to increase the awareness of what exactly protection based on sexual orientation really is – the social prejudices must be confronted first before the legal amendment can be done. I believe this is exactly what the group is doing with its rolling series of adverts focusing on sexual orientation and why it is important for everyone to deal with and not avoid or succumb to prevailing prejudices.
Its obvious that discussing the politics of sex is a somewhat controversial topic in Western society as a whole, and this is to a degree compounded in Bermuda with its small size and population, as well as the intersection of sex and gender with the axes of racial and class oppression as well as religious moralism that pervades our society.
In the face of these obstacles, this group deserves to be commended at the very least for daring to begin the conversation as they have (although truthfully it would be more correct to say they have joined or made articulate this conversation).
Frantz Fanon, a great anti-imperialist writer and psychologist of revoltion, once wrote in reference to race that ‘to be racist in a racist society is normal.’ I don’t think it would be mistaken to paraphrase him abstractly and say instead that ‘to be prejudiced in a prejudiced society is normal.’ Insert the appropriate prejudice. Racism. Sexism. Homophobism. Classism. To me homophobia is directly connected to sexism, it is a manifestation or a sub-type of it.
I think all of us have gone through the educational factory of a racist (white dominated), sexist (patriachal and homophobic), religious (Christian primacy) authoritarian class-based society. We all have various levels of development, of prejudices in these areas, to greater or lesser extents, as a result to our individual experiences in the educational factories of the family, the school system, the Church, and general conservative social ideologies with respect to prejudices and respect/submission to authority complete with its pomp and ceromines, its uniforms and its parades. There are those who actively fight to build a non-racist, non-sexist, secular libertarian socialist society (or at least for aspects of this), but these people, myself included, did indeed go through the same aforementioned educational system; we did not form out of a vacumn. While in principle we fight against racism, against sexism, against homophobia, against classism, against authoritianism, each of us must continously do battle with the prejudices within ourselves while at the same time working for social change.
Concerning the amendment to the HRAct, the group ono its website has put forward some refutation of common arguments against protecting sexual orientation. I wanted to add some of my two cents to it as well.
One common position is that it is a lifestyle choice and not a born condition. Thus the HRAct need not protect against discrimination. To me, whether homosexuality is a choice or not is immaterial and has no relevance to the HRAct in that the act protects people on the basis of political, philosophical and religious beliefs, all choices and not born conditions. Alternatively, if homosexuality is a born condition, to discriminate against homosexuals on this basis provides legitimisation for discrimination based on sex (male/female) and race.
It is to be expected that the current campaign will face a backlash in the coming weeks. The ongoing culture wars, namely between those in favour of democracy, or liberty versus those who would uphold reactionariness, conservatism and authoritarianism, although a constant battle, would appear to be moving from a passive ‘war of position’ to an active ‘war of movement.’
While the group itself is clear in its position of reform and focusing solely on the issue of amending the HRAct, this apparently innocent proposal has the potential to ignite a wide ranging cultural war and revolution, with the conservative moralists, the defenders of patrichal authoritarianism correctly seeing in this ‘inch’ a threat to the very foundation of their authoritarian structure. Authoritarianism, and the capitalist form dominant today, however has proven a remarkable ability to recuperate, or adapt to such challenges to its hegemony, as seen with the cooptation of much of the radical challenges to it from the sixties from Black Power to Black Capitalism, to Sexual Liberation to Sexual Consumerism. But the potential is there.
As a qualifier, I guess I should stress that of course the views expressed here are mine, and not that of the campaign group. I only say this as I can see certain reactionaries trying to portray this reform movement as some sort of Marxist conspiracy, which despite the laughter such an accusation might create, the tragedy of such a farce isn’t worth it.