(Castries May 24, 2016) The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE) stands in solidarity with United and Strong Inc in calling for political debate that addresses the pertinent issues of the day and holds leaders accountable for statements and/or actions that discriminate against a particular segment of the electorate.
ECADE makes this statement in reference to the ongoing social media debacle around the release of a video of Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Creative Industries Lorne Theophilus. In this video Theophilus uses of a derogatory term to describe leader of the United Workers Party Allen Chastanet. With this term having a long history of being used to insult and denigrate LGBT people, there has been a call for spokespersons from the LGBT community to respond. Both social and mainstream media have singled out Kenita Placide for comment. Placide is the former Executive Director of United and Strong and current director of ECADE and Caribbean Advisor for Out Right Action International.
While recognising the political mischief that motivates much of the online furore, ECADE takes the opportunity to express its alarm that the LGBT community is being used as a pawn by political operatives. The LGBT community will not be used as a pawn, scapegoat or punching bag in political strategy but will however, address issues which are recognised as relevant and of import.
The convenient release of the video is questionable and suggests political motives behind its release. Even more problematic however are the contents. Minister Theophilus has verified the validity of the said video and contents in his public responses, as he attempted to issue an apology via news and social media.
We note that Minister Theophilus’ seemingly casual and cavalier use of the term represents a troubling and hurtful cultural acceptance of language that denigrates LGBT persons and diminishes the value of their lives. This common practice whether in the context of a private conversation or public statement is hurtful and damaging, it encourages continued stigma of LGBT people and validates acts of discrimination and violence against them. We do however acknowledge his statement that, “I do apologize to all that were and may be offended by the comment which on my reflection was careless and ill-advised.”
We further welcome Minister Theophilus’ clear statement in regards to his position on LGBT people, when he asked that “…we all appreciate that despite our differences in colour, political or social opinion or sexual orientation, that we are one people created by one good loving and forgiving God.” This statement, while it is the most progressive pronouncement on the issue by any minister of government or political candidate in the country in recent history, does not adequately address the issue of LGBT discrimination and the violation of the rights of LGBT people across political, social, cultural, religious, labour, education and health-related spheres in this country.
We note that there are many positives on which the government of Saint Lucia can be commended, including collaborating on multiple LGBTI police sensitisation sessions, erecting no barriers to the hosting of several LGBTI conferences and the welcoming of gay cruises to our shores. The government has also recognised the major LGBTI representative group, United and Strong for its leadership on LGBTI and HIV issues as most recently as the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, which is the review of states’ human rights records at the United Nations in Geneva.
It is unfortunate that Minister Lorne Theophilus, who seems to have been sensitised, supportive and aware of the issues of the LGBT community, is at the centre of this furore. However the consequential amplification of the issue raises awareness of the historic socialisation of insensitivity which feeds the stigma and discrimination from the helm and must also be addressed from that level.
Finally, there cannot be a call for the dismissal of Minister Theophilus, without a call for the dismissal of Minister Alva Baptiste who was singled out for bigoted statements at the OAS General Assembly or even the removal of Sarah Flood Beaubrun from the ballot for her openly anti-LGBT comments locally, regionally and internationally in her professional capacity. Flood’s well know anti-LGBT agenda, even as a representative of the government of Saint Lucia, has been conveniently forgotten, even in this current discussion on the responsibilities of those in political office.
The Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality therefore calls on all political parties and those aspiring to govern the country, to make a full position statement on the issue of LGBT discrimination and to take a public stand against the use of damaging language in public and private spheres.