Many of us in Jamaica, in the Caribbean region and in diaspora have been watching the developments concerning sex education and the buggery law in Jamaica. By Sunday 29th June when an estimated 25,000 marched across Kingston against the repeal of the colonial buggery laws, it became obvious that the atmosphere had become so emotionally charged and so polarized that it was impossible for any respectful discussion or actions across differences to take place.In some cases, irresponsible media reporting has also contributed to this polarization by circulating misleading and biased reports.
Rhetorical statements are not without deadly consequences. Indeed the atmosphere has become so volatile that many are not just afraid to speak, but are also afraid for their very lives, afraid of being attacked for their views or merely being thought to be gender non-conforming. Many others are afraid for family and friends.
The issue and how it is discussed in Jamaica is precedent setting for the entire region and has dire implications for the lives of many across the region and in the diaspora. A recent indication of this is the backing away from the “Justice For All’ deliberations by CARICOM Heads of Government at their meeting in July in St. Kitts and Nevis. At that meeting, because of objections of several church groups, CARICOM governments deferred approving a report by the Pan-Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP) and a declaration entitled: Getting to Zero Discrimination Through Justice For All as part of efforts for the elimination of HIV-related stigma and discrimination.
This debate then, is about life and death, health or ill-health. It is about the responsibility of governments to citizens, about the Caribbean we want to live in and about the way we want to live as Caribbean people wherever we reside.
We therefore welcome the voices of moderation from among the church leadership and note the recent articles of Bishop Howard Gregory, Bishop of the Anglican Church in Jamaica and the Cayman Islands and the Rev. Dr Paul Gardner, Head of the Moravian Church in Jamaica and Cayman. These church leaders have made a significant contribution to opening up space for respectful discussions across difference. We add our voices to this cause and hope to contribute similarly by clarifying and separating some of the issues that have been confused in the discussion of sex education, sexual and gender identity and the law.
1. We took note of the leadership of some several churches in the march on Sunday June 29th and want to point to a need for separating questions of faith and spirituality from questions of moral judgment of others. St Paul famously said “ For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galations 3: 27-28.
Most of the prescriptions against homosexuality are in the Old Testament in Leviticuswhich also speaks in support of slavery, stoning, extreme discrimination against women, domestic sacrifice and burning of bulls as an act of reparation in conflict and so on. Would the church leaders of the march speak in favour of any these today?
The most important ethic of Christianity is its message of and its injunction not to judge – ‘Judge not that ye be not judged’ is being ignored when it comes to matters of sexual and gender identity differences.
2. Education is not the same as conversion. When schools teach children about different religions they are not being ‘converted’. Similarly, educating children on issues of sex and sexuality is not to be equated with converting them to a particular view. Making such an equation is disingenuous.
Children need to be sensitively taught information about the range of sex issues they are confronting in society. The fact is that many children are sexually active at an early age and many are, unfortunately, survivors of horrific sexual violence and sexual abuse of all kinds including heterosexual abuse. Teaching children about sex of all kinds is a responsible strategy for helping them to protect themselves and prepare for meaningful relationships. It helps them be safe and healthy, prepares them for dealing in a non-sensational way with realities that they will unavoidably confront in the media and society. It helps them understand and deal sensibly and from an informed position with the sexual feelings they inevitably develop one way or another. It will encourage respect for diverse views and in so doing contribute to undermining the tendency to violence within the society.
Educating children about sex and sexuality is not the same as using power to draw children into a particular sexual acts or into a sense of shame and confusion about feelings that they are experiencing. It is preparing them to confront in a non-biased way the issues regarding sexuality that they will face whether adults like it or not.
3. Pedophilia and violent coercive sex is not the same as homosexuality. The blending of these issues has been a repeated strategy in the campaign against reform. This strategy misleads the public and spreads inflamatory and harmful rhetoric.
Homosexuality is a sexual attraction or act between consenting adults of the same sex or gender.Homosexuals are by no means the same as pedophiles as the current discussion suggests.
A pedophile is an adult or older adolescent who acts on sexual attraction to prepubescent children, generally age 11 years or younger. Infantophilia specifically refers to sex with infants (ages 0–3 or those under age 5).Pedophiles and infantofiles are to be found among both heterosexuals and homosexuals. In the current media spectacle around sexuality, the frequent participation of heterosexuals in acts of sexual violence seems to have disappeared.
Sexual violence is any sexual act or attempt to obtain a sexual act by violence or coercion. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals can carry out acts of sexual violence. Obviously all heterosexuals are not pedophiles and neither are all homosexuals.
Acts of sexual violence, including sex with children on the part of adults, whether heterosexual or homosexual are to be condemned as they are harmful.
4. We call on the activist churches working in favour of the colonial laws on sexuality to disclose the sources of their own support in the campaign being waged. Many of the activist church groups speak of protecting Jamaica from ‘outside influences’. Much of the content of material circulated prior to the march of the 25000 and videos being shown in some churches can be traced to American organizations which consider Barack Obama dangerously radical and oppose any government intervention in a wide range of issues. They also oppose education about sexuality, abortion and gay rights. The role of these organisations in the Jamaican and wider Caribbean debates and indeed in influencing the decisions of our governments should be made transparent.
5. We remind our Governments of their responsibility to serve the needs of all citizens. Abandoning the health and human rights needs of any group of citizens is not an acceptable response by the State. Contrary to what is being said by many church leaders, Jamaica is a secular state even as some of its Laws derive from Judeo-Christian principles, which principles are to be found in many other Faith and ethical traditions. This is not the same as making and imposing Bible Law as national Law.
The present Jamaican government must stand by its election promise to give leadership on questions of sexuality and the Law, a position which we support. We noted with deep concern the Leader of the Opposition’s appearance at the recent march that promoted unequal treatment of some of the country's citizens. The Opposition Leader’s seeming endorsement by virtue of his appearance is to be placed in a context in which violence against gender non conforming groups has been all too common in Jamaica.
We remind our leaders that all Jamaicans are equal before the law and their interests and freedoms must be actively safeguarded. One way to do this is to promote a respectful discussion across sexual difference and to provide education on the issues which is both accurate and socially just.