Hundreds demonstrate against MPs' gay rights 'silence'
And, after weathering the storm, they turn their attention to their own pay rises
Friday, June 02, 2006 2:11 PM
Bermuda’s MPs had to face off hundreds of protestors today in one of the biggest demonstrations in recent years.
The huge crowd snaked the grounds of the House of Assembly with signs calling the MPs cowards for failing to discuss a proposed change in the law last week that would have given gays protection under the Human Rights Act.
The MP who proposed the amendment, Renee Webb, was the crowd darling with protestors erupting into applause when they saw her.
She said: “I’m ecstatic that so many people came out and stood up for democracy.”
Ms Webb, a former Cabinet Minister, who fell out of favour with her colleagues, in particular the Premier, Alex Scott, a few years ago, said everyone has a right to be protected from discrimination and that she can’t understand “why people found it so hard to support the amendment.”
Bermuda is a majority black country yet most of the protestors were white. The island’s black church leaders were vociferous in their opposition to the amendment, uring MPs to vote against it.
Cabinet Ministers like Patrice Minors, a proud Christian, who was against the amendment, appeared unmoved by the crowd saying she thought the matter had “gone through the process” and that the “opportunity was there for members to speak.”
Asked by a protestor why she was against the amendment, she cited her “Christian principles.” When the protestor asked her whether it was appropriate for her to let her Christian principles influence the people’s business she said: “No, it’s my principles that got me here in the first place.”
Because of the way the legislative system works, MPs have to wait a year before they reintroduce the amendment or anything similar. But few MPs appear willing to shift their views.
Backbencher Glenn Blakeney told one protestor he went against the Bill because of his “conviction based on my conscience.” The woman replied: “You went against a Bill that was against me. You guys talk a bunch of doo-doo. I just want basic human rights in my country.”
It wasn’t just Government MPs that got an earful. The Opposition UBP was equally mute on the issue last week. Its members claimed it would have spoken out if the amendment had the support of anyone in the Cabinet. When no-one in the Cabinet stood up, the Opposition considered it a done deal and adopted a ‘what’s the point in talking about it’ attitude.
The issue has left the country divided. The churches remain vehemently opposed — although there only appeared to be one vocal church supporter at the event, Dennis Bean, who had a sign saying “To hell with your special interest. Effeminate. Lascivious. Licentious = Sodomite.”
Bermudian Patrice Carter was there to support her friends. She said: “I’m not gay, I’m here to support friends and family. I’m really saddened that there are not more Bermudians here.
“If you don’t start standing up for other people on an issue, what happens when it’s time for someone to speak up on an issue that’s nearer to your heart? You’ve got to support people on any human rights issue.”
She continued: “Bermudians are scared to come out and show their faces.”
The protest ended peacefully after about an hour. Ironically for some, MPs then went on to discuss other business, which included giving themselves a pay rise.