NASSAU, The Bahamas, Tuesday May 17, 2016 – The Grand Bahama Human Rights Association (GBHRA) says recent attacks on members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community highlight the urgent need for laws banning hate crime in The Bahamas.
And GBHRA secretary Paco Nunez has challenged members of Parliament to introduce a hate crime bill for debate in the House of Assembly, as he called on government to place the issue at the top of its legislative agenda.
“The past several weeks have seen a shocking escalation in hate speech aimed at members of the LGBT community, culminating in the call by a senior MP for transgender individuals to be exiled,” he said, referring to controversial comments by Tall Pines Member of Parliament Leslie Miller. “During Junkanoo Carnival, this spilled over into physical violence when two festivalgoers were chased and beaten by a mob is what is alleged to have been a homophobic attack.”
“Perhaps most alarming, a video of the incident circulated on social media appears to show several police officers standing by, doing nothing at all to restrain the attackers or protect the clearly terrified victims,” he added.
Nunez said the GBHRA is very concerned that legislators have failed to acknowledge and address the increasingly hostile atmosphere for LGBT individuals in the country and urged them to take action before it is too late.
“We are at a very dangerous crossroads as a nation and if we are not careful, this could quickly degenerate into a society where any perceived failure to conform [to] the biases of the majority is punishable by harassment and violence,” he said.
“Political leaders must pay attention to the signs. These incidents should not be viewed as isolated; collectively they point to an extremely worrying trend in Bahamian society where those seeking to express their individuality are being maligned and vilified with impunity.”
GBRHA president Fred Smith recently spoke about the need for a Human Rights Act in The Bahamas. Nunez said in light of the events of the past several weeks, a separate bill should be brought before the House of Assembly which places specific emphasis on banning hate crimes, including verbal or physical abuse, damage to property, bullying, harassment, intimidation and all forms of hate speech.
He said the GBHRA commends the government for seeking to enshrine gender equality in the constitution and fully supports the ‘Vote Yes’ campaign in the upcoming referendum on constitutional bills that the government says will give equal rights to women, men and their children, which some believe will open the door to same sex unions.
Nunez urged legislators to place the same level of emphasis on outlawing hate crimes in an effort to grant equal protection to the LGBT community and others who are under threat.
“PLP chairman Bradley Roberts was correct in noting that hate speech on social media from some opponents of the upcoming referendum has the potential to encourage violent attacks. We thank him for speaking out, but urge both the governing party and the opposition to do more than just talk,” he said.
“At the end of the day, a law banning hate crimes would be in the same spirit as the push for gender equality, amounting to official recognition that any form of discrimination on the basis of individual identity is unacceptable.”
Nunez insisted that people should be allowed to express themselves and promote their own interests and the interests of their community without having to “face humiliation or suffer fear for their safety, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, nationality, heritage, religion, political persuasion, or any other arbitrary consideration”.