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Dream Variations (Langston Hughes Series), Benny Andrews

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”….

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

They said, “Barabbas!”

 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

 
 

Were this not the year of impossibilities becoming possible, scarcely would I have believed that a bill that promises fundamental rights for Grenadian citizens, would be on the brink of crucifixion.

That this bill may die a swift death as a result of deliberate misinformation and untruths peddled by today’s ‘elders’ and ‘chief priests’ is a travesty. Even more troubling is the penchant for those who lead this charge in killing the bill, to be arrogant in their lack of reasoning and so obstinate in their belligerence that they cannot see the irony in claiming that a certain sector of the community is bullying the public into voting yes, when they have themselves been harrying and hounding the public into voting no, with no credible justification (at least none that I have seen).

The story of Barrabas is apposite in this regard. The Jews, having been given the opportunity to vote for Jesus, to have the benefit of a man who would continue to give sight given to the blind, to heal the lame, and to perform miracles, were convinced, at the instigation and persuasion of certain ‘elders’, to vote instead for a man who was a known rioter and criminal. 

The parallels are uncanny today. Grenadian citizens are being assaulted by daily virulent Facebook posts and intimidating social media messages over many weeks and months to vote for Barrabas- i.e. contrary to a bill that accords long overdue rights to them, on the premise that it is their Christian duty to do so.  Doubtless, in my view, voting no is possibly one of the most unchristian and uncharitable acts one can do.

What does a vote for No mean?

I say so because a vote for no means denying some of the most vulnerable and deserving in society, essential rights. Aren’t Christians called to minister to minister to the same?

Voting no is saying that discrimination against disabled people is not deserving of constitutional protection and neither should the principle that men and women should have equal rights and should be treated as such.

Voting no means that government can restrain the press and that discrimination can continue based on party lines such that jobs, scholarships and assistance can be denied to non-party supporters, without any recourse to a remedy. This happens frequently.

Voting no means saying no to basic constitutional rights (including the right to a lawyer) for individuals who are under arrest, when for years the public have been agitating for more police accountability, particularly in the light of the notorious killing of Oscar Bartholomew and the many accounts from members of the public who have been subject to abuses in the prison and judicial system. These are rights that have existed for decades in other countries and it is shameful that we are only just obtaining the benefit.

It is a vote to reject the government exercising financial and fiscal responsibility when so many have had complaints over alleged corruption and wastefulness.

Essentially, voting no means that we prefer to have constitutional rights as we saw them in 1974, and that the last forty years do not matter. This is a sad and disappointing given that another opportunity for constitutional reform is unlikely to come around for decades. If we vote no, we would have chosen to reside in our Janet-house of rights when the world around us has moved on to casting their houses in more sturdy brick.

Why is it important that these rights are protected by the constitution?

Many people are questioning whether the protected rights necessarily need to be protected by the constitution. Elevating these rights to constitutional rights means that these rights are the supreme law of the land, and that they represent our values.

The government would be obliged to legislate in accordance with those rights and any laws that are contrary to those rights would be vulnerable to being struck down. Voting yes therefore empowers Grenadian citizens to be able to take concrete action against discrimination; this can only be a good thing.

The so-called ‘gay agenda’, gender identity and gender equality

I chose to focus on what a ‘no’ vote would mean, because its significance has been overtaken by a number of disingenuous arguments relating to gender equality and a so-called ‘gay agenda’.

In a nutshell, fringe ‘church leaders’ have seized on the term gender equality in Bill 6, and have propagated the view that gender equality somehow provides a route to gay marriage and the accordance of rights to LGBTQ persons.

When asked to articulate their concerns, not one of these leaders appears to be able to explain how this is possible, particularly since (i) the bill does not contain any reference to gay rights at all and (ii) rights based on sexual orientation were expressly excluded in the wording of the bill (based on their rejection at the initial consultation stages).

The opponents have recently changed their tack, and concerns are now apparently expressed that persons may potentially use the bill to suggest that ‘third gender’ protections should be extended to persons who have gender identity issues. With respect, this latest suggestion smacks of desperation and rests on over-exaggeration and  three fallacies, without prejudice to my own personal beliefs.

The exaggeration is that such an extension is entirely hypothetical, and in a population of 100,000, extremely unlikely.  Only 1 in 30,000 people in the West experience gender dysmorphia. To strike down a bill on the basis that at best, approximately 3 persons in Grenada might choose to bring a speculative claim is ludicrous. And to take this argument to its natural conclusion, if this is our position, shouldn’t we deny all other rights such as rights to privacy and rights to sexual and reproductive health access to the entire population, on the off-chance that someone with a lifestyle or a belief with which we do not agree, may take advantage of those rights? The very suggestion of a no vote on this ground is obviously cruel, oppressive  and disproportionate.

On to the fallacies.

First, gender identity is not the same as gender equality and the two are disparate concepts.  A vote for gender equality is not a vote in favour of persons being able to choose or define gender.

Second, no evidence has been put forward that gender equality has been extended universally to person claiming third gender rights. I know of a single case in India where a third gender has been recognised, but this is in light of existing cultural and religious Hindu beliefs in a third gender as of right. Hindu philosophy has the concept of a third sex or third gender (tritiya-prakriti – literally, “third nature”) to encompass people with mixed female and masculine natures. We do not share this culture or religion so a fear of incorporation of this concept is largely unfounded.

Third and finally, although the constitution is interpreted as a living document, it has been completely ignored that the aim of including gender equality rights is to reflect the universal concept enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights since 1948 to mean equal treatment and non-discrimination between women and men.

This has recently been re-articulated by the UN Sustainable Goals. Gender equality, as understood for many decades, is not a principle we ought to be afraid of; its aim is to empower our women and girls in our society so that laws are enacted for equal access to, inter alia, health care, work, pensions and representation in political and economic decision-making. Gender equality is in fact, one of the proud legacies of the Grenada Revolution and we should be proud that it has now made its way into our constitution.

Its constitutionalisation opens a route for, inter alia, improved maternity rights and the implementation of paternity rights, an end to indirect discrimination against women in relation to wages (i.e. jobs that require similar skill sets being paid differently,) and better access to reproductive rights to young women, some of whom may be victims of incest or sexual exploitation. These rights are invaluable.

Conclusion

It is my hope that, tomorrow, citizens of Grenada exercise their rights to vote in an informed manner and that they will realise that there is nothing to fear from the constitutionalisation of fundamental rights, contrary to the instigation of the ‘elders’.  I hope we do not choose Barrabas.

Written by Akima Paul Lambert

Give us Barrabas: on the planned and unjustified crucifixion of Bill 6