What do LGBTIQ Bermudians need right now? That is a question not being asked of a community whose country just became the first place in the world to enact and then revoke marriage equality.
On February 8, the governor of Bermuda, John Rankin, signed into power the Domestic Partnership Act 2017. The act took away same-sex couples’ rights to marry and instead only allows for civil partnerships. The act had already passed Bermuda’s Senate and House of Assembly in December of last year. This overturned a May 2017 Supreme Court decision that put in place marriage equality. The reversal comes amid vocal and demonstrated social opposition to marriage equality as expressed in a nonbinding referendum in 2016.
Walton Brown, Bermuda’s minister of home affairs, responded to the decision by saying that the ruling appeases social conservatives while still recognizing the rights of same-sex couples. However, persons on the ground see it as a compromise of their lives.
LGBTIQ organization Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda has said, “We have heard many people say they are ashamed or embarrassed to be Bermudian. As a group of proud Bermudians, we want to affirm that we will never be ashamed of where we are from, only of the regrettable decisions of our elected officials. We hope that the Government will address issues that impact the entire Bermuda community with the same vigor that they pursued stripping away the rights of a minority group.”
As a reaction to the decision, a movement to #BoycottBermuda which first appeared in December with the passage of the Domestic Partnership Act by the House of Assembly, has surfaced again. However, usage of the hashtag and the call to divert tourism dollars away from the country have seen an exponential spike after Rankin approved the bill.
Who is calling for a boycott? And what are the consequences? These are questions LGBTIQ people in Bermuda are asking themselves because they are not the ones behind this campaign.
Bermudian LGBTIQ activists have come out in opposition to the boycott. Many LGBTIQ people in Bermuda, as is the case in much of the Caribbean, where tourism plays a significant role in the economy, work in the tourism industry. Not only would a boycott of Bermuda stand to disenfranchise those LGBTIQ people working in the tourism industry, it also provides an opportunity for increased backlash against the LGBTIQ community as a whole.
Should the boycott campaign succeed in its misguided goals of negatively impacting tourism and subsequently the Bermudian economy, LGBTIQ people could be used as scapegoats. It would not be the first time the public has used the vulnerability of LGBTIQ individuals to pursue their own homophobic agenda and blame the community for such things.
As my friend Linda Miezer, a prominent LGBTIQ activist in Bermuda, put it, “I am categorically against any call for a boycott against my country, I believe it is not productive and it will place additional stress and cause people to discriminate against the LGBT community.”
It is encouraging that the international community feels a need to act, it highlights that this is important, that the rights of Bermudians are important -- but this kind of response is entitled and short-sighted. People threatening to boycott Bermuda do so without taking into consideration the needs and consequences to the real lives of everyday LGBTIQ Bermudians. They also do so without taking into consideration the many hard-won battles of the LGBTIQ community,such as protections against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and adoption rights for same-sex couples, legislation that puts Bermuda ahead of most countries in the world.
Same-sex marriage in many countries, including the United States, was not won until there had been a change in the attitudes of society. In the U.S., it wasn’t until 2011 that there were more people in favor of marriage equality than against. Currently in Bermuda, there is a majority against, and in the referendum the voters were against even domestic partnerships. As unfair as it may be, laws do not change in a vacuum; society must be brought along for true justice to be achieved.
Bermudian LGBTIQ activists will need to continue the fight for true equality and changes in the views of society. The struggles continue, but this also allows the community to refocus on their main priorities such as life as a citizen, equality, justice, family, education, and job security -- including marriage rights. What the community needs now is support, not abandonment.
The repeal of marriage equality in Bermuda is certainly a setback for the country, but it also provides for an opportunity for discussion and mobilization. The international community, including international media, needs to connect with LGBTIQ Bermudians and engage in conversations. With no hidden agendas, let us amplify and elevate the voices and priorities of LGBTIQ Bermudians.
KENITA PLACIDE is Caribbean adviser to OutRight Action International.