Friday, April 12, 2024

TONY BEST: Fighting for gay rights

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A SCHOLAR AT one of Canada’s premier tertiary educational institutions, Dr Rinaldo Walcott, a Bajan, is more than a teacher in and out of the University of Toronto’s classrooms.

The 50-year graduate of Coleridge & Parry school is, like his late landlord, mentor and iconic literary Toronto neighbour, Austin ‘Tom’ Clarke, an outspoken activist when it comes to inveighing against racism and imperialism anywhere in the world.

That’s not all. Walcott is a gay man with an African partner for more than a decade; wears his hair in dreadlocks; and is often a spokesman for the Black Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender, LGBT, community in Canada’s largest City.

He has also written extensively on education, the media, black diaspora, black studies in North America and on gay issues. Indeed, he has signed a contract to write a book, entitled Black Diaspora, Faggotry, Readings, Frames and Limits which America’s Duke University plans to publish.

 “Yes, I am often asked to speak on LGBT issues in Canada and I do so willingly,” he said.

Little wonder, then, that the scholar has focused some of his attention on the law and negative attitudes to homosexuality in the Caribbean, Barbados included.

He thinks it’s about time that Barbados’ parliamentary leaders address the issue of gay and lesbian rights by decriminalising homosexuality.

“We all know that the law in Barbados that makes homosexuality illegal is not a law that’s enforced for the most part,” he said. “We don’t hear about anybody being arrested for being a homosexual in Barbados. But let’s get somebody in Barbados’ parliament get up and say ‘this law is so useless that we should repeal it’ and see what happens.

“I think the person whether straight or gay who is willing to put themselves at the base of repealing that law is the test. Anybody in party leadership who really wants to lead Barbados into a new and different kind of era, should be brave enough to get up and say ‘this is a law that is backward and antithetical to everything we think of as freedom and I want to champion repealing it.’ I would like to see that.”

Interestingly, he agrees with Minister of Education Ronald Jones, who said in New York recently that sooner or later Barbados would have to deal with the issue of human rights for LGBT students in schools. However, Jones insisted the country shouldn’t give in to foreign pressure to change its buggery law.

“I actually write sometimes about LGBT issues in my research and scholarship and one of the things I often write against is that places like Canada, the US and Western European countries telling other places like Barbados, Jamaica and so on that they are so homophobic that they need to immediately adopt certain kinds of laws, positions and policies. I am entirely against any form of imperialism.

“What I say is that internal to Barbados, Jamaica and so on these are questions which people living there must settle for themselves,” he added. “It has to begin with the idea that all citizens are created equally regardless of what goes on in their bedroom.”

What he advocates is a repeal of the existing law that would rid Barbados of any “restrictions on questions of sexuality”. What’s required, though, are “restrictions” on sexual violence, assault, paedophilia and so on, said Walcott, holder of a doctorate in sociology and equity studies.

“Those are the areas that government, social and political policies should be targeting. What consenting adults do in their bedrooms should be of no business to the government,” he said.

He complained that attitudes to homosexuality in Barbados have “regressed” in recent years. Time was when gay pride was reflected in staged entertainment shows which were held without any extensive public opposition. No so, anymore, said Walcott, who disclosed that he came out of the gay closet years ago and told his close relatives and friends that he had a male partner.

“They accepted my choice and are comfortable with it,” he said.

So when he arrives in Barbados with his male partner there isn’t any fuss.

“That’s how it should be.”

Tony Best is the NATION’s North American Correspondent. Email: Bestra@aol.com

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