By Ayo Johnson
Bermuda was told in no uncertain terms yesterday afternoon that the human rights of people who are gay, transgender or bisexual are non-negotiable.
About 80 people turned up at Par-la-Ville park for the first open forum of the Rainbow Alliance of Bermuda, a new organisation.
Jason Savoury reminded his audience that all people are born with human rights.
“We bring with us all the rights that we, as human beings, have earned by our very existence.”
He said: “They are not given to us. We do not ask for them. They are not voted upon by public opinion. They are our rights to breathe, work, eat and express ourselves as we choose.
“We do not lose those rights because someone disagrees with how we live our lives. It is not open to debate.”
Mr Savoury, a straight male ally of the Alliance, was among more than a dozen speakers at the event which was also attended by a handful of general election candidates.
He said he offered “no olive branch” to those who opposed protecting the rights of gay people.
“I do not suggest an open forum and a discussion of ideals. The ability to live in a building without discrimination will not be debated,” he added.
“The desire to eat in public without being subject to derision will not be analysed. There will be no referendum on whom we can love and marry.”
He continued: “We are all humans, we are all worthy, and we all have our rights, and those who disagree can and will be left behind.”
One Bermuda Alliance candidate Andrew Simons urged the group to read up on the life and work of Bayard Rustin, a key leader of America’s civil rights movement who worked alongside Martin Luther King Jr as an organiser with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.
Mr Rustin, an openly gay black man, organised such historical civil rights milestones as the 1963 March on Washington and the New York School Boycott.
“I came to share Rustin’s words because I do believe Rustin’s life was truly extraordinary as a moral leader,” said Mr Simons when asked why he had attended the event.
“And because he was linked with almost the entirety of the American Civil Rights Movement which so many of us, especially in the African diaspora, reference as we fight for human rights here.”
Mr Simons read a speech by Rustin and suggested that the gay rights movement might adopt his goal for Bermuda which was “to control the extent to which people can publicly manifest anti-gay sentiment.”
The speech motivated one repeat visitor to the Island to speak up.
“Changing the legislation can make a big difference in changing people’s attitudes,” he said.
“Don’t let the churches intimidate you. On this issue they are wrong.”
Progressive Labour Party candidate Walton Brown also attended the event.
“I support ensuring that we have a society which does not condone but actively promotes respect, and honours diversity,” Mr Brown told The Royal Gazette.
The political commentator was the first to step up to the mic.
“It’s really very simple. Anyone who has been victim of discrimination or oppression in any of its manifestations should not want to see discrimination or oppression against anyone else,” he said.
“The issue of sexual orientation strikes a sensitive chord among some sectors of the community. But the principle of respect applies in this area of sexual orientation just as they do in race, gender or religious freedom.”
Mr Brown who is the PLP’s general election candidate for Pembroke Central, went on to say that Bermuda needed to mature as a society as protecting the rights of LGBTQ people was “very fundamental.”
The gathering did have its solemn moments. Female impersonator Mark Anderson asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of nine of his friends who had committed suicide “because they were gay and couldn’t bear to live in this country”.
And former MP Grace Bell spoke about the murder of Wilfred Oopie Ming Jr, a gay man who was stabbed to death in a St George’s nightclub in 1994 and called for a revived movement for legislative amendments which protect gay people.
“It is time,” she said. “Each and everyone of us — let’s press the government to get on with it and do the right thing.”
Successive administrations have repeatedly failed to amend the Human Rights Act to prohibit discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
A proposed Equality Act which would provide such protection among others, was debated as a take note motion in July and received multipartisan support.
* This story has been edited to correct a statement that Mr Savoury was gay.