Webb: don’t cherry pick rights
The Government's representative in Europe yesterday said gay Bermudians should live without fear because her own same-sex relationship had never sparked hostility.
Renée Webb, a former Progressive Labour Party MP and minister, said attitudes towards gay people had “evolved exponentially” as the island prepared for its first Pride parade.
She added: “You cannot live in fear; be your authentic self. Have no stress about your sexuality; be who you are.”
Ms Webb's attempt to add sexual orientation to the list of protected grounds in the Human Rights Act failed in 2006, when MPs rejected it, although only one MP, the late Nelson Bascome, spoke on the Bill.
Mr Bascome denounced homophobia, but added that the House of Assembly could not “legislate morality”. But Ms Webb said the public mindset had changed.
She added: “I've definitely seen a difference. For example, people were much more homophobic. “I don't find Government members homophobic at all. They know I have a same-sex partner, they know my partner, and I haven't had any form of discrimination at all on the island, none — never, from anybody.”
Ms Webb, however, admitted she had heard “some very homophobic utterances” from MPs during debates.
She said: “Some were outright shocking in how they referred to their fellow LGBT+ Bermudians and LGBT residents.”
Ms Webb highlighted the same-sex marriage debate as an example, but said she had not been the direct target of homophobic comments.
The Government confirmed earlier this year it had been given permission to take its legal bid against same-sex weddings to the Privy Council in London, the island's highest court of appeal.
Ms Webb, who was appointed as the Government's representative in Brussels last January, said that she respected religious viewpoints, but that she also respected the right of all individuals to equal treatment.
The former tourism minister said: “Bermuda having its first Pride parade, for me, I think it's excellent because it is time that we recognise the fact that everybody here belongs to Bermuda, whether they be gay, straight, indifferent, foreign, white, black.
“Bermuda is a society of diverse people and we should recognise all people as being equal before the law.”
The August 31 date of Bermuda's first Pride parade was chosen as it was the closest Saturday to the 25th anniversary of the Stubbs Bill, which decriminalised sex between consenting adult men in September 1994.
Ms Webb was among the key lobbyists who helped the legislation to pass.
She said: “It has been a long journey from the Stubbs Bill to same-sex marriage.
“I've always been a human-rights activist, so for me, it's just a given. I can't cherry pick what human rights I think should be implemented.”
Ms Webb added: “I am looking forward to being a part of history by participating in Bermuda's first Pride parade.”
She said: “From where I sit, Bermuda has evolved exponentially as a consequence of people being exposed, going abroad to school, working abroad, seeing that there's no bogeyman and your LGBT+ brothers and sisters are just like you — except they've made a different choice in terms of who their partner is, the person they want to share their life with.
“It's simply different from a heterosexual choice. “For me, communities, laws, governments have to respect their citizens and ensure that they have equal rights before the law.”
The Governor and the Government issued messages in the run-up to the march this weekend.
John Rankin, the Governor, said: “Bermuda's first ever Pride event is in line with the rights of freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience and freedom of expression guaranteed under the Bermuda Constitution and international human rights conventions.
“I hope that this will be an enjoyable event for all involved and, like many other events on the island, demonstrate both the inclusivity and diversity of the community in Bermuda.”
Walter Roban, the Acting Premier, said Bermuda was a country with “diverse opinions, ideologies and a history of strong spiritual convictions”.
He added: “We encourage everyone to be mindful of the diverse perspectives on our island and to seek peaceful, respectful and law-abiding means of expressing points of view.”