Man admits anti-gay statements
In a first for Bermuda, a sexual orientation discrimination case has gone before a tribunal of the Human Rights Commission.
Desai Jones, 41, admitted posting a string of anti-gay statements on his Facebook page, but denied that they were directed at bus driver Mark Anderson.
Mr Anderson, who is openly gay, is widely known by his stage name of Sybil Barrington, and Mr Jones said that his statements — which included “you're so fortunate that I didn't rip you out of your bra and panties” and “you know for a fact I hate your kind with a passion” — were aimed at that persona.
“I am talking about the persona Sybil Barrington — that person is not real; that person is a drag queen,” Mr Jones said. “Sybil Barrington doesn't have a passport or birth certificate. I didn't say ‘Mark Anderson', though people in Bermuda or the drag queen society or community may know who it is.”
The posts were made in March last year, after an encounter between the two men ended on a sour note when Mr Anderson asked Mr Jones not to board the bus any more without paying his fare.
“He gave me this look of, like, ‘not this c*** again',” Mr Jones told the tribunal, adding that Mr Anderson had been “undermining, downgrading of another brother”.
According to Mr Anderson, their initial encounter had been relatively amiable, but he had told Mr Jones not to do it again when he dropped him off at his stop.
“He said, ‘Are you trying to embarrass me?' and I said that I just wanted to make it clear, this can't happen again.”
Two days later, he began to get messages about “someone blasting me on Facebook”, and began recording the posts on the advice of Police.
Mr Jones posted a copy of the Human Rights Commission complaint online, including “disturbing” comments about the commission's executive director, Lisa Reed. Mr Jones opted not to cross examine the evidence, adding: “The situation has been blown out of proportion.”
He told the tribunal: “I'm a blogger. I'm online as long as I have electricity. I was just using Facebook as a vent — all the posts I have in front of me, I can say I wrote them.
“My account is public; you don't have to be my friend to see them. That's due to the outspoken person I am.”
Mr Jones, who is accused of discriminating against Mr Anderson on the basis of his sexual orientation, as well as trying to intimidate him or coerce him against reporting the matter, also said his remarks should not be construed as a hate crime. “The way I was brought up was in a Christian household,” he said.
“What the world right now is in acceptance of, the way I was brought up, that acceptance was Sodom and Gomorrah; it was an abomination. That's my belief.”
His March 12 Facebook post was addressed to “Sybil” with references to lingerie and hating “your kind”.
“It's hard to hear you say that you never intended to attack anybody or intimidate, but you have language that talks about being aggressive toward somebody,” tribunal chairwoman Tawana Tannock told him.
A later posting addressed to a “drag queen” advised to “let the water run off you like a duck's feathers”, but added “guess that doesn't apply to setting fire to them”.
Mr Jones said it had been a scriptural reference to fire and brimstone rather than an actual threat.
“Do you accept that anyone reading that could have taken it as a threat?” asked commissioner Jens Juul.
Mr Jones said any one of his 3,000 or more Facebook friends would know “exactly what I was saying”.
Mr Anderson's lawyer, Darrell Clarke, queried another online comment which read: “Just don't try to stand toe to toe with me, because I will go out of my way to hurt you real bad.”
Mr Jones said it had been a boxing reference, not intended as a threat. “I don't feel as though it should have gotten to this point,” he said.
“I understand people limit freedom of speech, but I don't necessarily have to be forced to live that lifestyle because of the person that I am.”
Mr Jones conceded that in the future there would be more talk on “quote-unquote gay rights, but as a people I just hope we could just unite and get along”.
Sexual orientation was added to the Human Rights Act in December 2013.
While the Human Rights Commission has heard complaints, this marks the first occasion that a matter has gone before a tribunal.
Judgment is to be rendered in due course.