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Rights campaigner says huge strides made

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A human rights campaigner said that huge strides had been taken since she was one of only two openly gay people in Bermuda 15 years ago.

Claire Smith added she was delighted that Bermuda will hold its first gay Pride parade but warned that more had to be done to ensure equal rights for all.

She said: “When I first came out publicly in 2004, there was only one other out gay, my friend Peter Carpenter.

“I can imagine other homosexuals were afraid they would suffer discrimination and negativity or get kicked out of their rentals, or even lose their jobs, if people knew about their sexual orientation.”

Ms Smith added: “Now we have a gay parade, it's going to have tons of gay people marching and feeling comfortable doing so.

“There are huge strides — a lot of that is to do with human rights protection so that they can't be discriminated against unjustly.

“As society accepts people for who they are, they have the ability to be who they are.”

The 61-year-old said she had been “overwhelmed by the support of all the straight people” in her life who planned to attend the parade, especially because she could not be there because she was overseas.

Ms Smith praised the “brave” Pride organisers for committing time and energy to “such an important piece of history”.

The businesswoman was part of the Two Words And A Comma campaign launched in 2007, which called for an amendment to the Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation.

She said that the group ran a series of adverts that introduced gay people “as normal members of society, with family members or friends talking about them”.

Ms Smith, the former owner of Bermuda Trader, which she set up in 1989, added: “I hope the campaign may have shifted some prejudices as well as providing support to the closet homosexuals who could see fellow gays featured in the ads stand up and be counted.”

She highlighted the need for equal rights in 2011 when she placed an advert in The Royal Gazette in 2011 that read: “Wanted: homosexual house cleaner (heterosexuals need not apply).”

The advert was legal at the time because of Government's failure to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, which was fixed after amendments to the Act were passed in 2013.

But Ms Smith, who has been with her partner Andrea Swaan for 26 years, said there was still intolerance.

She added: “People don't say things to your face, so I haven't actually had open hostility towards myself.”

But the businesswoman added: “I see it in the media and I see how the religious right respond to the whole issue of homosexuality and this makes me realise the level of bigotry that exists.

“With everything, as younger people become more educated and they have much more exposure to LGBT people ... the younger generation don't really care about people's sexual orientation, things are changing quite quickly as people become more exposed.”

The Government's legal battle against same-sex marriage is expected to be heard by the Privy Council, Bermuda's highest court of appeal, after permission was given for the case to go ahead.

Ms Smith said yesterday that she was “troubled” that the Government was “wasting time, money and energy” on the fight.

She explained: “It feels like they are pandering to the religious right and the bigots in their party.

“What happened to the separation of church and state?

“I truly don't understand why some church members and politicians seem so preoccupied with gay marriage while it does in no way harm society, whereas we have a prevalence of divorce, gang violence, physical and sexual abuse, and fathers who are nowhere in sight to support their now one-parent families.

“These social ills contribute far more community dysfunction than me loving my girlfriend and wishing to get married like everyone else.”

Ms Smith added: “Unfortunately, I am not in Bermuda for the march, but I implore everyone to get out there and be counted.

“Let's demonstrate love and inclusiveness for all our brothers and sisters.”

Claire Smith, a human rights campaigner, saw great strides in Bermuda in anticipation of the Pride parade (Photograph supplied).
Advert that ran as part of the Two Words and a Comma campaign, launched in 2007 before amendments to the Human Rights Act (Supplied).
Advert that ran as part of the Two Words and a Comma campaign, launched in 2007 before amendments to the Human Rights Act (Supplied).

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Published August 31, 2019 at 9:00 am (Updated August 31, 2019 at 8:59 am)

Rights campaigner says huge strides made

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