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Concern at slow progress on sexual orientation legislation

Government will look at the possibility of putting forward legislation to make discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal, according to the Throne Speech.

While some activists said the announcement was encouraging, others said it sounded like a step backwards from previous statements.

Pastor Sylvia Hayward-Harris, who emphasised she was speaking on her own behalf and not for human rights group Two Words and a Comma, said: “I was really quite disturbed by the fact they were talking about 'assessing the possibility'.

“They have told us in the past, Dr Ewart Brown said it, the Minister Glenn Blakeney said it, they were actually going to introduce the legislation.

“For them to now say they will assess the possibility, it sounds to me like they are back-pedalling.”

She also criticised the use of the term “lifestyle choices,” saying: “As a heterosexual, I don't remember ever choosing to be heterosexual. I don't think any heterosexual remembers making that choice.”

The Throne Speech mentioned the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation only briefly, saying: “In keeping with its track record of dealing with sometimes controversial social issues, your Government will also be tackling discrimination.

“While the Government is aware of the sensitivities in the community surrounding sexual orientation, it does not condone discrimination in employment and accommodation based on a person's lifestyle choices.

“Accordingly, Government will assess whether it is feasible to introduce an Equality Act.”

In a press conference following the reading of the Throne Speech on Friday, Premier Paula Cox said the Government wants to address all forms of discrimination, including discrimination based on age and sexual preference.

The Premier was asked what is her Government's specific commitment to prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, given somewhat softer language on the issue compared to previous Throne Speeches.

“We want to let you know that this is a Government that's concerned about the people, not just people who look like us, not just people who behave like us” she said. “So we are signalling our interest in correcting anomalies and discriminatory provisions. That's what we're saying we're doing looking at that and assessing it. So the people know that they are not buying a pig in a poke, we're not being secretive about the need to deal with inequalities and discrimination including sexual orientation discrimination.”

Selina Bean, also from Two Words and a Comma, said the group was encouraged that Government clearly stated its commitment to this issue, but she expressed frustration that no legislation has come forward despite past promises.

“As a gay person, I'm frustrated that they continue to mention it in the Throne Speech, yet we haven't seen any results.

“We are working as hard as we can to get this changed, and it's encouraging, but it's something we hear every year.”

She said the organisation plans to continue lobbying MPs and Senators in an effort to get legislation aimed at making discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation illegal.

The House of Assembly was previously asked to vote on the issue in 2006 when then-MP Renee Webb tabled a private member's bill, which failed after MPs gave it the 'silent treatment'.

In the 2009 Throne Speech, Government promised to amend Human Rights Legislation to ensure that “no person is discriminated against in Bermuda”.

Last November, Mr Blakeney said Government was hoping to vote on the issue by the end of the parliamentary session, a statement echoed this February in a Government status report marking the first 100 days of Mrs Cox's administration.

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Published November 07, 2011 at 8:00 am (Updated November 07, 2011 at 8:12 am)

Concern at slow progress on sexual orientation legislation

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