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Government must show empathy to LGBTQ citizens, says ex-MP

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Bermuda Pride closed out Pride month with a frank talk on the past, present and future of LGBTQ+ issues in Bermuda. Elizabeth Christopher, left, a lawyer and co-founder of the group, with Michael Scott, former Attorney-General (Photograph taken from Bermuda Brodcasting Company livestream)

A “voluntary and loving” display of rainbow colours from a government building such as Cabinet or Camden House could be enough to empower LGBTQ+ citizens, former Attorney-General Michael Scott told a Bermuda Pride panel last night.

Mr Scott, who stepped down as a Progressive Labour Party MP last year, appeared on a wide-ranging panel with three activists closing out Pride Month.

Elizabeth Christopher, a lawyer and co-founder of Bermuda Pride, flagged up the trans community as the next frontier in tackling discrimination.

She appeared alongside Mr Scott with Michael DeCouto, chief digital and marketing officer with Clarien Bank, and Alexandria Williams, a human-rights activist who cofounded Black Lives Matter Toronto.

Ms Christopher said the island’s LGBTQ+ people needed to rally around trans people who had “always” confronted oppression and fought back, adding: “They have always been ostracised, pushed to the side and not given the recognition they deserve.”

Mr Scott told the discussion, hosted by the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club: “The single most important thing a government can do, and our government, is to display empathy and send signals to a young LGBTQ citizen who has had a fraught experience.”

He cited displaying rainbow colours on a public building, such as the lighting of the White House in the US.

“Normalising is an important signal to our kids and to our adults,” he said.

He addressed Tinée Furbert, the social development and seniors minister, who was in the audience – suggesting “possibly even assigning within your department a director of LGBTQ advocacy”.

Mr Scott said it intersected with a government’s “primary responsibility of protecting people’s constitutional rights and human rights”, adding: “It’s a critical responsibility.”

Panellists shared their experiences in coming out, with Mr DeCouto recalling it as “extremely difficult” as an Acorean Portuguese man from a Catholic community.

But he said he took comfort from his mother telling him: “I do not understand. But I love you.”

Ms Williams, who returned to the island from Canada in 2018, said she had grown up in the Friswell’s Hill neighbourhood and was also a Muslim.

She described feeling “shocked” at the thousands who turned out for the island’s first Bermuda Pride parade of 2019 – and said that appearing on the panel, broadcast online and by the Bermuda Broadcasting Company, felt “amazing”.

But Ms Williams added that she knew she would still encounter spaces where “security is not guaranteed”.

Pointing out that “Google is free”, the activist called on people to do their own research.

She added: “Collectively, there needs to be more self education done on our own time.”

Mr DeCouto said it was time for the community to confront its divisions on multiple fronts.

“We need to stop being afraid of having difficult conversations,” he said.

Mr Scott said he had watched the issues evolve since the Stubbs Bill of 1994 effectively “decriminalised sexual relations between males in this country“.

“We are a tiny community,” he added. “It’s the reason I think Michael was able to reflect on the tensions about coming out.”

The talk last night was hosted by Tawana Tannock, the immediate past chairwoman of the Bermuda Human Rights Commission.

Ms Christopher closed by encouraging anyone in difficulty to contact the charity OutBermuda online.

She added: “We are your tribe and we’re here for you.”

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Published July 01, 2021 at 2:23 pm (Updated July 01, 2021 at 10:23 pm)

Government must show empathy to LGBTQ citizens, says ex-MP

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