Tue | Jul 14, 2020

‘Fish, whale, bend up and straightness’ - Politics and backlash from homophobic slurs

Published:Thursday | February 20, 2020 | 12:29 AM

For decades, Jamaica’s political and parliamentary archives have recorded controversial, and, at times, stinging barbs thrown at political opponents with utterances sometimes spilling over into testy exchanges over one’s sexual orientation.

Former leader of the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), the late Edward Seaga, was never timid to make comments on political platforms that many deemed politically incorrect. Seaga triggered public speculation in the 1990s about the then prime minister’s sexuality when he sounded off from a campaign platform that no one had ever accused him of “Boom, bye, bye”, referencing the lyrics of Jamaican dancehall deejay Buju Banton, who advocated the killing of homosexuals.

In an apparent response to Seaga’s jarring remarks, P.J. Patterson charged that the comment was the worst attempt at demonisation by the JLP.

Patterson, in language characteristic of his non-confrontational style of politics, declared in an interview with the then Breakfast Club’s hosts Beverley Anderson-Manley and the late Anthony Abrahams: “My credentials as a lifelong heterosexual person are impeccable.

“Anybody who tries to say otherwise is not just smearing and in vulgar abuse ... but when you talk about demonising, what is that?”

The latest episode features the People’s National Party’s (PNP) Horace Dalley and Mark Golding, who sought to shore up the party’s Dr Winston De La Haye against the Jamaica Labour Party’s (JLP) Alando Terrelonge for the St Catherine East Central seat in the next general election.

However, both Dalley and Golding apparently crossed the line when they made statements that sparked a chorus of criticism, particularly on social media.

A spirited Dalley proclaimed: “... PNP straight. We nuh bend up, bend up.” And Golding took aim at the dreadlocked member of parliament. “Terrelonge, when him see the straightness of the man who coming against him, will be wobbling in his boots.”

In an attempt to assuage public discontent about their remarks, the PNP tendered a swift apology, saying that the comments were regrettable.

But Golding went further, taking to his Facebook account to apologise to Terrelonge for homophobic comments he made against his fellow legislator.

“I regret getting caught up in the hoopla of a political meeting and indulging in that unworthy form of political discourse, in particular since he (Terrelonge) has always treated me with respect and decency, and since in my own life and dealings, I have advocated for everyone to be treated with equal respect and decency,” Golding wrote.

“He did not deserve it.”

But controversial so-called homophobic remarks have found their way even in Gordon House, with a senior JLP lawmaker, J.C. Hutchinson, in 2012, declaring himself “finless” or devoid of scales.

“I am no fish in here,” Hutchinson said in response to a sharp rebuke from the then PNP’s Raymond Pryce, who ordered him to “sit down and shut up”.

When quizzed about his remarks, Hutchinson seemingly evaded public backlash by explaining that he, too, was once a fish but had now graduated to a whale, a mammal.