Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller
Photo - Office of the Prime Minister

Jamaica House and the People’s National Party (PNP) have been making much of Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller’s inclusion on Time Magazine’s List of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. The list comprises, Time says, “the people who inspire us, entertain us, challenge us and change our world… the breakouts, pioneers, moguls, leaders and icons.”
It sounds really great for the Prime Minister of a small country like Jamaica to be included on the list. She is one of 38 women listed, more, the BBC reports, than ever named before.  And after all, she’s not in the rogue section populated by people like North Korean leader Kim Jong Un or Syrian president Bashar al-Assad!

But why is she there?

The blurb about her is written by US Congresswoman Yvette Clarke, daughter of former NY city councilwoman Una Clarke, herself a Jamaican, and a longtime friend of Jamaica.

Yvette clarke
Yvette clarke (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Clarke says that Portia is :

“the embodiment of perseverance and strength.”

I have no quarrel with that description. It says a lot for her that she emerged from the recent political campaign with her head held high after one of the most vicious series of sustained and personal attacks I have seen on a political candidate.

Clarke goes on:

“In 2006 she made history, becoming the first woman to be elected Prime Minister of Jamaica. She was re-elected in December 2011.”

That is a fact. No room for quibbling there. She goes on:

“While she has worked for many years as a public servant representing all Jamaicans, there is a great sense that her leadership will expand far beyond her island nation.”

I’m not going to argue with that statement. Whether it’s true or not will be seen soon enough.

But then Clarke goes on to say:

“In addition to her call this year to break with the British monarchy and make the island a republic,  Portia is promoting full civil rights for gays and lesbians, a courageous move in a country with a violent history of homophobia.”

WHOA! STOP. Cue screeching brakes. What? What the hell? When did we in Jamaica and the media miss such a ground-breaking and phenomenal development?

Oh, come on. The Prime Minister is doing  nothing of the kind.

This all started at the leadership political debate on December 20, 2011 in response to a question I asked, which was originally directed to then Prime Minister Andrew Holness. The question was related to former Prime Minister Bruce Golding’s  famous statement in a 2008 BBC interview that gays were not welcome in his cabinet.

At the debate I asked this:

Q: Mr. Holness, Jamaica has an international reputation for homophobia. What do you think of former Prime Minister Golding’s statement that homosexuals were not welcome in his Cabinet, and do you share that sentiment?

Mrs. Simpson Miller, in her rebuttal, said this:

“Our administration believes in protecting the human rights of all Jamaicans. No one should be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. Government should provide the protection. And I think that we should have a look at the buggery law and that Members of Parliament should be given the opportunity to vote with their conscience on consultation with their constituents but for me, I do not support the position of the former Prime Minister because people should be appointed to positions based on their ability to manage.” (My emphasis.)

Now, this was a courageous stance, and one for which Simpson Miller took a lot of flak. But do you remember how fast the PNP rushed to “clarify” her statement when the anti-gay lobby began denouncing her for allegedly promising to repeal the buggery law? (And clearly she had done nothing of the sort.)

But the PNP made sure to emphasise the limits on Simpson Miller’s statement. The party said in a statement on December 27, 2011:

“The People’s National Party (PNP) has labeled as deliberate mischief making by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP), suggestions that it supports a repealing of the Buggery Act. The PNP says that is not its position.

“PNP Campaign Director, Dr. Peter Phillips said … that the PNP has no position to repeal the Buggery Act, and that the issue arose out of a question posed to party leader Portia Simpson Miller during the recent national debate with prime minister and JLP leader, Andrew Holness.

“…there is no position taken by us of a repeal…” Dr. Phillips said. He adds that the Party Leader has proposed a review of the Act, and not a repeal of it.”

All this is true, but you must admit that Simpson Miller’s position falls short of “promoting full civil rights for gays and lesbians” as is being claimed.

Dare I suggest we remind ourselves of the recently enacted Charter of Rights. The Jamaica Forum for Lesbian, Allsexuals and Gays (JFLAG) was pushing for a clause prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. Ha! They would have had a better chance promoting non-discrimination on the basis of being vegetarian or not liking track and field. Point is, I didn’t see any politician, including the Prime Minister, in Parliament championing that cause.

Instead we now have a constitutional amendment in the Charter of Rights in section  13 (3) (i) which provides for:

The right to freedom from discrimination on the ground of being male or female; race, place of origin, social class, colour, religion or political opinions.

The PM has been in the spotlight a lot recently, whether hugging Prince Harry or being called upon to comment on the fake flag fiasco in Montego Bay. That spotlight is likely to shine throughout her tenure as Jamaican Prime Minister. Part of that attraction is that she has made history and continues to do so. Has Simpson Miller overcome a lot to arrive at the pinnacle of politics in Jamaica? Clearly she has. Her memoirs will make fascinating reading.

Did she take a courageous stance on the buggery law? Yes she did.

But is she “promoting full civil rights for gays and lesbians”? No, she isn’t.

Let’s not oversell the stance she did take, or re-write history. Perhaps the PNP should once again “clarify” the PM’s position? But there’s no political benefit to be gained from that now, is there?

What’s your take?

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