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Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence


Submission from David Northcott, on behalf of Two Words and A Comma, Bermuda

  Please find attached the submission from the non-governmental organisation Two Words and A Comma in Bermuda regarding the lack of protection for Bermuda residents against discrimination based on the grounds of sexual orientation.

  We attended and spoke recently at the public meeting held at the Mt St Agnes Academy and this document is a revised and expanded version of the one given to the MP's at that meeting and this comprises our formal submission.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF TWO WORDS AND A COMMA

  The Two Words and a Comma group was formed in April 2007 by a group of Bermuda residents with the express intent of having "the Human Rights Act 1981 amended to explicitly include the protection of all residents of Bermuda from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation".[301] The group came together because of a common concern at the continued lack of action of the Bermuda Government in continuing to exclude sexual orientation from the Human Rights Act. Two Words and a Comma is run completely by volunteers in their own time and has a working group of around 20 people and a support list of over 500.

  The title of the group is a simple reminder of (just about) all it would take to ban discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in Bermuda; by adding those two words (sexual orientation) and a comma into the list of protected categories in the Human Rights Act 1981.

  The group decided that they should carry out this mission by:

    —  Lobbying Members of Parliament, Senators and other political figures.

    —  Consulting with the Human Rights Commission and other relevant Government agencies.

    —  Working in partnership with other non-governmental organisations.

    —  Raising awareness, educating and informing the general public about Bermuda's Human Rights legislation and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

  And in carrying out the mission they committed to:

    —  Create open, honest and respectful dialogue in the Community.

    —  Encourage and promote the values of diversity and inclusion.[302]

  The Human Rights Commission in Bermuda has twice recommended the amendment of the Act to include sexual orientation as a specific category or group against whom it would be illegal to discriminate (in 2001 and 2005[303] and again in 2006).[304] The Commission has on a number of occasions received complaints from the public against discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (the latest being in 2006)[305] but has been able to act on the complaints because sexual orientation is not covered under the Act. The Chair of the Human Rights Commission, Ms Venous Memari has publicly confirmed this.[306] Despite this, statements have been made by both the then Premier Alex Scott, the current Premier Ewart Brown and the then Opposition Leader Wayne Furbert asserting that sexual orientation is already covered in the Human Rights Act.[307] Quite clearly Bermuda suffers from a climate of homophobia as well as a climate of misinformation.

  In 2006, the Hon Renee Webb MP, JP presented a private member's bill to Parliament to amend the Human Rights Act to include sexual orientation, but apart from Ms. Webb, only one other Member of Parliament spoke on the bill, and therefore under the rules of Parliament, it could not progress any further. The debacle in the House of Assembly that was the cowardice on the part of our elected officials to speak out on the issue (whether for or against the issue) was quite stunning, and there was a major demonstration the following week outside Parliament to protest the MP's silence, which received good coverage in the local press. In the Throne Speech of November 2007, the Government committed to bringing the Human Rights Act to international standards, but again, there has been little movement on the matter, "despite the Human Affairs Department undertaking a comprehensive review of the Human Rights Act which involved consultation with community stakeholders during summer 2007. (This report has yet to be published).

So, 14 years on from the decriminalisation of consenting sex between adult men (the Stubb's Bill, 1994), and seven years on from the Human Rights Commission first recommending the amendment to the Human Rights Act, the Government has yet to act. In addition, the main body charged with responsibility for human rights issues, has in the opinion of Two Words and a Comma not adequately fulfilled its mandated role in public education. Two Words has been formed to fill that void and to counter the climate of homophobia and misinformation with lobbying and public education.

  Two Words and a Comma have been very active in carrying out their stated mission. Since forming nearly a year ago, the group has:

    —  Run a six week public education campaign in the local print media highlighting the lack of protection in the Human Rights Act for all persons on the grounds of their sexuality.

    —  Held a public movie night and discussion on discrimination on the grounds of sexuality attended by more than 200 people at the members of the public (including the Minister responsible for the Human Rights Commission, and the same Ministry's Permanent Secretary).

    —  Created a website as a resource for information and communication which has received well in excess of 1000 unique hits during the public education campaign.

    —  Organised six lobbying meetings island-wide for ALL candidates in the lead up to December 2007 General Election to meet with members of the public. Nearly half the candidates attended along with a total of some 100 plus members of the public.

    —  Made a detailed submission to the Human Affairs Department's Human Rights Review.

  The group wishes to capitalise on the momentum of last year's work and intends to continue the work this year. We have already met with the new Minister responsible for the Human Rights Commission, and are awaiting a written reply to our concerns about the lack of progress.

  We also have planned the following work for 2008:

    —  Running a new (part two) public education campaign in the media.

    —  Holding dialogue sessions with clergy and other prominent members of the different religious denominations, particularly with those who have publicly opposed the inclusion of sexual orientation in the Human Rights Act.

    —  Following up with all the candidates and subsequently elected MP's with information packs and lobbying, as well as holding meetings with the Premier, the Opposition Leader, Attorney General and members of the Senate.

    —  Building a strong relationship with the new members of the Human Rights Commission.

    —  Continuing to work with the Human Affairs Department.

    —  Working with Amnesty International (we are the invited speaker at their AGM in April 2008).

    —  Holding additional movie nights with discussion sessions and other educational events.

  In the view of the members of Two Words and a Comma, the progress on the inclusion of sexual orientation into the Human Rights Act has been painfully slow. Whilst we prefer to see an amendment made by the Bermuda Government that is domestically driven, voluntary and inclusively supported, rather than having change imposed upon by the UK, we nonetheless wish to highlight the situation in Bermuda to the UK Foreign Affairs Committee.

  Thank you for your interest. We are more than happy to make ourselves available for further discussion or information at any time.

22 March 2008

APPENDIX

MISSION STATEMENT

  Our mission is to have the Human Rights Act 1981 amended to explicitly include the protection of all residents of Bermuda from discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.

  We will carry out this mission by:

    —  Lobbying Members of Parliament, Senators and other political figures.

    —  Consulting with the Human Rights Commission and other relevant Government agencies.

    —  Working in partnership with other non-governmental organisations.

    —  Raising awareness, educating and informing the general public about Bermuda's Human Rights legislation and discrimination based on sexual orientation.

  In carrying out our mission we will:

    —  Create open, honest and respectful dialogue in the Community.

    —  Encourage and promote the values of diversity and inclusion.












301   Two Words and a Comma Mission Statement (see Appendix). Back

302   Two Words and a Comma Mission Statement (see Appendix). Back

303   Human Rights Commission Annual Reports 2001 and 2005. Back

304   The Royal Gazette, 5 and 11 May 2007. Back

305   The Royal Gazette, 20 October 2006. Back

306   The Royal Gazette, 27 July 2007. Back

307   The Royal Gazette, 1 September 2006 and 20 October 2006. Back


 
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