ISLANDS OF THE BAHAMAS POSITION ON GAY AND LESBIAN TRAVEL
Nassau, The Bahamas The Right Honorable Hubert Ingraham, Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of The Islands Of The Bahamas presented the following speech regarding The Bahamas position on gay and lesbian travel to the people of The Bahamas via national television. The Commonwealth supports and in no way hinders gay and lesbian travel into or within The Bahamas. However, given its political status as a democracy, the Commonwealth cannot hinder an individuals or groups right to lawful, free assembly and free speech.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I wish to make a few remarks about visits to The Bahamas by cruise ships chartered by Gay Organizations internationally. The matter has preoccupied the minds of certain segments of our society following the recent decision by the local authorities in the Cayman Islands to refuse permission for one such proposed gay cruise charter to call at that British Dependency; and following the announced intention by similar cruises to call on ports in The Bahamas.
It is important that a number of facts about this matter, in the Bahamian context, be understood:
1. The Bahamas is an independent, democratic country in which the rule of law is observed. We expect all persons residing here and/or visiting our shores to respect and observe the laws of the country. As a responsible member of the international community of nations, The Bahamas holds the rules of law as paramount.
2. The Bahamas Constitution establishes that we are a nation based upon Christian principles. Those principles passed down to us through the ages are those on which the early Christian communities were established. They include the virtues exemplified in Jesus life on earth a life guided by faith, love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness; a life which demonstrated light and hope.
3. The Bahamian constitution provides guarantees for the protection of the human rights and liberties of all persons resident and/or visiting The Bahamas. The Constitution creates an obligation for the Bahamian Government to protect the rights of its citizens and the rights of others who may find themselves in The Bahamas from time to time; to ensure that those rights are not infringed; and to guard against all forms of discrimination whether on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin or sex.
4. The Bahamas is a member of the United Nations and, as such, observes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights promulgated by that premier international organization. The Bahamas is also party to the international Human Rights Conventions including the Convention on Social and Economic Rights.
5. The Bahamas is a service-based economy. Our principal industry, tourism, and our second most important industry, financial services, bring millions of international persons to our shores every year. These persons come to The Bahamas by choice, at our invitation, frequently after having considered a number of alternative destinations as vacation spots and/or business jurisdictions. These persons come from virtually every country in the world; they represent all races and many, many ethnic groups; they practice one or other of virtually every religion known on the earth. Some are no doubt agnostic and others atheist; some are heterosexual, while others, I expect, may be homosexual. These visitors to the Bahamas form the basis of our economic lifeblood. Without tourism and financial services the standard of living of our country would be dramatically different. We would be measurably poorer with tremendously fewer opportunities.
During the year 1997, The Bahamas welcomed 1.7 cruise visitors and 1.6 million stopover visitors. These visitors help to create a standard of living in The Bahamas envied by many and equaled by few countries of similar size in our region.
6. The Bahamas Government believes that hysteria is dangerous; it breeds a mob-mentality, which ignores fact and frequently leads to the disregard of the rights and liberties of others. My Government rejects bias in any form and finds discrimination repugnant. My Government repudiates hate mongering, whether directed at individuals or groups, local or foreign.
My Government shares the concern of the Church Community in The Bahamas in protecting the moral integrity of our society and respects and appreciates the role which the Church plays in facilitating the moral education of our nation. We are, in fact, a country of laws and we require that residents and visitors alike comply with our laws relating to public decency.
I have been chilled by the vehemence of the expressions against gay persons made by some in our newspapers and over our radio talk shows. Admittedly, there have also been expressions of reason and understanding on this matter on the editorial pages but these have been largely lost in a sea of bitter, poorly reasoned diatribe.
I have been particularly pained by the position taken by a segment of the leadership of The Bahamas Christian Council. The Government has been reluctant to respond to charges and allegations in the press other than to have the Ministry of Tourism state its policy of non-discrimination because I believe that all of us have a right to express views freely; regardless to whether or not others share or oppose such views; and whether or not we may believe those views to be biased or unfounded.
That is why, after all, my Government freed the airwaves from Government monopoly within months of coming to Office in 1992. That is why we opened the Government Gazette to all daily newspapers in Nassau.
That is also why we facilitated the introduction of cable television service bringing to the Bahamian public the views of international broadcasts from not only the United States of America, but from English and French-speaking Canada, from the United Kingdom, from Germany and from Spanish-speaking America.
Information freely available in the press is a powerful, educative tool; and my Government has been anxious to empower the Bahamian people in every way.
But, information and access to information, can also be dangerous, particularly if the information is inaccurate, distorted or misused. That is why it is so important that the press be responsible; that you be accurate and that you be fair.
I believe that the hysteria being created by certain individuals against gay persons visiting The Bahamas and who represents themselves as the leadership of the Christian Council, is becoming irresponsible. I believe that the hysteria is, as is usually the case with hysteria, unfounded. It is also un-Christian.
Can we possibly imagine what the Gospels of the New Testament would read like if Jesus had refused to associate with the outcasts of society in his time? No redemption for Mary Magdalene? No salvation for the thief crucified with Christ? No Jesus sharing a meal with tax collectors? No parable of the Good Samaritan? A very different Christianity with very different lessons, indeed!
I do not believe that the future of The Bahamas will be placed in danger because chartered cruises by gay persons are permitted to continue to call at Bahamian ports. The future of The Bahamas is not threatened by foreign persons of homosexual orientation. Homosexuality is not a contagious disease; and it is not a crime in The Bahamas. Government has not been authorized to judge man for sin; God is the judge; so let us leave to God, the only righteous judge, the judgment of sin. Certainly it cannot be right that we reject persons, sight unseen, only because of their sexual orientation. The Gospel of Matthew, chapter 7(1-5) tells us:
Insofar as family life is concerned, studies conducted in developed nations around the world, most notably in North America and Western Europe, maintain that homosexuals are born and raised by well adjusted loving heterosexuals parents; and that well adjusted homosexuals have given birth to and raised well adjusted heterosexual children. While research has not been conducted in The Bahamas, the results would very likely be quite similar among Bahamians.
An individuals right to privacy is a basic human right cherished by all people. It is a right which citizens of democratic countries expect to be respected by their Government. Quite simply, it is not the role of the Government to investigate and pass judgement on the sexual behavior of consenting adults so long as their activity is conducted in private.
Whether a private sexual act between consenting adults is homosexual or heterosexual is not my business, and I do not think it is your business either. We cannot, and ought not try, to dictate or to legislate morality. In any event, all past efforts to do so have always failed miserably. A good example is the success of the laws against adultery. Certainly, adultery is a far greater threat to a Bahamian family life today than is homosexuality. Could we build a jail large enough to house all Bahamian adulterers? Could we exclude all other adulterers from tourists welcomed in The Bahamas. Should we exclude them?
The Government of The Bahamas does not promote or encourage homosexual lifestyles but neither does it condemn or exclude persons who reveal themselves to be homosexual. We believe that the focused attention of some segments of the Christian community on serious social ills which continue to confront our Bahamas such as incest, impregnation of teenage girls by grown, married men, and the abandonment of children by wayward fathers and negligent mothers are far more worthy causes for concern than the sexual orientation of adult tourists who may visit an uninhabited cay for 24 hours or less.
My Government seeks to promote healthy, responsible lifestyles for all our people. We know that discriminating against and ostracizing people does not create a healthy environment. Discriminating and separating blacks from whites in post-slavery USA, imprisoning Jews in death camps in Nazi Germany, corralling blacks in Apartheid South Africa; murdering Tutsis in Rwanda or Muslims in Bosnia did not create a peaceful, loving resolution to societal problems in those countries. Banning international gay persons from The Bahamas falls squarely in that category.
History records that persons, forced to conceal their sexual orientation in times past, have been subject to blackmail with terrible consequences. Secret gay lifestyles have also been charged with having helped to spread the HIV epidemic among the gay population particularly during the 1980s and the subsequent epidemic among the heterosexual population of the world in the 1990s.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I am advised by the agent for Holland America Lines in Nassau, that its cruise ship, the Veendam visited Nassau on Friday on a special charter cruise for Triple A-that is the Automobile Association of America. The ship returned to Fort Lauderdale on Saturday and departs on Sunday on its regularly scheduled seven-day cruise. The ship is expected to call at Half Moon Cay in The Bahamas, tomorrow, Monday, March 9, it then spends a day at sea before proceeding to Georgetown, Cayman Island. Following another day at sea on Thursday the ship will call on Playa del Carmen, Mexico, returning to its homeport of Fort Lauderdale on Saturday via Key West Florida.
To the extent that the agent was able to determine, the ship is not on a special charter for any gay and lesbian group. Whether some of its nearly 2,000 passengers are gay or lesbian, note, it does not require persons buying its cruises to indicate their sexual orientation.
I may add that The Bahamas Government has never sought to have visitors to The Bahamas reveal their sexual orientation upon entry or exit. We have been generally interested to learn, through exit polls, the extent to which a Bahamian vacation lives up to the promises of our advertisements.
I am pleased to say that our approval ratings have been increasing steadily over the past several years. We are pleased that as a result of the Governments efforts to enhance our tourism product, to market the several islands of The Bahamas as separate vacation destinations, coupled with the tremendous increase in private investments in our hotel and resort sector, our economic future continues to look brighter and brighter. The investment of in excess of $30 million by Holland America Lines in the development of its private Port of Call at Half Moon Cay is an example of that private sector investment in our economy. We welcome that investment, we welcome the 110,000 cruise passengers which Holland American ships will bring to Nassau and/or at Half Moon Cay in The Bahamas in 1998, and we look forward to an increase in the number of cruise passengers visiting The Bahamas on HAL ships in the years ahead.
We similarly welcome the commitments of Carnival Cruise Lines, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Lines and Disney Cruise Lines in bringing hundreds of thousand of cruise passengers to our shores each year. Those cruise passengers create hundreds of jobs and scores of new business opportunities for thousands of Bahamian workers, independent operators and business men and women taxi-drivers, water and land tour operators, hair braiders, straw vendors, craft persons, merchants and restaurateurs.
Rt. Hon. Hubert A. Ingraham