Browne Evans would have been disappointed with PLP’s ambivalence on Human Rights Act, says her daughter
By Jonathan Bell
Human rights champion Lois Browne Evans would have been disappointed by the Progressive Labour Party’s ambivalent stance on the Human Rights Act, according to her daughter Tina Evans Caines.
An amendment outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation goes before today’s sitting of the House of Assembly.
Speaking just days before National Heroes Day, Ms Evans Caines recalls her mother — Bermuda’s first National Hero — staunchly backing legislation, such as 1994’s Stubbs Bill, that had profound implications for gay rights.
“I clearly remember we were initially on opposite sides,” Ms Evans Caines recalled, of the furious debate that came with the Stubbs Bill nearly 20 years ago.
“I was at the Baptist church with her, and asked her how she could do this. I said it was a vote for homosexuality, but she was concerned with the letter of the law and human rights. Clearly, clearly it was about a human rights issue. And she was always about championing the rights of all people — she was non-discriminatory. For supporting the Stubbs Bill, she took a lot of flak, not just in the House itself, but also in public and in her home.”
She added: “Back then my mother took incredible heat from people, from the Christian community, who just would not believe that [the Stubbs Bill] would not lead to the further degrading of our moral society.”
Neither the Stubbs Bill, nor the current Human Rights Amendment Act, explicitly addresses gay rights, but debate over both has been consumed with the issue of accepting homosexuality.
Added Ms Evans Caines: “Everyone interpreted it that way. It became a debate on homosexuality, morality and the church’s response to the Bill. It also polarised the community, in that you were either for homosexuality or against homosexuality — which this amendment is doing right now. It’s becoming more about homosexuality than human rights.”
She said the PLP’s failure to explicitly back the amendment fell short of Dame Lois’s legacy as a founding member of the PLP.
“The PLP have taken the stance that everybody can vote with their conscience. And they did that back then as well. But certainly, the legacy of my mother was that everyone has the fundamental right to be treated as equals in the law of the land.”
Asked if the stance by Opposition Leader Marc Bean didn’t simply reflect the PLP’s evolution as a party, Ms Evans Caines said: “The ideology of the party hasn’t changed; the leadership has. The party has always stood on the side of rights for people. What’s going on internally, I don’t know; that’s not my battle.”
She said: “People will vote with their conscience or what their constituents have pushed them to. I’m speaking as a private citizen, as the daughter of Bermuda’s first national hero, who championed human rights.”
Dame Lois’s support for human rights during the debate over the Stubbs Bill endures in Parliamentary transcripts.
Said Ms Evans Caines: “My daughter, Ariana Caines, an aspiring lawyer and head girl at the Berkeley Institute, read the trascript of her grandmother’s words and she cried, and said, ‘I wish that I could have been there to hear her, and for Nana to see me now, about to follow in her footsteps’.”
Tina Evans Caines, daughter of Dame Lois Browne Evans, denied that support for gay rights was deeply divided between the Island’s racial camps.
The daughter of human rights stalwart conceded that the black community had not been as “vocal” on gay rights as the white community — but disagreed strongly that white residents were strongly more in favour than black residents.
Black religious leaders, she said, had been “some of the strongest voices on either side of the debate on the amendment to the Human Rights Act”.
Ms Evans Caines spoke to The Royal Gazette alongside lawyer Elizabeth Christopher, of the campaign group Two Words and a Comma.
Ms Christopher said: “Maybe in the black community they feel there are more pressing issues. I don’t think it reflects different attitudes toward homosexuality — it’s not about one part of the community being more concerned than another about human rights. I think it’s more that, if you ask people to tell you what the most pressing issue they have, black people may be more about violence and unemployment, issues that are immediately in their face when they wake up every morning — and white people may not to the same extent.”
Source: The Royal Gazette