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Columns : Genderational - Alicia Wallace Last Updated: Feb 13, 2017 - 1:45:37 AM

Alicia Wallace talks with Erin Greene on Bill #4
By Alicia Wallace
Jun 3, 2016 - 4:08:30 PM

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Bill #4: To add “sex” to the prohibited grounds for discrimination in Article 26 of the constitution which currently lists race, place of origin, political opinions, color and creed; has an exclusionary clause which allows for discrimination in legislation on, among others, taxation, adoption, marriage, divorce, and burial.

In the exercise dubbed the “gender equality referendum”, bill four has been the cause for much concern in The Bahamas, particularly among (pseudo-) religious, homophobic people, and unabashed misogynists. The most fear-inducing claim in the country has been that bill four - adding “sex” to the prohibited grounds for discrimination - would lead to same-sex marriage. This is easily refuted by reference to Article 26(4)(c) which permits discrimination where marriage is concerned, allowing the exclusion of same-sex couples from the definition of marriage to continue.

Saving the conversation on homophobia, intolerance, and marriage inequality for another time, it is important to consider the position of the LGBT community as represented by longtime advocate Erin Greene. Short memories, poor reporting, and fear mongering have unfairly edited the events of the past two years resulting in an inaccurate narrative regarding Green’s position. Contrary to reckless claims, she is neither trying to trick the general public into voting yes (by saying she will vote no), nor denying the relevance of bill four to the LGBT community. It is also worth noting that she is not flip-flopping on the issue, and the change in her position only came after a change to the bill itself.

A brief history
When the referendum was announced in 2014, Erin Greene fully supported the four proposed constitutional amendment bills as they were then written. When concern about the impact of bill four on marriage was raised by Member of Parliament for Long Island Loretta Butler-Turner in August 2014, it became an oft used red herring. Politicians, religious leaders, and the general public grew increasingly concerned about the word “sex” and its meaning.

Greene said, “Entrenching the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sex is good for LGBT people, but this does not rely on the judiciary interpreting sex to mean sexual orientation. We rely on the fact that LGBT discrimination is sex-based discrimination.”

While it does not mean the state sanctions or will sanction same-sex marriage, Greene agrees that adding sex to the prohibited grounds for discrimination in Article 26 would protect LGBT people from discrimination in the law, not including the Martrimonial Causes Act.

On the heels of the red flags anxiously waved around the word “sex”, religious leaders effectively stalled the process, using their power to force the government into lengthy consultation. Fears mounted with the public unsure of what the bills would look like when presented again. It was during this time that Greene stated her position on potential provisos that became part of public discourse. She said that she would not support the bill if coupled with a ban on same-sex marriage, defined sex as male or female, or used the term “at birth”. When the bills were finally made public again, it was with sex defined as male or female. At this point, she withdrew her support for bill #4.

The issue
According to Greene, defining “sex” as male or female is limiting and discriminatory.

“When we define sex as male or female, we run the risk of invisibilizing intersex Bahamians, both in the law and socially. We create a hostile legal environment for the enactment of legislation that would speak specifically to the needs of Bahamian intersex people and people who do not want to adhere to a strict gender binary.”

Intersex people are recognized by medicine and science; ignoring their existence and locking them out of the definition of sex in the constitution makes it impossible for them to recognized legally. This, according to Greene, is antithetical, undemocratic, and inhumane.

“The definition discriminates against a group that’s vulnerable because of their sex and the stigma and discrimination surrounding their sex.”

Through both traditional and social media, Greene has consistently raised a question few are willing to answer: Does it make sense for us to discriminate on the basis of sex in an exercise to ensure that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of their sex?

What does it mean to be intersex?

“Intersex” describes a medical condition in which sex characteristics - anatomical or genetic - do not fit the typical binary. According to the Intersex Society of North America, 1 in 1500 to 1 in 2000 births are “noticeably atypical in terms of genitalia”.

Doctors have historically assigned sex based on the most dominant visible sex characteristics. Unfortunately, this method is inaccurate; physical attributes do not necessarily match chromosome patterns. This can result in anomalies like a boy reaching puberty and menstruating.

The recommendation
Early in the consultation process, it became clear that people took issue with the word “sex” and popular opinion said a definition was necessary to “close the door” to same sex marriage. At this point, Erin Greene put forth a recommendation to satisfy the perceived need for a definition without disenfranchising anyone.

“If we are actually required to define sex for any reason, but specifically to distinguish it from sexual orientation, then we would define it as biological assignment - not as male or female.”

Greene posited that we set a dangerous precedent when we allow politicians - non-experts - to define scientific and medical terms. Her recommendation was to consult with doctors, scientists, and existing research. This, she said, would disprove claims that intersex people do not exist. She added that the government allocates funding for the provision of services for this community, proving its existence.

The personal conflict
Greene acknowledges the way her change in position is perceived by members of the public who have not followed the narrative or engaged her directly to gain a complete understanding of the chain of events leading to it. Her position, she notes, is not favorable to her as an individual, but necessary as an advocate.

“This is problematic for me personally because a yes vote is good for me - as a Bahamian woman, as a gay Bahamian woman, and as a Bahamian woman with nieces and nephews that are not Bahamian.”

Greene’s opposition to bill four is about the limiting definition. If the bill passes as is, with sex defined as male or female, intersex people would be in a worse position post-referendum than they are now.

“I want a Bahamas that ensures that no one can be discriminated against on the basis of sex, and all men and all women enjoy the same rights and privileges. I’m not willing to create that Bahamas on the backs of a small group of Bahamians, invisibilizing intersex Bahamians - a group of people we should be protecting in this exercise.”

The final word

“The objection is to the bill, but also a call for us to pause and deal with these issues, and refrain from creating a hostile legal environment for a vulnerable community.”

As an advocate, Green says, she has to stand on a matter of principle and oppose bill four.

“The only right thinking and upstanding thing to do is to vote no, and the only humane thing to do is to vote no, and the only Christian thing to do is to vote no. To say that we are not going to entrench the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sex in our constitution until we are sure that is exactly what we are doing.”

Entrenching the principle of non-discrimination on the basis of sex would ensure that everyone has access to the protection the constitution provides from discrimination on the basis of sex, allowing both men and women to enjoy the same privileges.

Although it would protect her, Erin Greene opposes bill four because it excludes one of the most vulnerable groups of people it is meant to protect. We all have a decision to make on June 7, 2016, not just for ourselves or our “sons and daughters”, but for the entire nation today, tomorrow, and for years to come. As we know, constitutional reform is a long process and referenda are neither inexpensive nor frequent. May every “yes” and every “no” be informed and free of guilt today and regret tomorrow.

Alicia Wallace is a Bahamian writer, blogger, and social and political commentator. She holds a Bachelor of Commerce degree from St. Mary's University, Halifax, NS. She is a women's rights activist, passionate about public education, community engagement, and the empowerment of women and girls. Alicia is the Director of Hollaback! Bahamas- part of a global movement to end street harassment - and Co-founder of the Coalition to End Gender-based Violence & Discrimination. She serves as the Youth Ambassador for The Bahamas to End Sexual Violence, and is one of 60 recipients of the Queen's Young Leaders Award in 2015. Alicia lives in Nassau, Bahamas.  Connect with her on Facebook Or  equalitybahamas@gmail.com

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