By Leo Edwards
Claude Douglas Report Card
Sociological Perspective: F
Personal & Religious Perspective: A+
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to listen to a panel discussion on the affairs on LGBTQ people in the tri-island state of Grenada, a tiny and beautiful isle nestled in the vast blue Caribbean Sea. The topic up for discussion: “We cannot continue to ignore the issue of “Alternative Lifestyle” within our society… How can Grenada as a nation in light of the growing trend sensitize its people?” I presume the recent Supreme Court decision on the legalization of gay marriage in the United States, served as the impetus to this debate. There was diverse representation from religious organizations and community groups, moderated by a facilitator whose bias foreshadowed her competence.
I was excited and waited in anticipation for the discussion and I expected some of the rhetoric: 1. From a religious/biblical perspective that says it is morally wrong and sinful to be a lesbian, gay, bisexual or transsexual; 2. That somehow sexual orientation and gender expression are tied to pedophilia; and 3. To recognize and approve the human rights of LGBTQ people is to threaten and breakdown what is considered “normal” family.
Conversely, what I did not expect were the comments made by contributor Claude Douglas, an academic and sociologist — I use “sociologist” very generously.
This reflection is in no way a personal attack on Mr Douglas, in fact he was very clear on his personal and religious predisposition on the matter of LGBTQ issues in a Caribbean context. This is, however, an evaluation of his flawed and baseless comments presented. “Sociologist” Douglas made very little, if any attempt of connecting LGBTQ issues within broader sociological and/or academic theories. In other words, I left the discussion without edification, specifically as it relates to understanding the changing relationship amongst individuals and groups within the Grenadian society. Since the overarching goal of the discussion was to sensitize the Grenadian people on what is labelled the “growing trend”, in my opinion, it might be important to provide sociological perspectives rooted in theory and research. I am not a sociologist but I do have extensive experience in research and activism, but more importantly I respect the rights of all people regardless of sex, orientation, gender, race, religion or ability.
Sociological Perspectives on LGBTQ issues and inequality
Let us start with the basics, for you Mr. Douglas this might just be a review, hopefully!
Sociology is the study of human social relationships and institutions. Sociology’s subject matter is diverse, ranging from crime to religion, from the family to the state, from the divisions of race and social class to the shared beliefs of a common culture, and from social stability to radical change in whole societies. Unifying the study of these diverse subjects of study is sociology’s purpose of understanding how human action and consciousness, both shape and are shaped by surrounding cultural and social structures. At the societal level, sociology examines and explains matters like crime and law, poverty and wealth, prejudice and discrimination, schools and education, business firms, urban community, and social movements.1
Sociologists emphasize the careful gathering and analysis of evidence about social life to develop and enrich our understanding of key social processes. The research methods sociologists use are varied. Sociologists observe the everyday life of groups, conduct large-scale surveys, interpret historical documents, analyse census data, study video-taped interactions, interview participants of groups, and conduct laboratory experiments. The research methods and theories of sociology yield powerful insights into the social processes shaping human lives and social problems and prospects in the contemporary world. By better understanding those social processes, we also come to understand more clearly the forces shaping the personal experiences and outcomes of our own lives and we garner the ability to see and understand this connection between broad social forces and personal experiences.1
LGBTQ an acronym that means: “L”esbian, “G”ay, “B”isexual, “T”ransgender, “Q”ueer or “Q”uestioning.
Inequality is the existence of unequal opportunities and rewards for different social positions or statuses within a group or society.
A review of the literature highlights 3 major sociological perspectives on sexual orientation and inequality 1. Functionalist Perspective; 2. Conflict and feminist perspective; and 3. Interactionist Perspective. I will expand on the first two perspectives.
The theorist within this perspective argues for the maintenance of social order. This is how well can society control our behaviours, including our most basic human behaviour — our sexuality by the established norms and values. Mr. Douglas, I assume, is an exponent of this school of thought, as he so passionately expressed and advocated heterosexuality and a marital union between a man and a woman as the ideal normative behaviour.
Further, Mr. Douglas stated that he “saw it coming” and felt compelled to pen the book “Homosexuality in the Caribbean: Crawling Out of the Closet.” Sadly for Mr. Douglas it is apparent that no one is listening as I could not find a single review or reference to his book. His argument got better! He went on to compare the LGBTQ movement to what he called an “ISIS situation” where Europe and USA is forcing the Caribbean to accept the human rights of LGBTQ people. Mr. Douglas your analogy was in very pitiable taste and very problematic; using Islamophobia for fearmongering. If there are any truths to your “ISIS” reference it will be against the violence, shame, prejudice, discrimination and oppression LGBTQ people within the Caribbean region experience daily due in part to religious and cultural norms.
On the matter of acceptance vs tolerance, Mr. Douglas’ tolerance is just not good enough. Is there a continuum for tolerance? At which point will society reach its breaking point? I would suggest that we respect, accept and love our brothers and sisters unconditionally without variation. Mother Teresa said, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” LGBTQ people aren’t aliens; they are humans, with feelings, dreams and hopes as their heterosexual counterparts. We need to treat people as we would like to be treated.
American writer and public intellectual, Gore Vidal (1988) states.
In order for a ruling class to rule, there must be arbitrary prohibitions. Of all prohibitions, sexual taboo is the most useful because sex involves everyone… we have allowed our governors to divide the population into two teams. One team is good, godly, straight; the other is evil, sick and vicious.
Conflict theorists are in direct opposition to the Functionalist Perspectives. Conflict theorists recognizes the privilege and power that heterosexism represents and how that social location of privilege is often used to encourage discrimination and oppression of groups that do not embrace the normative narrative. This framework encourages individuals and groups to think critically, to mobilize, to organize and to push back against the dominate discourse of heteronormativity. In fact, human rights groups within the region have had some successes in its ability to enact social change on macro and micro levels. Consider for example, Cuba (which by the way Mr. Douglas admired as it stood its ground against the USA). In Cuba, transsexual individuals have the recognized right to change their names and identity on documents. Sex change surgery and hormones are all free, paid for by the Cuban Government. That is not all — the Cuban Communist Government recognizes same-sex partnerships amongst its citizens.3
In Trinidad which is considered the richest of the 20 islands if the Caricom, the Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES) conducted a research project where more than 78% of the respondents agreed that LGBTQ Trinidadians should not be treated differently; more than 64 % said that violence against them is discrimination.4 So, while there is still a lot to do, the evidence speaks to radical shift in attitudes towards LGBTQ rights in the region. In fact last year Jowelle De Souza, a transgendered Trinidadian received the Hummingbird Medal (Bronze), one of the highest honours to be bestowed on its citizens. Mrs. De Souza is currently running for public office.4 So as much as Mr. Douglas will like to use religious rhetoric and fearmongering to suggest that Europe and the United States are behind this current paradigm shift; “forcing the hands of the Caribbean” towards recognizing human rights of all its peoples, that suggestion is one-dimensional at best and is not a reflection of the full narrative… indeed Douglas has no empirical or anecdotal evidence to back up his claim… Mr. Douglas, I strongly suggest you go back to the drawing board. Is there funding from the United States and Europe to NGOs to support community development and social justice initiatives? YES! There is data to verify this. But more importantly, there are indigenous people, critical thinkers, our radical brothers and sisters devoted to fight against a social system of discrimination and hate. Groups of local and diasporic Caribbean people that are determined to risk their own lives to uphold the rights of all our Caribbean people, regardless to citizenship, creed, colour, sex or religion. People like Javed Jaghai, who filed the first-ever legal challenge to Jamaica’s anti-sodomy law; Richie Maitland, an ally who has dedicated his legal career advocating for the inclusion of all people; and GrenCHAP, a local human rights and health advocate group for LGBTQ people; and many others who work in the trenches.
I am certainly proud to be Grenadian and I am optimistic given the evidence, that our people will be able to reason, think criticality and objectively about these issues. Collectively, we need to defend our rights to speak for ourselves. Mr. Douglas, your religious faith cannot be the moral or sociological arbiters on the matter of LGBTQ rights, especially when you are called upon as an “expert” for consultation.
Leo Edwards is a PhD student in Education and Social Justice, a clinical therapist at a leading mental health hospital in Canada, a sessional lecturer at Centennial College and a commissioned peer reviewer with the University of The West Indies.
1) http://sociology.unc.edu/undergraduate-program/sociology-major/what-is-sociology/. Accessed: 13 July 2015
2) http://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-social-inequality-in-sociology-definition-effects-causes.html. Accessed 13 July 2015
3) Grollman, Eric: Kinsey Institute: Cuba’s Universal Health Care Covers Gender Reassignment Surgery, 2 February 2010. Accessed 13 July 2015
4) Jessica Joseph, Huffington Post: Influential Caribbean Country Is Leaning Towards LGBT Rights, 13 October 2010. Accessed 13 July 2015