A speech highlighting religious hypocrisy on issues of sexual morality won at the National Secondary Schools’ Public Speaking competition in Kingstown on Wednesday.
“The one thing which completely undermines our Christian society is hypocrisy. How can a society that claims to be governed under the sovereignty of God, pick and choose which biblical laws should translate to legal laws?” Rishona James of the Girls High School reasoned in her winning main speech.
“Laws are set on society’s limits and boundaries. So according to our laws, our limit is not men and women betraying the sacred covenant of marriage and having extramarital affairs, it is not parading down the streets of Kingstown half-naked or drunk till we fall over, nor is it adults having sex with children under the age of 18. No. Our limit is a same sex union between two consenting adults. This is our Christian nation,” she added.
James, a Form 5 science student, spoke in support of the main topic, “Should individuals who claim to be LGBTQ be afforded all human rights prescribed under international law?”
She spoke for 10 minutes and 9 seconds, exceeding her allotted time by nine seconds.
In summarising her position, she said:
“No one is asking for acceptance or celebration of the lifestyle, by any means; only for our cultural and religious beliefs to be put aside when dealing with something as serious as legality; that as a Christian society, we take a more Christ-like approach on such a sensitive issue And to remember that these laws also work for us — a population of people whose race has seen a fair share of discrimination globally.”
She captured the Main Speech category and the Impromptu category, speaking on the topic, “Exams”.
James won ahead of five other contenders, including Sharyan Bowman of Mountain View SDA Academy, who bagged the Student Prepared Speech category.
Bowman delivered an entertaining and thought-provoking speech on “Minivan Hustle” in which she addressed the minivan culture in St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Bowman placed second overall, followed by Danielson Ferguson of St. Vincent Grammar School
The other finalists were:
Eldonte Samuel – Bishop’s College Kingstown
Vickron Alexander — Union Island Secondary School
Stephen Lavia — Intermediate High School
In her winning main speech, James grabbed the audience’s attention when she began:
“Lesbian. Gay. Bisexual. Labour. NDP. Black. Poor.”
She followed up by immediately saying that discrimination is nothing new and is a social behaviour which entails prejudiced treatment towards a person based on a group, class or category, wherein the person perceived as different is treated with disdain.
She said many agree that discrimination is “inhumane, base and oppressive but has always existed”.
The student told her audience, which was composed of those in the hall as well as media audiences, that under intentional law, members of the United Nations are legally bound by over 560 treaties aimed at encouraging world peace and global unity.
James, however, focused on the international bill of human rights, which consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The student said each of these declarations states that everyone is entitled to all human rights without discrimination of any kind, adding that this includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender and “queer or questioning people”.
Based on her research, LGBTQ individuals should be afforded all rights under international law, “not only on the sole basis that they are human, but more so because it will create a more transparent society,” James said.
“It will better reflect the Christianity of our nation and, most importantly, it reinforces the global stronghold of peace and multilateral harmony,” she told her audience.
James argued that a society in which everyone is afforded all and equal human rights allows for more transparency and greater honesty.
She said SVG’s current anti-LBGTQ laws and societal attitude act as a deterrent for LGBTQ individuals to be honest about their sexual preferences and orientation.
This sometimes forces LBGTQ individuals into heterosexual relationships and marriages to curb suspicion and appease those close to them, she argued.
She questioned the Human Rights Watch document “I Have to Leave to Be Me”, which contains testimonies by homosexuals in the eastern Caribbean including in SVG, explaining why many of them hide their sexuality.
This is because of the laws that limit their freedom and subsequently how society treats them, James said.
“Some LBGTQ individuals refuse to be honest about their sexuality for fear of persecution,” she said, adding that the document speaks of a lesbian who married a man to make her family happy.
“Obviously, the marriage did not work and it caused a lot of her stress for her, her ex-husband and the child which was produced.”
In making her next point, James apologised in advance “if I unearth any hurtful feelings by mentioning the recorded murder of a known married pastor in August of 2018 whose body was found at Argyle chopped and slain in what was later revealed to be a homosexual encounter.
“These situations happen right under our noses and we refuse to acknowledge them for fear of the uncomfortable conversation,” James said.
She said that individuals who identify as “other” in their sexual orientation are forced to be secretive and engage in risky and unsafe behaviour with sometimes-fatal effect that ricochet within families and communities.
James said these unnecessary effects could be curtailed “simply with tolerance from a society having inclusive laws which do not discriminate”.
She said one might ask why is freedom of sexual orientation “considered something so wrong that it must be restricted under law”.
The answer, she said, lies in society’s apparent dedication to religion and the word of God.
She said the church is considered “the cornerstone of life”, adding that it has been said several times, that SVG is a Christian nation, found on the supremacy of God, and, therefore, the laws should reflect this belief.
“Yet, it seems as though our Christian society is deliberately ignorant to the scripture in the bible which denounces several Vincentian social norms in the same breath that it denounces homosexuality,” she said.
The young debater quoted 1 Corinthian 6:1-10:
“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revellers, robbers. None of these will inherit the kingdom of God.”
She then made the point about Christian hypocrisy undermining society.
She pointed out that Christ himself did not condemn the adulterer for her sin nor the revellers who threatened to stone her to death.
“Instead, he asked that they practice tolerance and implored the lady to go and sin no more.
“As Christians, we cannot use religion to condemn one segment of the population while encouraging and condoning the sin of another just because they sin different from the majority.”
James argued that to refuse LGTBQ persons their human rights on the biblical immorality while simultaneously upholding other equal sins is not the mark of a truly Christian society.
“A fair constitution should either be completely reflective of its Christian society or there should be a clear demarcation between the church and the law.”
She said that legality brings the debate back to the documents on international law that state that human rights are rights inherent to all human beings and should not be violated on the basis of race, sex, gender or any other distinguishing factor.
James argued that despite this, certain rights outlined in Article 12 and 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which address mainly privacy and freedom of expression are blatantly ignored as regards LGTBQ individuals in the society.
She said this is also the case in the Constitution of SVG as it criminalises buggery and labels same sex-relations as acts of gross indecency.
The student might have misspoken, referring to the Constitution rather than the Criminal Code. There is before the courts, in SVG, a legal challenge to the nation’s buggery and gross indecency laws. The plaintiffs are arguing that the laws violate their constitutional rights.
“Basically, our general society is of the opinion that LGBTQ individuals should not be afforded their human born rights because it interferes with our beliefs,” she said.
James extended her reasoning by saying that if “tiny St. Vincent” can say its ideology places it above international law, what is to stop other countries from doing the same.
“Others countries can, therefore, say women do not have the right to an education because it goes against our beliefs, or, black people do not have the right to freedom because we don’t think they are human enough,” she reasoned.
“That crumbles the entire foundation of human rights and threatens all the progress we have made towards global harmony,” James said.