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Response to letter of Mr. Clive Hodge

Dear Editor,

St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance For Equality (SAFE) stands by its statement that it is willing to engage in conversation with all people and/or groups as long as the dialogue stays respectful. In light of this, we take note of the opinion piece in your newspaper of Wednesday, July 29, from Mr. Clive Hodge concerning his opinions on LGBT life in general, and SAFE and its objectives and plans specifically.

Firstly, the board of SAFE would like to thank Mr. Hodge for keeping his opinion piece as respectful as possible, given his obvious conservative and contrary stance on the issue. However, having read his statement in its entirety, we must take issue with several points.

1) As Mr. Hodge rightly states LGBT persons have been around since ancient times, actually since the dawn of man; however, where he errors is in suggesting that we have always been hiding in closets. LGBT people (though then not termed as such, since the terms homosexual, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender are all recent constructs) existed in plain sight across many civilizations with varied responses. In contrast, homophobia and the many ways in which it currently manifests itself is a more recent phenomenon, and is most definitely driven by lack of understanding for who LGBT people are.

2) Mr. Hodge also errs is in assuming that LGBT persons want to keep God out of the picture. LGBT people, and in this case SAFE, do not want to keep God out of the picture. As was stated by our president during the panel discussion held by the Council of Churches in early July, the truth is that a vast number of LGBT people on St. Maarten/St. Martin are Christian or from Christian backgrounds. What we state clearly is that there is a separation between church and state, and in this case we seek the full protection of the state in regard to prohibition of discrimination, marriage equality, children in LGBT unions, inheritance, pensions, etc. We encourage our members to engage in their spiritual practices whatever that may be, but also urge them to always seek out affirming institutions which seek to truly help them rather than hurt them.

3) While this may ruffle the feathers of some conservatives amongst us, Mr. Hodge's assertion that God hates homosexuality can and has also been challenged by many including biblical scholars. Many conservative Christians have used the big six Biblical texts (Leviticus 20:13, Leviticus 18, 1 Corinthians 6, Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1, Genesis 19) and others to make this same assertion; however, these texts have been reviewed by more liberal and nonpartisan scholars and theologians and for all six texts strong cases have been made that in the translations from Aramaic to Greek and then Greek to English, incorrect linguistic interpretations were made. These errors have been highlighted and questioned and conclusions have been drawn that, a) the bible does not actually consider same-sex orientation a sin, and b) many of these texts are used out of context. For further reading we would suggest that Mr. Hodge read "The Children Are Free: Re-examining the Biblical Evidence on Same-Sex Relationships" by Rev. Jeff Miner and John Tyler Connoley; "Our Tribe: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible" by Rev. Nancy Wilson, "Holy Terror: Lies the Christian Right Tells Us to Deny Gay Equality" by Mel White, or "What the Bible Really Says about Homosexuality," recent findings by top scholars by Daniel A. Helminiak, Ph.D.

Mr. Hodge further asks how anyone could possibly accept a lifestyle that God hates. SAFE will repeat this until it is understood, there is no LGBT lifestyle, just LGBT people living their lives; usually, as law abiding citizens of and contributors to their respective countries, in our case St. Maarten/St. Martin. The part about God hating homosexuality has already been addressed above. However, even if this had not been addressed and there was still the idea that homosexuality was viewed as a sin in the Bible, what about all of those other sins including the use of blended linens, consumption of shelled fish and pork, adultery, etc. While many may argue that the Bible has not changed, understanding and application of it certainly has which is a good thing, since not too long ago Biblical passages were used to uphold slavery and slaves' total obedience of their masters as irrefutable ideals.

4) As Mr. Hodge rightly states, SAFE has a lot of plans for the future; however, where he errs is in the suggestion that these plans include parades. While we cannot say that SAFE will never field a LGBT Pride Parade on St. Maarten/St. Martin, this is certainly not in our immediate plans. In every conversation, discussion, press release, etc., we have had or issued SAFE has been very clear about what its immediate plans are. However, just to clear up any erroneous thoughts, we will list our priorities here again:

a) To build community between LGBT people and their allies on the island, the region, in the kingdom and internationally;

b) To educate and empower LGBT people about their shared history and their fundamental human rights;

c) To raise awareness within the wider community about what it actually means to be LGBT (and of course what it does not mean) in order to reduce stigma and discrimination;

d) To open dialogue and liaise with those in authority in order to make the lives and well-being of LGBT better and equal before the law;

e) To continue to represent the collective interests of LGBT across the island

Thus, there are no parade plans for the moment. Community dialogue is an important component for SAFE and while we do celebrate the totality of who we are as LGBT people, we are also aware of the community in which we live and indeed see acceptance as an important priority, even above parades.

5) Mr. Hodge furthers seeks to link LGBT people to paedophilia, or at least the LGBT movement to the paedophilia movement, when in fact the two are in fact conceptually very far from each other. One critical area of difference concerns that of consent. The LGBT movement is one focused primarily on the relationships between consenting adults. Paedophilia and bestiality are not a part of the LGBT movement and in fact SAFE condemns any form of violence (physical or verbal) against all persons, especially children, teens and elderly (who are our most vulnerable), and also does not condone relationships for persons who are not able to or are not at legal age (and more difficult to determine emotional, psychological maturity) to provide consent. What is important to note is that being LGBT does not automatically add a person to either of those two other groups. He also suggests that acceptance of LGBT people will lead to acceptance of bestiality. Again as mentioned above the matter of consent is of extreme importance.

6) Mr. Hodge's assertions about how LGBT people view themselves can only lead to the conclusion that he knows very little about LGBT people at all. Many LGBT people, indeed because of societal and family pressures, do struggle with their sexuality initially. However, many eventually reconcile themselves to who they are and view their sexual desires as quite normal and natural. There is nothing unnatural about homosexuality. If we look to science and the natural world we will see that same-sex behaviour is prevalent amongst many species.

7) The president and board of SAFE thank Mr. Hodge for acknowledging that LGBT people should not be discriminated against, bullied or hurt in anyway. It is the same notion was expressed on behalf of the Council of Churches during the panel discussion in July. However, Mr. Hodge resorts to the idea that LGBT people can choose or not choose to be LGBT; this is the furthest from the truth. Indeed anyone can somewhat choose their lifestyle; healthy/unhealthy, conservative/liberal, religious/non-religious, etc., but they cannot choose whether they are LGBT or not. Assuming that Mr. Hodge is heterosexual, we would suggest that he choose not be heterosexual and see if this feels natural to him and if his theory about choice of sexuality actually stands.

8) We should indeed call a spade a spade. Although ultimately we should leave judgment up to God, currently it is not God who is judging LGBT people or who is bullying them, discriminating against them or harming them; it is people, human beings, Godly or otherwise, with best intentions or otherwise, etc. Perhaps with some study and reflection within and beyond the Bible or other religious texts, anti-gay and/or homophobic people will one day come to their senses and realize that LGBT people are people like everyone else, who go through similar experiences. Hopefully one day soon so that across the world there can be less violence against LGBT people and on St. Maarten/St. Martin there can one day indeed is full acceptance.

Again we thank Mr. Hodge for this opportunity to dialogue with him and in extension the wider community. We welcome all occasions to do so.

SAFE Board

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