CAISO (Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation) executive chairman Colin Robinson has criticised recent “homophobic” remarks by Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Darryl Smith and Facebook posts from the account of Finance Minister Colm Imbert.
However, CAISO has also condemned the response by their target, UNC MP Barry Padarath, which sought to turn the bullying tables on his PNM counterparts.
The following is a press release from CAISO:
The media has reported that Sport and Youth Affairs Minister Darryl Smith, when asked Thursday, expressed an apology for his budget debate remarks in the House targeting MP Barry Padarath’s masculinity.
Padarath in turn issued a media release Friday that he had sent letters to Smith and Finance Minister Colm Imbert demanding they apologise to the Parliament and nation, announcing a “non-partisan initiative… to launch an anti-bullying campaign” at a school in his Princes Town district at a fixed time this coming week, and that he had written the Prime Minister indicating that failure or either of his ministers to attend warrants their resignation from Parliament and Cabinet.
Media reports cite allegations in Padarth’s letter to Imbert that the latter made oral comments in the Parliament tearoom similar to those emanating from the Facebook account he told the public was hacked, that “several Parliamentarians can corroborate” this, and that he had engaged Imbert about the oral remarks in the Parliament.
In response to these developments, executive director Colin Robinson made the following remarks on behalf of CAISO:
“The diverse members of our national community and all the nation’s children deserve serious policy responses to the issues of homophobia and bullying that prompted a national debate following comments by members of Parliament and their Facebook pages this past week.
“Such a response is provided neither by PNM ministers Colm Imbert and Darryl Smith’s urging that we close the door and move on from offensive statements they made during Parliament sittings and recesses this week, nor by the challenge by the target of those barbs, Princes Town MP Barry Padarath, that if they don’t show up for a hastily convened showdown at an Iere Village school in a few days they should resign.
“Mr Padarath’s letters to his colleagues have turned the bullying tables. Following their public taunts of him in the House chamber and tearoom this past week, he is now holding down the heads of Ministers Smith and Imbert in the schoolyard sand, insisting they say uncle.
“Sadly, it’s precisely this way in which bullying escalates in our schools every day that requires urgent leadership and attention; and counter-bullying can’t be the solution either for those who are bullied in school or for how our politicians respond to this serious problem.
“Our schools and the children in them have absolutely no use for politicians turning bullying into another partisan fight. Minister Smith’s apology for his offensive words, though late and in response to the media’s prodding, still holds open an opportunity for what I’ve said is the far more important and mature response—Government action on bullying and homophobia, and not just saying sorry.
“He doesn’t get to decide to simply ‘move on’. But MP Padarth’s ultimata only inflame and politicise the conflict instead of leveraging policy strides forward for the children who will grow up to be Barry Padaraths.
“I don’t know that I would go to the Iere Village meeting, but Minister Smith may be a bigger man than me. What he needs to prove is not that he can eat crow, but that he and his Government can begin to solve bullying. That is the response I look to from him and his Cabinet colleague Education minister Anthony Garcia.
“To prove they both belong on the Parliamentary benches of the nation, both Minister Smith and Mr Padarath need to take this matter out of the gayelle. Let’s all convene at the Ministry of Education in a working meeting where we build on the civil society ideas already developed, quickly seek more accurate knowledge through an inclusive school climate survey, and enrol school leaders, parents, teachers and their unions to put real initiatives into action so our schools are not only preventing violence—enabling young people to learn—but are raising tolerant and visionary future politicians with skills at relating across the aisle productively.
“As for Mr Padarath’s revelations about Mr Imbert’s alleged tearoom comments that mirror those from his hacked Facebook account, and his unrepentant smugness, Minister Smith’s budget presentation brought to our attention that the Finance Minister is above the mean age of even the older UNC bench, so I don’t hold much illusion over any new capacity on his part to display humanity. I have great confidence in his considerable talents in other regards, and look forward to his commitment to ensure Minister Garcia and Smith’s anti-bullying initiatives are well funded.
“Again, let us agree to move beyond the apologising and eating humble pie, and get to the real work and substance of ending bullying and homophobia in public policy.”