Roughly a week ago there was a shitstorm taking place on social media. On Saturday, October 10th, the MP for Princes Town, Barry Padarath, gave his maiden presentation. Padarath’s fiery debut was quickly followed by Darryl Smith, also a first time MP giving his maiden contribution. Smith used his opening remarks, and intervals in his speech, to poke fun at Padarath’s effeminate mannerisms which left a sour taste in the mouths of many viewing the 2016 Budget Debate.
That same day, during and after Padarath’s speech, a Facebook profile belonging to the Finance Minister made comments that also poked fun at Padarath’s effeminate manner. The Trini penchant for double entendre kicked into overdrive, and the word bull – used as a sexual reference in the patois, and also used to describe homosexual intercourse in the pejorative – was enjoying the limelight for a few hours. Minister Imbert would, that same evening, distance himself from the comments. He insisted that he had been hacked and that whoever was in control of his profile then was responsible for the comments. By Sunday October 11th what Smith and the person controlling Imbert’s profile thought was picong became a serious issue with members of the public shouting at each other over social media and talk radio about gay rights, gender equity and bullying.
The LGBT community was immediately up in arms and defending Padarath. And rightly so. There are multiple ways to exhibit manliness and to be a man, just as there are different forms of femininity and womanhood. Padarath’s way of expressing masculinity may not be mainstream in a society that is very chauvinistic, but his mannerisms don’t make him any less of a human being or deserving of respect. Just like being black, assertive, straightforward and male shouldn’t make any person fair game for names like raging bull, rottweiller, wajang, rapist and pedophile. But it seems, certainly given the responses of some members of the LGBT community, that some versions of masculinity are more deserving of defending than others. Which is unfortunate.
To date Smith has apologised for his comments and to the LGBT community. PM Rowley held a Cabinet meeting to bring his MPs and Ministers to order. Imbert, well, remains Imbert. And political correctness is whipping picong into submission.
The uproar this week over the bullying of Barry showed that there is a growing awareness of sensitivity to gender and orientation issues. There was much needed discussion. But something got lost in all the talk of princesses and bull, and that was Padarath’s abuse of his influence and privilege as a member of Parliament which resulted in him bullying us.
Saturday October 10th was day 2 of the Opposition’s response to the Budget. The role of every MP in the Lower House is two-fold: represent the interests of your constituents, and assist with shaping legislation by contributing to the debate. In Padarath’s 55 minutes, where did he fulfil any of this? List one concrete suggestion he made for the looming economic crisis? List one plan he detailed for his constituents? These are serious questions. Barry isn’t in Parliament to serve as an LGBT poster boy. I have no clue what his orientation is, nor do I need to know. What I am clear on is that he is there to represent the residents of Princes Town. All of them. And his debate contribution thus far, fell woefully short of doing any of that. If he did want to be the LGBT poster boy though, surely flawless execution of his role and duties as a member of Parliament would only help that community?
Padarath’s presentation was filled with equal measures of sound and fury. He delivered half-baked lessons on Sanskrit, syllables and religious salutations. He repeatedly threw down the gauntlet at the Cabinet, with special attention to Ministers Deyalsingh and Imbert. He joked about Imbert’s height and Deyalsingh’s pronunciation of his name. Taunted the government with his own sexual innuendoes about looking forward to a good pounding from their bench, and regularly trumpeted that Kamla was his queen. In a democracy (I have no words). I sat through Padarath’s speech waiting for him to actually and actively address the Budget by way of the figures and allocations. Something the Opposition is yet to seriously do. He announced that he was the shadow minister for culture during his tirade. I waited for his recommendations and suggestions for Culture and Community Development. There were none.
It was fifty five minutes of a maiden speech that was both taunting and haranguing. A week later the country is still focused on Barry being bullied; but there is little discussion of how Barry dropped the ball. Apart from bombast, his presentation featured fluent inaccuracies that would have made it into the Hansard. Was that laziness on his part, or an abuse of his privilege as a Parliamentarian. Will Padarath now hide behind the protection the LGBT community has afforded him by waving the bully card when challenged in Parliament and continue to deliver half baked, boastful, substance-less contributions? Much the same way Kamla waved the gender card to explain away her weakness and mismanagement as a leader? Is he going to give his constituents a six for a nine for the next five years? Or will Barry surprise us all and cut through the bull?
Perjoratives and slurs aren’t the only types of insults that can be wielded in the House of Representatives. Sloppy under prepared debate presentations go a long way in generating disgust too. I want to believe that both Government and Opposition will step their game up and fulfil their real roles as MPs. Otherwise we can simply hire 41 circus clowns and get on with the entertainment.