Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. apologized Monday for a song performed at a recent campaign rally that maligned a political rival for her sexual orientation.
A video of the event shows Bryan laughing, dancing, and high-fiving entertainer King Derby. The St. Croix calypsonian appears to forget the words to his song briefly, then chants a refrain about Sen. Janelle Sarauw and Sen. Kurt Vialet.
“Who you want for governor? Not the he-she or the long neck fella,” King Derby sang at the Sept. 27 event.
Bryan had left the stage before the slur and doesn’t appear again in the video, where later, an off-camera person twice shouts, “No he-she. No long neck.”
The governor’s campaign with Lt. Gov. Tregenza Roach released a statement Sunday denouncing King Derby’s “creative artistic license” and acknowledged the term as offensive.
“This was inappropriate. For those who were offended, we humbly apologize. The Bryan-Roach administration and the Bryan-Roach campaign have always stood with this community and gratefully recognizes its many contributions to the betterment of the U.S. Virgin Islands. We do not condone discrimination of any kind and never will,” the statement read.
In a press briefing Monday, the governor repeated the apology.
“It is just untoward behavior, and we do not support that,” Bryan said. “Today, I’ll tell you publicly, anybody that is offended, and especially the LGBTQ community, a firm apology for actions of others. We’re a big organization. We have a lot of supporters. And everything our supporters do we don’t support. We can’t be in control of every single person that supports us or comes to our functions. Certainly, we sent out a message internally to our people that that’s not tolerated, that that’s not who we are. And everybody knows that this is the only governor in the history of the Virgin Islands that has ever marched in a pride parade before and while he’s a sitting governor.”
Some Virgin Islanders, however, found the apology impersonal and said it downplayed the seriousness of homophobia in the territory.
Christiansted-based One L.U.V. wrote Bryan demanding sensitivity training for campaign staff, hiring an LGBTQ+ advocate on the campaign, apologizing to trans and non-binary people for the event’s mocking of pronoun choices, and apologizing directly to Sarauw.
Sarauw said she was used to being targeted and harassed on social media. But she didn’t expect it to come from the Bryan-Roach campaign.
“Their team has LGBTQ people in it, so I’m a bit surprised,” Sarauw said. “I think they were trying to be personal and come for me and describe me as a ‘he-she,’ forgetting that they were really attacking the entire LGBTQ community. But this has been the norm for the entire campaign.”
At another event, a calypsonian referred to her as “the boy” on the other team, she said.
While other Virgin Islanders elected to public office have hidden or elected to not mention their sexual orientation or gender identity, Sarrauw has embraced being who she is, she said.
“Every day, I show up to work and be my authentic self, that is me protesting. That is my active resistance to the system. I never assimilated. I never put pearls and a dress on. I wanted people to understand that me being a lesbian is really just a small part of who I am,” Sarauw said. “I’ve grown to live my truth, and I’ve been authentic as I can be while serving.”
Saying she was keenly aware that the Virgin Islands is a “conservative society,” Sarauw said she had shied away from perceived-LGBTQ issues in the Senate. But that changed when she introduced a bill protecting people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.
“Sometimes, to keep my sanity, I do not address LGBTQ issues, but I felt really compelled in this last term to say no. My silence is a tacit agreement that I’m OK with what’s happening. So that’s why I pushed to have the equality bill,” she said.
While Sarauw said she’s grown a thick skin, younger members of her family find vitriol against her deeply disturbing.
“What I’m really concerned about is the generation behind me. We’re not going to get qualified people with good integrity — honesty — to run for office if this is the way we’re going to treat people who run for office. That’s where my concern lies. We’re going to alienate people who want to do good for the community from serving because nobody in their right mind is going to subject their family — their loved ones — to this. I have a significant other, and I’m sure it is painful for her to watch,” she said. “Politics aside, this is humanity. This is basic respect for humanity.”