The Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) yesterday accused the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discri-mination (SASOD) of attempting to corrupt young minds in society by using its gay and lesbian film festival to promote homosexuality.
IRO spokesman Bishop Juan Edghill, at a press conference at the Ethnic Relations Commission (ERC) headquarters, said SASOD’s Paint-ing the Spectrum, now in its sixth year, is wrong and religious leaders have to speak out since they represent the “conscience of the nation”. According to Edghill, who made it clear that he was speaking as a religious leader and not as the head of the ERC, a lot of young people from various organisations are seeking guidance and are asking questions about the festival. He said the festival was previously overlooked by the religious leaders, who have been busy with other things. “While we are not stopping people from having their views and practising whatever they want, when you are going to come out publicly with a lesbian and gay film festival as if this is a law and the Constitution of Guyana allows this, then the religious community have to put their hands up [hand in the air] and say, ‘Excuse me, we are still here, this is not allowed here in Guyana and we strongly condemn it in the strongest possible language you can find,’” Edghill said. “It took a while but it did get around to us and what we are hearing is of great concern to us,” he added, pointing out that the festival is being held at the Sidewalk Café, which is not an enclosed place and is also opposite a school. He questioned what arrangements are in place to prevent “young, impressionable minds that are all around us being influenced by what we call this public promotion of the homosexual agenda in Guyana.” Christ Church Secondary School is near the café; however, the films are shown during the evening.
Edghill said while he believes that gays and lesbians have a right “to education, to health care… they must be able to have access to housing and the right to rent an apartment… they must have the benefits like every other citizens” it must be done in conjunction with the fact that there are other people in Guyana who have different beliefs. According to him, all the religious books speak against homosexuality. He said any group that may want to put this issue in its manifesto next election would be committing political suicide “because the majority of Guyanese have pronounced on this matter.”
Edgill noted that religious leaders are always committed to gays and lesbian living freely in society and have welcomed them in their places of worship but they cannot allow public education on the issue influencing young, impressionable minds.
He said the fact that gays and lesbian are internationally accepted and are allowed certain rights, even marriage, does not mean that Guyana has to “subscribe to the western culture. We cannot allow the western world to come and foist their lifestyles and thinking on to us. This will simply mean that we are just allowing a new form of colonialism. Sovereignty means every country has the right to decide its own future and its own destiny. The Guyanese family must sit down and decide what we want for Guyana. And may I say, the Guyanese family includes largely the religious community, so they cannot be accepted at one time and left out at some other times.” He added that while buggery is still a crime in Guyana, there is an “outfit that is educating young Guyanese about homosexual activities and that it is okay, which is something against the law.” Edghill said too that while all religions love human beings, their teachings are very clear that homosexuality is an evil act and persons who practice it need compassion, love and care and help from society. “We are a country that is guided by morality and there are a few who would like us to start changing the way we think and the way we operate. This is not something that can be wished away and coming out of our discussions today… the religious leaders have made it very clear that this not a matter that we will allow to go unnoticed and that we would be engaging at different levels to continue to educate and work with the general society…,” he said.
Meanwhile, Co-Chair of the IRO Reverend Ronald McGarell said religious leaders have decided that society needs to be protected from homosexual behaviour. “…[It] would only bring damnation upon our nation, spiritually,” he said, adding that it goes against natural law. “God has created man and woman for each other and it is for the procreation of life and the continuation of the creation and joy and happiness. If we go against this natural plan of creation, then we would just be coming extinct,” he said.
He said religious leaders cannot condone such behaviour and he pointed out the festival is being held in a area where thousands of children and young people are passing every evening and they have to be careful what is projected to them. “We are calling on all the religious communities to come out and express your beliefs, your support at this time so that this kind of activity, this kind of festival of films that they have been exposing our young minds to, a kind of lifestyle that is not conducive to our society, we need to come out against this,” he added.
Edghill said the lobby of SASOD has changed over the years from lobbying for the laws to be changed. “This promotion is behaving as if it is law, it is no longer asking the Parliament to consider making it a fundamental right, they are behaving as if it is law…,” he said, adding, “We want to bring it [to the attention of] all that should be concerned, law enforcement, state officials, the religious communities and other civil society actors and interested persons, including our parents and our decent God fearing elders in our communities, that something is happening in our society which is a total violation of what we consider to be Guyana’s value as a family and it is operating unhindered, unchecked and we are saying we are putting our hands up… and saying this is not going to continue.,” he said.
Edghill pointed out that homosexuals have always been accepted in our society as they are not beaten on sight and preachers don’t “talk about stoning homosexuals and throwing them into lakes of fire.” Further, he emphasised that the society has always shown tolerance. “But what we have now is an in-your-face approach, and that is what we are talking about now, the western culture,” he said.
Questioned about where the “conscience of the nation” has been on torture, police brutality and other issues, Edghill accused the media of selectively carrying the IRO’s releases. He also said that organisation believes in the respecting the rights of all people. Additionally, on the issue of morality, he said whether it is an adult using influence and money to take a young boy or girl to abuse them sexually, the IRO has spoken out against that. He said they have also spoken out against the police or politicians who use their position of influence to subvert, influence or cause a disadvantage to anyone. “What the religious community don’t do and we will never, is run around the country outing fires, we keep stating the principles and those principles are what are upheld by the consensus at the IRO level,” he said.