From the outset let it be known that my perception of sexual orientation has been influenced first by religious values and later by universal values. A Christian orientation would expose persons to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and God’s view of a particular act that led to the city’s destruction. As a trade unionist my experience teaches me to abhor discrimination against any group or individual, in all forms. The religious groups, including the Catholic Church, are engaged in their own struggles to address the issue of sexual orientation, having varied views such as, it is a civil rights issue of our time, heterosexuality can be achieved with prayers, or the non-judgmental approach.
The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Articles I and II expressly state:- “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
The view of Pastor McGarrell that persons with alternative sexual orientations should live on an island by themselves, however “light-hearted [a] joke” he claimed it was, has offended. It is this offence that has to be examined and the reason that led to same. There is no guarantee his removal from the Board of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) will silence his or anyone’s voice and perception, or secure sexual equality. In fact, the GRPA itself has to holistically factor in the modern family which also includes parents and would-be-parents from the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans-gender and Inter-sex (LGBTI) community and help the society in this regard. Pastor McGarrell has a megaphone. He has a congregation and removing him from the GRPA will not silence his voice or still his opinion.
What this society needs is education consistent with universal principles and laws that would create an understanding and respect for diversity in all its forms. Guyana is not a theocracy; it is a democracy where the constitution guarantees the rights and equality of all and where efforts should be made to ensure that practices and the attendant laws follow suit. The religious community, like every community, must play its part in ensuring such laws are not only made but also practised to the letter. And this brings me back to the civil role of the Christian community in this society and their theological references. There is valid concern whether this community’s theology is grounded in liberation that sees securing justice and fair play in the social, political and economic welfare of humankind during our time on earth as important. The religious community is still regarded as society’s conscience.
It was Reverend Dr Martin Luther King Jr who articulated and fought on the principle that “injustice anywhere poses a threat to justice everywhere.” And while understandably some in the religious community (leaders and followers) will have to confront beliefs on some issues they are socialised to see as unacceptable, the political establishment and civil society will have to recognise that the right to associate/identify does not translate to denying others theirs, and put systems in place to respect this. By this it means that laws to remove all traces of discrimination should be premised on the Guyana Constitution that guarantees the right to religious diversity, affiliation and non-affiliation, equally as it protects persons from discrimination for identifying/ associating with the beliefs of religious groups. Advocates for orientation equality are using the United States and other developed countries as a model to address eradicating discrimination. This society in using the developed countries as a model should also pay heed to how these societies treat with LGBTI issues and other so-called sensitive issues. For those societies’ frank and open discussions as equals among stakeholders are seen as key to addressing these matters. If Guyana is to move forward, as Guyanese we must be prepared to do likewise, and not make issues selective or driven by special interest.
Another sore matter that faces similar treatment is the issue of race and politics, their intertwining relationship and the discrimination against groups/individuals because of their physical identity and exercising their right to freedom of association. When persons are denied the most fundamental right, ie, to speak to their reality perceived or real, on matters that affect them these matters will never be addressed through the proper channel or appropriate lens and will fester, be it through open hostility or continued discrimination even though the constitution forbids such acts.
Sections of this society cannot continue to bury their heads in the sand that acts of discrimination and perceptions of inequality do not exist, and that they can be wished away by citing frivolous examples to the contrary, choosing to silence those who are affected by them, or protecting those who practise them. Admirably the media has played a role in bringing the sexual orientation matter to the fore, and it would be reasonable to say similar frank and open treatment is expected on racial issues and the political discrimination that pervade this society and hinder its development. For what affects one invariably affects all. Injustice is injustice regardless of what it is, who practises it, or who is affected by it, and it undermines the desire of many to peacefully co-exist.