Do most Guyanese have a problem with gay people? Or is it the sex that bothers them and more particularly the sex gay men engage in? Is the homophobia fueled by fear or ignorance? Who taught us that disdain for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people is acceptable because of the belief that they are not normal because they are not heterosexual? Is religious dogma the only thing to be blamed?

“De bible seh it wrong suh it wrong,” some say.

I was socialised into believing that being gay was immoral. I was taught that the homosexual man – especially the flamboyant homosexual – was to be a source for humour, disrespect and abuse. Lesbians, too, were also said to be deviant. “She playing a man,” was what I heard often about lesbians. What was disturbing also was that there were instances where it was implied or said openly that lesbians deserved to be raped to ‘straighten or turn them back.’

A few years ago, a group of young men learned that two women in a same sex relationship were together at a particular location. The young men acquired condoms and left to go rape the women. What was also disturbing was that the person relaying the story seemed to believe that the young men would have been justified had they succeeded in raping those women. Fortunately, the women were gone when the would-be rapists reached the location, but there have been cases where lesbians would have been raped because of the same sick reasoning—that they needed to be taught a lesson.

In my youth, I learned by what I heard and what I saw, which was that gays were to be despised; it was what was taught from the pulpit and what was in the holy books. The word of God was final and I was being groomed to become another bigot. By my teens, I believed that being gay was abnormal and though I did not openly express homophobia, the indoctrination had successfully taken place.

As I matured into adulthood, there were many questions in my mind as I searched for my identity as a Guyanese woman of African descent. I was told that I would be led away from God if I questioned. I was to remain a good slave to oppressive ideas that were said to be the laws of God. Eventually, I divorced myself from religion at the age of twenty-one and what happened was that for the first time in my life I was truly free. Free to form my own opinions, free to discover the many layers of humanity, free to embrace people for being themselves and free to overcome those homophobic ideas that were embedded in my mind.

A friend helped to change my perception about LGBT people. He was a gay man, but that is not all that defined him. He was first of all just another human being who was kind, talented, had dreams, wanted to love and in turn be loved, who wanted to live a life of success. For the first time in my life, I was intimately exposed to the struggles of the gay people–how they fought within themselves upon realising who they were, how they feared rejection from their family and the society, and how in living their truth many would open themselves to constant discrimination and, in the extreme, even death. And in response to the opinion that many hold about homosexuality being a choice, the same friend once said to me: Why would any person choose to be gay knowing that there is much disdain for the community?

Ultimately, my misperceptions dwindled to the point where I was able to just love people for being people. I realised that me being a heterosexual woman in no way made me superior to a gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender person; that we all were just a part of this journey called life, trying to figure out why we are here, and that our gender identity and sexual orientation was not all that defined us.

What my friend did was help to advance my journey into finding my authentic self – the self that was not completely controlled by what society and religion taught me. I was always the kind of person who was open to loving people for who they are, but I was finally free to express that kindness and love without fear of being told I was wrong or would be going to hell because I embraced LGBT friends and no longer stood in condemnation of them.

Over the last couple of weeks, I have witnessed a wave of homophobia, which was motivated largely by Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge’s statement that to change the laws regarding the criminalisation of gay sex is a sensitive one that has to be dealt with carefully. There is also the government’s position that the question of changing the laws would possibly go to a public vote. I had to ask myself how I feel if the public had to vote to decide how I should live my life as a heterosexual woman; to decide what kind of sexual activity I would be able to engage in without fear of prosecution. It would be absolute madness. I would rebel because I would feel that my rights as a human being were being violated. So, aren’t LGBT people entitled to the same feelings? Why are we making other people feel that they are wrong for existing? We know that this is a largely homophobic society and more than likely if the referendum were to happen, the laws would remain.

I also asked myself if the opinion of the homophobic person is valid. I had to remind myself that I once held some of the same views. I had to be honest about the fact that people are largely guided by their religious beliefs and they are entitled to their beliefs just like LGBT persons are entitled to live their lives as they please. Many argue that the LGBT lifestyle is destructive. But destructive behaviours are common with human beings as a whole and not particular to any one group? Crimes like rape, child abuse, and domestic violence are committed by people of all sexual orientations.

People fear what they do not understand or try to destroy or condemn it. Many Guyanese who have a problem with the lifestyle of LGBT people have never gotten to know a person within that community. Many will never open themselves to knowing them or to try to understand their struggles. As human beings, we all are flesh, we all bleed red and we all die.

I believe that most Guyanese are homophobic. I believe that the obsession many have with gay sex is odd. I believe most homophobic people have never really analysed why they feel the way they feel towards gay people but are operating in the confines of learned behavior, largely fueled by religious dogma. If we could get to a place where we see the character of people rather than condemning them for simply living their truth, what an even more beautiful world it would be.