The news about the march against homosexuality in Linden on 19 August, 2017 shows the dilemma in a country which is yet to understand human rights. According to the news reports, the citizens who marched are against the decriminalisation of homosexuality. They seem to believe that homosexuals are child abusers and that the laws against homosexuality are there to protect children. The Sexual Offences Act and the Protection of Children Act are the laws which are meant to protect children.
It is good that the citizens marched, as their fears reflect the levels of ignorance in the society about the State’s obligations to its citizens.
The citizens who marched seem not to know that the decriminalization of homosexuality does not mean that the marchers have to become homosexual.
The citizens who march do not seem to know that freedom of religion in Guyana does not mean a freedom to push for discrimination against any LGBT citizen or other citizens who do not have their religious values. This lack of knowledge reflects a lack of leadership on seriously valuing every Guyanese as equal.
The nation of Guyana was not founded on principles that see each of us as equally human. It is still okay to beat children in the schools, and young people can be incarcerated for wandering, an offence which does not apply to adults. The government has not activated the Human Rights Commission so it is easy for ignorance to flourish.
There are aspirations though, which should make the news at the same time as the ignorance. In 2015, the APNU+AFC manifesto did say that they will “… commit to putting in place measures which will ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including women, children, persons with disabilities, rural and Indigenous women, youth, the elderly and the sick and pregnant and those marginalised because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against.” The PPP/C manifesto reflected similar aspirations.
Of course many other manifesto things have not been realized, and it could be that the citizens who marched and who might have voted for APNU+AFC are hoping that this is going to be another false promise.
On 29 April, 2014, the then municipalities of Linden and New Amsterdam signed on to a Municipal Declaration to aim for Zero New HIV Infections, Zero Discrimination and Zero AIDS-Related Deaths. The work which led up to that signing involved education about human rights, discussions around beliefs and prejudices, and volatile interactions about beliefs about human sexuality and gender identity. I had the privilege of being part of those discussions.
One of the gay men who participated in the discussions leading up to that municipal declaration said that he “felt respected” by the town council and that he felt good.
The then municipalities of Linden and New Amsterdam agreed to, among other things:-
- Respect the dignity and worth of every person, without distinction on the basis of race, colour, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, language, religion, property, birth or other status
- Renounce homophobia and support the rights and dignity of all persons regardless of their gender, sexuality or employment to care, treatment and support as human rights
(the full text is available at http://www.dloc.com/AA00021804/00001/citation )
It is a good time for citizens and leaders, in Linden and elsewhere, to create other news headlines which affirm that Guyana’s LGBT citizens must have the same rights as any other person who believes otherwise. It is time to denounce homophobia, and any other prejudice which dehumanises other people, even if the prejudices are divinely inspired.
It is time to nurture the spirit of those Lindeners and others who agreed to respect the dignity and worth of every person.