Ahead of a planned pride parade today organised by the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community, a section of the Christian community has voiced its objection and called on the David Granger administration to publicly declare its position on homosexuality and the decriminalisation of gay sex, including buggery.
The Georgetown Ministers’ Fellowship (GMF) yesterday said that the planned parade, which has been organised by the Guyana LGBT Coalition, is a blemish on the social fabric of the republic and will represent a sad day for Guyana.
At a press conference hosted at the Full Gospel Fellowship building on South Road and Albert Street, GMF representatives declared that as representatives of the Christian community, which comprises more than 60% of the Guyanese population, it was concerned about local and international efforts to pressure government to legalise buggery in Guyana. The group has committed to praying for those caught within such a lifestyle and lobbying government against the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.
Buoyed by the vocal support of a room filled with worshippers, Minister of the Gospel Marlon Hestick proclaimed that a gay parade is an expression of a sexuality, which is currently prohibited by Guyanese law.
“Our constitution has given guidelines regarding matters of sexual expression…The law does not allow for crossdressing, the law does not allow for activities normal at a gay pride parade,” Hestick declared. He did not specify what constituted these activities but stressed that while government has committed to possibly reviewing the buggery law, it has not been repealed and therefore the parade should not have been approved.
“The approval of the parade is wrong… it allows an expression of a sexuality in violation of the law,” he stressed to resounding applause.
LGBT activist Joel Simpson, who was present at the GMF press conference and will speak after today’s parade, later stated on his Facebook page that the GMF is not the Christian community.
Asked about the GMF’s position, human rights activist Vidyaratha Kissoon told Stabroek News that since the group has stressed that it is representing Christians, it is for other Christian denominations to speak on whether the “intolerance” presented by the group truly represents their views.
Kissoon indicated that Christians who disagree with the position of the GMF should challenge those homophobic views in loving Christian ways.
At the launch of the inaugural LGBT Pride Festival last year, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) said religious leaders had decried discriminatory laws against the LGBT community.
The launch took the form of an Inter-Faith service at the Catholic Life Centre on Brickdam, which was attended by religious persons, leaders of the faith-based organisations and LGBT persons.
Head of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Guyana Bishop Francis Alleyne, who co-hosted the service with SASOD, had said then that the issue of LGBT rights was a sensitive one. “This topic is a volatile one. There is still a lot of fear and insufficient listening to expect an objective response from people,” Bishop Alleyne was quoted as saying in the SASOD statement.
The Guyana Presbyterian Church’s representative at that service was Reverend Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, who observed that Guyana is still a far way from achieving that oneness that we long for, where we respect each other and strive to uphold each other’s dignity. “I am happy to join in this call for an end to discrimination, particularly, the institutionalised dehumanisation of LGBTIQ persons. I urge us to be proactive in their protection, and to resist the hate perpetuated against our brothers and sisters who on a daily basis face tremendous threats, and are denied of their basic human rights. It is time to join in a resounding call for justice and rights,” Rev. Sheerattan-Bisnauth was quoted as saying.
‘In the minority’
Valerie Leung, the lone female on the GMF’s panel of five yesterday, specifically requested that government “expressly and explicitly tell the people of Guyana in writing, truthfully what is their position on homosexuality.”
“Do they consider it a normal lifestyle to be approved of, supported and advanced? Or, do they consider it abnormal? What is its position on buggery…should it be decriminalised?” Leung asked.
Referencing advice given to the LGBT community by veteran trade unionist Lincoln Lewis to leverage its votes for support of its agenda, Pastor Desmond Rogers was keen to remind the administration that the church also has votes, hundreds of thousands of votes, to leverage in support of its agenda.
“The homosexual community is less than 5% of the population… they are in the minority. Therefore, we say to the powers that be that the church also has votes to leverage,” Pastor Rogers declared, before adding that they will not support any move to encourage homosexuality in Guyana.
Reminded that members of the LGBT community have sought only to enjoy basic human rights without discrimination, Leung argued that “before we speak of rights, we must speak about what is right.”
“You can’t have a right to do what is wrong,” she repeatedly stressed before equating consensual homosexual acts with consensual incest and declaring them both perverse.
Pastor Loris Heywood further argued that there is no discrimination against homosexuals in the Guyanese workforce. “In fact,” he declared, “they sometimes get jobs easier than straight persons.”
All the panelists argued that the LGBT agenda is a direct threat to Christianity and declared that they would not have democracy subjected to rule by the minority.
“We want to preserve heterosexual rights,” Leung declared, before referencing cases in the United States which she said were attacks on Christian values. “To teach what the bible says about homosexuality is considered hate speech,” Leung argued.
Stabroek News repeatedly questioned the members of the panel about why they felt that this issue warrants advocacy when they have not been vocal on other topical issues, such as intimate partner violence and sexual abuse including abuse perpetrated by ministers.
In response, the panelists noted that they have been vocal about these matters “at other times.” A request for the group to give its opinion on efforts to remove custodial sentences for the possession of small quantities of marijuana, which has recently been the subject of much public debate, was also repeatedly “declined.”
Although government members, including the First Lady Sandra Granger and ministers, have repeatedly reiterated support for the equal treatment of the LGBT community, SASOD, which is one of the members of the LGBT coalition, has criticised the failure of the APNU+AFC coalition to honour what it says were promises to ensure the protection of people from being marginalised because of their sexual orientation.
‘Right to equality’
At a reception on May 16th to mark International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, which was hosted by the Canadian High Commission and SASOD, Lewis had noted that the laws which criminalise consensual same sex relations run contrary to safeguarding the constitutional rights of the citizenry.
He noted that the Constitution, in its preamble, expressly requires the citizenry to “Celebrate our cultural and racial diversity and strengthen our unity by eliminating any and every form of discrimination.” “Ensconced in this instrument, your right to equality is secured, not only in the instance of Article 146 that protects free expression which allows for the articulating of your reality in your pursuit for equality, end to persecution or other forms of discrimination in the workplace and wider society. This fundamental right is buttressed by Article 147 that protects the right to freedom of assembly and association, Article 149 which cements protection from being discriminated against on the grounds of your orientation, and Article 149D which deals with equality of persons before the law,” he observed, while noting that these fundamental rights and freedoms must not to be trifled with.
He also highlighted that the laws against same sex relations were instituted by the British colonial authority and that Britain has since excised them from their statutes, yet Guyana holds on and justifies their existence. “Over the years I have observed voices raised in condemnation and highlighting their archaic nature. Your voice must not be still or grow weary until modernity is attained,” he said, while urging that members of the LGBT community not only as citizens but as workers and voters intensify the use of their power to ensure the structural deficiencies in society are corrected. “Those who seek your vote must know support is contingent on moving to eliminate systems that militate against you,” he said.
Lewis also acknowledged that Guyana’s culture is steeped in the notion that some sexual conduct is not considered in a favourable light by God, which serves as justification to discriminate against.
While rejecting such a position, he said where other progressive societies are moving forward, Guyana must also get in line and proceed. “Your right to exist, participate as equal members of society and to be so treated is equally important as others. Respect for the heterosexual orientation of one must too ensure respect for the diverse orientation of others. I don’t have to like your orientation nor you mine in order to respect each other consistent with protected human rights and freedoms,” he said.
He added that modern day pursuit for worldwide comity is built on a moral compass grounded in these principles, not religious doctrines or gut-feelings. “And there is a reason for this, for were the compass to be set by such doctrines the Crusades would have still been raging and present-day religious extremists would have found acceptance. Likewise, should gut-feelings be the determinant for engagement and decisions, might would be right,” he argued.
The pride parade, which starts at 3.30 pm, will see a march from Parade Ground at Middle Street, Georgetown to the Square of the Revolution.