[Video] ‘We deserve the right to live our lives, love who we love’

-pride parade sees call for equal rights

Activist Akola Thompson leads the hundreds that made up the procession for Guyana’s first Pride Parade as it moved off from Parade Ground in Georgetown. See story on page 3. (Terrence Thompson photo)

Hundreds of members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and allies took to the streets of Georgetown yesterday for the first local Pride Parade and they used the occasion to sound a call to government to stop talking and act on the decriminalisation of same sex relations.

The march saw the participation of approximately 300 persons, who signaled that the LGBT community in Guyana though small is tired of being pushed aside.

“We are everywhere. We exist and we deserve the right to live our lives and love who we love and live our life authentically without the fear of violence and discrimination,” Joel Simpson, Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) declared at the end of the two-hour procession, which moved from the Parade Ground to the Square of the Revolution.

After a one-hour delay, caused by a last minute cancellation from the scheduled party truck, the procession moved off.

The replacement truck, which had been having problems with the sound system, blasted Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming out” and the revelry was in full swing.

Despite objections from a section of the Christian community on the day before, the procession did not face any protests along the route from the Parade Ground to the Square of the Revolution.

In fact, Quincy ‘Gulliver’ McEwan, Founder and Executive Director of Guyana Trans United, told reporters that while coming  out in public spaces has always been a challenge for transgender Guyanese, he was satisfied that so many were willing to come out and claim the public space they are entitled to as citizens.

One such member was Princess Ashanti Williams, who told Stabroek News that she would count the parade a success as long as “nobody ain’t pelt no bottles or come out and try to do us something.”

Williams, who travelled the entire route in six inch heels, was looking forward to being able to show who she was without backlash.

She and the other participants received their wish as the parade was incident-free, with numerous supporters cheering for the participants along the route.

One observer declared to Sunday Stabroek that it was “like a carnival replay.” The owner of the Beacon Café directed his staff to distribute water to the participants.

“This is necessary,” he said of the parade. “We are all citizens and no one should feel discriminated against.”

Many of those who came to view the parade attended as part of family units, which included very young children. Asked if they were concerned that the display would “corrupt” their offspring, all of the parents said no.

“They are just people. She shouldn’t be afraid of people who are not hurting her,” one grandmother explained.

Another mother who came with her three children to the watch the parade further explained that her children can’t be corrupted by people being who they are. “They didn’t become like this at the age they are now. All of them were like this from small. This is who they are. Who they are can’t make my children somebody they are not,” she stressed.

It was clear that many of the onlookers were family members and friends of the participants as they took the time to cheer for and encourage particular individuals.

“Angel you had to be up front. Show we you moves. Let we see if you could go down fo truth,” one person shouted at a reveler.

By the end of the march, members of the procession were tired, high heels had been swapped for flats and some feathers had drooped but they remained jubilant.

Simpson explained that though speeches had been planned, the Guyana LGBT Coalition’s permit expired at 6.30 pm.

Addressing the participants at the Square of the Revolution at 6.29 pm, he used the brief time left to thank all those who showed up and encourage those who followed the parade to participate next year.

The Guyana Police Force was offered special thanks for “protecting and serving” a community with which it is often at odds and the Georgetown Ministers’ Fellowship (GMF), which had registered its objection to the march on Friday, was criticised for misrepresenting the constitution.

On Friday, the GMF said that the parade 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.

Specifically Minister of the Gospel Marlon Hestick proclaimed that a gay parade is an expression of a sexuality that 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.

Simpson took Hestick and another GMF representative Valerie Leung to task. He stressed that under the constitution of Guyana every citizen is entitled to fundamental rights and freedom, including the freedom of assembly, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression and equal protection of the law.

In relation to the legality of cross-dressing, Simpson reminded that a 2013 High Court ruling by Justice Ian Chung specified that cross-dressing is not a crime unless it is for an improper purpose.

“Standing up for Human right can’t be an improper purpose,” Simpson declared before noting that while buggery, attempted buggery and gross indecency remain illegal, no one participated in any such act as part of the parade, so he had no idea what the GMF was objecting to.

“This parade is about standing up for who we are,” Simpson stressed, before reminding that both political parties in the run up to the 2015 elections promised to respect and protect the LGBT community but three years later these promises have not been kept.

“We are out here to send a very, very strong message that we are community of resilience, we are a community of strength, and we are a people who contribute to this society. We make up all professions… in every sector, whether we are closeted or open, we exist… and that is why we are here today,” he concluded.

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