October 26th will mark only four months since the US Supreme Court made its landmark ruling on marriage equality. Like millions of other Facebook users worldwide, I changed my profile picture to a rainbow coloured one to show my support for this cause. Seems innocent enough, but people living in Third World countries like Guyana will know fully well that it is no small feat. In fact standing up for liberal principles is not something one sees very often here.
I had promised that I would pen an explanation of my open support for the campaign, but what really compelled me to put pen-to-paper in this case has a lot to do with an unlikely friend I made while spending a month in the rainforest. For the sake of this article I will refer to my friend as Hitch.
While having the odd conversation with my colleagues from the UK and US at one of the many camp sites we stayed at while in the Iwokrama Rainforest (alcohol may or may not have been involved), Hitch announced very reluctantly and quietly that he was gay. I had already mentioned briefly to him in prior conversations that I shared liberal views and therefore accepted peoples’ right to love whomever they wish. This probably was a major factor in him making such a bold announcement in spite of me, a Guyanese, being at the table. No one was surprised at his revelation, however, we inquired as to why he was so hesitant. He told us that prior to departing the UK his parents made him swear that he would not reveal to anyone while here, his sexual orientation. They had read many things about Guyana on the internet which led them to believe that it was not a good idea to let anyone, particularly locals, know this detail about him, else there be “Locked up abroad” type consequences.
While I didn’t think that he was in any real danger even if it was revealed, I did my best to reassure Hitch that his secret was safe with me and that I wouldn’t relate it to the “Guyanese authorities.” This minor ordeal made me think about how the developed world views Guyana. I often like to think of some countries in the Middle-East and parts of Africa as being retrograde because of the way they treat minority groups. However, one can easily recognize that there is not much that separates those countries from us besides land space. Perhaps, were it not for a relatively docile citizenry, we would be doing exactly what those “retrograde” countries are doing. Our laws still allow for anachronistic things such as the prosecution of members of the LGBTI community, hanging of criminals, blasphemy, State-funded abuse of children in learning institutions, etc. We may not act on all of these things frequently (NB. children are still abused every day in public schools), but the fact remains that the foundation exists for them to be acted upon and remains firm in our society.
Earlier this week I watched the UN speech made by Robert Mugabe, long-serving (about 27 years) President of Zimbabwe, at the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly. The 91 year old used the UN platform to launch an attack on homosexuality and what he claims is the imposition of Western “rights” on his country, which are contrary to their “values, norms, traditions and beliefs.” Interestingly enough, it is via the West, in the form of British colonialism, that his country would have gained their Christian beliefs, and by extension, homophobia. I mention this speech, hoping to paint a picture of how a nation can appear when it chooses to cling to outdated and displaced ideologies, against the backdrop of a changed world.
It is imperative therefore, that the youth of Guyana stand up against the ‘Mugabes’ of the world and our own country. We should not be made to view the world through a prism that was built over 1300 years ago and handed to us, like a poisoned chalice, by colonialists. Almost every young person in this country has a ‘Hitch’ in their life and knows that the stereotypes are simply untrue and unjust.
The time has come for Guyana to have an impartial body, led by young people, that is not limited to a particular cause. One that can champion the call for liberal values and principles in our society. One that can say to Hitch and others like him that you are human and no one should restrict your ability to exercise a most basic human trait, the ability to Love. One that can tell children that they are human beings with human rights and deserve to be treated as such, and that they should never be afraid to question the things they are told to believe. A Humanist association is one such body. The time is rife and for those who wish the continuance of anachronism and inhumanity in our country, notice is officially served.
To Be Continued…