Gay rights, God, Ganja and Guyana at 51

Gay rights, God, Ganja and Guyana at 51

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by Vidyaratha Kissoon

“What are Hinduism’s views on the issue” the young Christian man asked. Independence morning and the issue we were talking about was gay rights. He felt that Christians were under attack on social media. He did not like the ‘cuss outs’ and hoped for civil conversation. He did not understand why people would be upset at the Church.

The Government had said that they will hold a referendum on gay rights and that legalizing homosexuality is a ‘sensitive issue’ .

Guyana had shamed itself internationally. Guyana voted to stop the funding of an investigator in the United Nations system to report on the abuses of LGBT people around the world. Guyana voted with voted with countries like Indonesia , where gay men are whipped in public, and Saudi Arabia, where public funds are used to pay people to chop of heads and hands of citizens, or to flog those who write blogs against the regime.

This is Guyana…

Minister Greenidge in lamenting the difficulty of addressing discrimination against LGBT citizens said – “but this is Guyana and in these countries you have a different mix of not only ethnic groupings, but you have religious groupings” .

His predecessors had said the same thing about “the divided society” and the fear of those who pray against homosexuals.

“This is Guyana’ is often used to show why Guyana is incapable of better.

Like the Marriott, the Government continues with the homophobic approach of the PPP to dealing with LGBT equality. The view that ‘We will not discriminate and we will not change the laws” is easier to express than facing the prayers of those who want to preserve the discrimination .

The image from outside the Ocean View sitting of Parliament in 2003 shows the religious diversity which the Government and Opposition cannot deal with.

President Granger gave hisaddress on the 51st Independence under the title “Diversity and Destiny” . The President made constant reference to the ethic and religious diversity. He spoke of no other kinds of diversity.

It is a shame he did not explain more on what he meant by social equality when he said “The ‘free state’ is one that is free from discrimination; it is one that is built on the basis of respect for cultural diversity, political inclusivity and social equality.”

First Lady Sandra Granger in a speech at another event spoke of a different kind of diversity and difference. She encouraged the audience to be inspired by LGBT youth, and other young people who deal with discrimination.

The Draft Social Cohesion plan refers to the LGBTQI as a marginalised group. It refers to the national consultations where the discussions on LGBTQI were “passionate”. Reasons for the discrimination included “inacceptable [sic] behaviour in the community, fear of family members being influenced or molested, religious beliefs, dress code/behaviour, not accepted traditionally or religiously” .

The draft strategic plan though has an objective to “Support and advocate for new or revised policies and legislation, revised public sector rules and regulations, updated business practices, updated workplace practices, and appropriate social and cultural norms that can strengthen respect for diversity, and confront social exclusion and intolerance, such as: – Enactment of sexual orientation legislation, that removes the stigma, discrimination, exclusion, and marginalization that are experienced by many in the LGBTQI community…; “

“This is Guyana” apparently is this place with contradictions where the Green Economy depends on mining and oil, and where politicians seem to want LGBT citizens to be equal without doing the work to challenge the homophobia of those who want the discrimination to continue.

Other people’s polite homophobia though seems to get rewards from the State.

The opposition to the 2003 Constitutional amendments involved sections of the Christian and Muslim communities.

Protestors in 2003. Image linked from https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/06/christian-and-lgbt-groups-have-brought-the-battle-for-gay-rights-to-the-caribbean/277280/

Bishop Juan Edghill and Pastor Raphael Massiah were active members of the Christian Fellowship which prayed with/for/against President Jagdeo and the others to ensure that there was no equality for LGBT citizens.

The Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana has maintained its opposition to the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Guyana. Pastor Massiah and other Caribbean Christians also signed a letter to President Donald Trump this year . The letter was an appeal to the President Trump to send light instead of the shadows of ‘LGBT’ coercion the ‘same-sex agenda’ .

Bishop Juan Edghill became a Minister and is now a Member of Parliament , elected representative of the people who also voted for the chatree coolie and slap-and-strip-bheri.

Pastor Massiah is a recipient in this year’s honour list of the Cacique Crown of Honour. Sheikh Moeenul Hack who is from the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana is another recipient of the Cacique Crown of Honour.

It seems there is high reward for opposition to decriminalisation of homosexuality, not only in heaven, but also on Guyana’s earth.

Referendum

Trinidadian activist Colin Robinson appealed to the leaders and others in Guyana to move beyond the Referendum. He reminded Christians that Jesus was crucified after a referendum of sorts.

A referendum was used in Guyana for the infamous 1980 Constitution. Ironically, referendum is coming up again in the discussion of the possibility of Bharat Jagdeo running for a third term.

The argument for Bharat Jagdeo is that the Constitutional amendments are flawed because they were not agreed by referendum. Bharat Jagdeo has spoken out against discrimination against LGBT citizens while saying that Guyana is not ready for same sex marriage.

He also has spoke about decriminalisation of marijuana even though he did nothing while President to decriminalise marijuana.

The Government has also shut down discussion about decriminalisation of marijuana. Independent Guyana apparently will continue to jail mostly poor people for marijuana offences. Minister Joseph Harmon is the Judiciary can decide how to apply the offences. This view is different from when Minister Harmon was in opposition when he seemed to share similar views to the current Leader of the Opposition.

Independent Jamaica had a National Commission on Ganja to address ganja decriminalisation.

Independent Guyana though, will not have any consensus or referendum on this issue.

Citizens will continue to be punished for the use of a substance which is legally used in other countries.

Human Rights in Guyana

The Constitution which might be invalid because it was not agreed by referendum has provisions for Human Rights. The Prime Minister, who is responsible for Governance was busy this week with consolidating the public information empire. There were no advertisements for any of the positions in the new entity. The Prime Minister has appointed one of his own politicians to head the new agency which is expected to ‘guard against’ the partisanship of the past.

The Prime Minister has stopped providing public information on the work he is doing to activate the Ethnic Relations Commission and the Human Rights Commission.  These commissions are tasked in the Constitution with raising awareness about Human Rights in Guyana.

The Women and Gender Equality Commission is another Constitutional commission. This week , they issued a statement which called for a repeal of all archaic and discriminatory laws. They reminded citizens of the protection of human rights of all Guyanese.

The reason for the statement was for the WGEC to respond to the social media posts by Commissioner Nicole Cole. Nicole Cole has been making homophobic statements on social media. She, like the Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana and the churches associated with Bishop Edghill and Pastor Massiah, is against the changing of the laws.

Nicole Cole has been visible and active on discrimination against women and children. I have been part of some of the protests with her.  Many of the people who are saying No to the referendum and who are concerned about her role on the Commission have not protested with us.

Many of the organisations which protest homosexuality have also not protested with Nicole Cole on any of the other issues she has protested about, especially as they relate to violence against women and children.

Nicole Cole is a representative of the Rastafari community on the Women and Gender Equality Commission. She reportedly said that the Rastafari faith will never condone the legalisation of buggery.

Years ago, I had interactions with a man who had no problems invoking his faith for his homophobia. He said he was Rastafari and like Nicole Cole, condemned all those who stood for equality of LGBT citizens.

In a space of a year or two  , he said he changed his views. He eventually wrote a facebook post advocating acceptance and talked about his change in views.

I do not know his views now as the interactions stopped.

He told me then that he had a chance to reflect on his views as he met different people . He had discussed with a Rasta elder as well who gave him a different view on love and discrimination.

He said “I realized One Love is exactly that. No exceptions.“

Another young man asked me about the referendum. He felt hopeless about Guyana after the announcement of the referendum and the general reluctance of the Government to do anything positive for human rights. He had voted for the Coalition and hoped for change.

It is a shame in Guyana at 51 years, ‘One Love’ is not a Government which will not rise above the ‘division’ and institute equality for all of its citizens.

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