It is with great disappointment that we at the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Guyana learn of the failure of the Bermuda House of Assembly to debate the bill which would outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation.
It is important to understand that the right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation is a basic human right to which all are entitled equally, whether heterosexual, bisexual or homosexual.
Irrefutably, non-heterosexuals have been stigmatized and discriminated against from time immemorial and therefore stand to benefit most from legal protection. This is lamented by no less a person than Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the foreword to the Amnesty International book, Sex, Love & Homophobia, in the following words: "Yet all over the world, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are persecuted. We treat them as pariahs and push them outside our communities. We make them doubt that they too are children of God — and this must be nearly the ultimate blasphemy. We blame them for what they are."
Archbishop Tutu has also linked homophobia to apartheid when he said that the persecution of people because of their sexual orientation is every bit as unjust as that crime against humanity, apartheid.
Archbishop Tutu puts it best in these words: "This is a matter of ordinary justice. We struggled against apartheid in South Africa, supported by people the world over, because black people were being blamed and made to suffer for something we can do nothing about — our very skins. It is the same with sexual orientation. It is a given. I could not have fought against the discrimination of apartheid and not also fight against the discrimination which homosexuals endure, even in our churches and faith groups. And I am proud that in South Africa, when we won the chance to build our new constitution, the human rights of all have been explicitly enshrined in our laws. My hope is that one day this will be the case all over the world, and that all will have equal rights."
Human rights protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people is often dismissed by the homophobes as a Western concern but the fact is that South Africa was the first country in the world to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in its post-apartheid constitution. South Africa has certainly learned from its apartheid experience that ignorance, intolerance and hate must be opposed in all its forms. Do we here in Caribbean need such a virulent struggle to teach us a lesson? Or will we simply learn from the past mistakes of others around the world? Further to this being an essential matter of basic human rights, what is even more alarming is that this is also a matter of public health concern and the Minister of Health, Patrice Minors, and other government backbenchers are reported as being against the bill. Dr. Mirta Roses, Director of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has eloquently reinforced that hatred against homosexuals is not only a threat to human rights but a threat to life itself.
In her words: "... homophobia contributes to the spread of HIV. Fear of being stigmatized often prevents homosexual men from seeking HIV testing, counselling, and treatment, with the result that they are less likely to adopt measures to protect themselves and others from the virus."
According to Sir George Alleyne, U. N. Secretary General's Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS to the Caribbean, homophobia is the major stumbling block to fighting the spread of HIV/AIDS in the region. Dr. Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, has also said that homophobia is one of the "best friends of HIV/AIDS" at the fifth Annual General Meeting of the Pan Caribbean Partnership Against HIV/AIDS (PANCAP) held in Port-of-Spain in September of last year.
PAHO asserts that homophobia is of such grave concern in Latin America and the Caribbean that the governments of Brazil, Mexico and Colombia recently launched mass media campaigns against homophobia. In Argentina and Chile, this theme has been featured in poster campaigns and on television where the messages were well received. What is necessary to build a society of justice and tolerance? This bill gives Bermuda a valiant opportunity to put itself on the human-rights map with progressive legislation that guarantees equal rights for all.
We at SASOD stand in solidarity with Mrs Webb and the other supporters for non-discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation in Bermuda. We call on the government of Bermuda to show sterling and unwiltering leadership and to oppose injustice in all its forms by re-introducing a bill which bans discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and to set an example to change the face of homophobia.
SASOD - Guyana