Friday, April 25, 2014

International Women of Courage Award: Acceptance Speech

International Women of Courage Award
Acceptance Speech
Zenita Nicholson
March 2014

Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament; Ambassador of the United States to Guyana, Mr. Brent Hartl Charge d’ Affaires, Mr. Bryan Hunt;  Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Special Invitees; Colleagues; Family and Friends, good evening to you all.
I am indeed humbled and greatly honoured to receive this award. I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to the Embassy of the United States of America, Georgetown, for this honour.
 “Nicholson receives the award from ChargĂ© d’ Affaires Bryan Hunt” (Stabroek News)
I did not make the journey here alone. Numerous people have supported me along the way. Early in my life, I learned the importance of courage. I thank first my mother for instilling values of respect, honour and honesty in me. I grew up in a “traditional family” where I often encountered inequality. And I always demanded equal treatment with my younger brother.
I am blessed with an amazing and supportive family; Daria, my daughter, and Dimitri, my son, who have endured my long work days without complaining; Aunty B, who helps to care for my children during these hours. Needless to say, I have had and continue to have a lot of support from various friends, or in my definition, the family I have chosen for myself: my mentor, Mr. Dereck Springer, who I met during a very difficult period in my life and whose counsel reverberated so distinctly it gave me new life - to this day his words echo within me, “Never let anyone tell you, you can’t do something, ever!” - he said, and I believed him. SASOD Founder and Co-Chair, Mr. Joel Simpson, who has been and continues to be a rock of support to me as a friend and comrade in our work for equality; SASOD Co-Chair, Ms. Ulelli Verbeke for being my activist sounding board and finest friend; and Mr. Adrianus Vlugman for his guidance.
 “SASOD’s Zenita Nicholson with her family, friends and colleagues after receiving the 2014 Secretary of State’s International Woman of Courage Award” (Guyana Times)
I've also had wonderful support and encouragement from the contractors, members and volunteers of SASOD – Arlene, Schemel, Tiffany, Carl, Quincy, Collis, Allan, Ewan, Alana, Pere, Leon, John, Keimo, Khemraj, Shane, Natasha, Sherlina, Navina, David, Anton, Randy, Deborah, Subraj, Alex, Nastassia, Priscila; and others - as well as my employers, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC). I could not stand here with you today without all of the support from Dr. Ingrid Cox, Dr. John Waters, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Mr. Ian McKnight and the rest of CVC family. 
“Posing with her prestigious accolade” (Kaieteur News)
Today, I am being honored for my courage. But the truth is, I have no courage; not compared to those who inspire me to advocate for equality, human rights and dignity.
 I am inspired by: the courage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in Guyana - a country where adult same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing is criminalised and highly stigmatised.
I am inspired by ordinary Guyanese who dare to express their sexual orientation and gender identity: by those whose daily lives are filled with violence, rejection, abuse and discrimination, those who are being denied their rights to work, health, education and freedom of expression, and other basic rights that many of us take for granted.
I know their struggles, and I am very proud to be part of the human rights movement in Guyana, calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and enactment of laws which protect people from discrimination, based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. I am proud to be a leader of SASOD - the national organization and movement that is striving to make equality and justice a reality for every Guyanese citizen, especially our LGBT brothers and sisters.
Once again, thanks for this acknowledgement of our work - especially knowing that I work every day with people who are equally deserving. However, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to be a human rights advocate and activist. I dedicate this award to the LGBT Guyanese who fight daily struggles for their very existence, without recognition, reward or recompense. To the girls of the Guyana Trans United – Pearl, Peaches, Falatama, Isabella, Priyanka, Angel, Twinkle, Tyra, Lazana and the others – you are really the women of courage! You are all beautifully fierce and fearless trans-women and I salute you with this award! To the late Charcoe, Tiffany, Darshanie, and others, whose lives were snuffed out due to hate and stigma, I humbly accept this award in your memories.   
Again, I thank you.
 International Women of Courage Award

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