On Tuesday, June 17, psychologist Dr. Faith Harding; Director of AYUPSA: National Center for Suicide Prevention, Swami Aksharananda, and Executive Director of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, formed a very insightful panel discussing religious, societal and cultural influences on the mental health outcomes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese.
Panelists (L to R): Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, Swami Aksharananda and Dr. Faith Harding participating in the panel discussion.
The expert panel was the special event of the tenth annual LGBT Film Festival hosted by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), dubbed Painting the Spectrum 10. The discussion followed the feature film for the evening titled “And the Unclaimed,” a documentary which chronicles the events surrounding the suicide of two young girls in West Bengal, India. The story reveals their love affair and non-acceptance by the village community and families, which perhaps pushed them towards the end of the road – committing suicide.
Though set in India, numerous facets of the film relate to Guyanese society, it ignited a very stimulating and interactive discussion between the panel and the audience. Much of the discussion focused on the impact of religion on the expression of sexuality orientation and gender identity; the possible push factors to suicide in LGBT Guyanese, with a particular focus on family and societal rejection or non-acceptance and the differences between Christian and Hindu theology as it relates to homosexuality and transgenderism.
Dr. Harding spoke about her experiences as a professional psycho-therapist, as she encounters many LGBT Guyanese in her clinical practice, some of who have attempted or contemplated suicide. A large percentage of her LGBT clients have struggled with depression often leading them to contemplate suicide, she noted. “It is painful to see how torn and broken members of the LGBT community are” said Dr. Harding.
She noted that like in the film, numerous LGBT Guyanese deal with personal turmoil, rejection, fear, anxiety and depression on a daily basis. Daily, LGBT Guyanese struggle with self-acceptance and the right to just live equally and co-exist peacefully in society.
Dr. Harding was asked, if she were the President of Guyana, whether she would assent to a bill decriminalising LGBT activities. Dr. Harding responded confidently that she would assent, “because it is a basic human right and I cannot deny basic human rights. It would be irresponsible of me as a leader to not do something about an issue that claims so many young lives,” Dr. Harding pleaded.
Dr. Faith Harding speaking at the panel on mental health issues affecting LGBT Guyanese.
Swami Aksharananda shared that in Hindu mythology that are already exposed to all these extremes and differences. “Images and concepts exist and are accepted without taboo and question. From that background the issues do not present too much of a challenge or questioning for the Hindu community,” he stated.
Although there isn’t much resistance towards homosexuality in the Hindu religion, Swami Aksharananda still believes that there is a need for much more conversations about LGBT issues, their daily struggles and mental health issues that can arise from societal exclusion.
While a prominent pastor feels LGBT people should be on an island by themselves, there are others like Reverend Sheerattan-Bisnauth who are more progressive in their faith and theology, reading the scriptures with a lens for liberation and justice.
Reverend Sheerattan-Bisnauth noted that many of the religious leaders who are opposed to homosexuality are of the mistaken belief that sexual difference causes a breakdown in families, without understanding the numerous types of family structure that exist. “Many of them are caught up with hetero-normative views of families,” the Presbyterian cleric noted.
She noted that there needs to be a space for more healthy discussions about mental health issues affecting LGBT Guyanese and that GRPA is committed to continuing the discourse in collaboration with SASOD and other stakeholders in the country.