I wish to thank you for inviting me to make this presentation.
Honourable Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Basil Williams, S.C; M.P(Neketa Forde Photo)
Kamala Kempadoo in her article Caribbean Sexuality –Mapping the Field has said:
“Caribbean sexuality is both hyper visible and obscured. That is, it is celebrated in popular culture as an important element in Caribbean social life and flaunted to attract tourists to the region, yet it is shrouded in double extender, secrecy and shame.”
Sexual orientation and by extension lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights (LGBT) rights are considered a sensitive topic for many people and many governments. The deeply rooted religious and other cultural beliefs as well as accepted norm in the Caribbean have contributed to a climate of intolerance.
These beliefs and views isolate some members of our society and expose them to stigma and discrimination. However despite our differences in views and beliefs there must be a standard that ensures and promotes tolerance. As human International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia let us focus on the similarities we share with each other’s, rather than the differences.
The laws in the Commonwealth Caribbean that criminalize same –sex intimacy are remnants of the regions colonial past. Zoe Mintz in her article ,In the Caribbean:Anti-Sodomy Laws and Persecution, Being Gay is no fun in the islands, explained that “Once slavery was abolished in countries like Guyana and independence eventually gained – the rigorous British infrastructure remained in place to ensure the freedom gained by revolution “wouldn’t fall at the seams”. The remnants that have remained have caused local and international bodies to call for reform of our laws.
In addressing this issue, the Government wrote a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) following the 161st Ordinary Period of Sessions which addressed issues of human rights against young persons in Guyana. The Government noted that the Guyanese people are to decide in a referendum whether homosexuality should remain a criminal offence.
The Government believes that no person should be discriminated on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, since every citizen has equal access to all Guyana has to offer .This belief is enshrined in our constitution which is the supreme law of the land .The constitution provides by Article 145 that all members of society have a right to freedom of conscience while Article 146 provides for the right of freedom of expression. Article 149 protects our right against discrimination which includes on the basis of sex or gender and Article 149D provided for equality of enjoyment of all rights and freedom.
The Government believes that the principle of universality admits no exception and that human rights are the birth right of all human beings .We believes that the outright injustice, violence, discrimination and marginalization are common form of intolerance .we must respect and appreciate diverse cultures, forms of expression and way of being human. Tolerance recognizes the universal human rights and fundamental freedom of others .The diversity of our cultures and way of life is not a pretext for conflict, but is a treasure to enriches us all.
Abdur Rafay Usmani, a correspondent from the Commonwealth Youth Programme, stated in his article, ‘What can tolerance of or a nation’ that,‘Tolerance is not simply an attitude but is an essential element for peace, unity and economic well-being of a nation or society. Where everyone is treated equally and given equal opportunity, everyone is able to effectively utilise their talents and resources to improve their living standard.’
Adopting this view will help Guyana to continue to develop as a nation. It will inherently result in a bigger middle class and reduced poverty. Abdur Rafay Usmani explained that ‘in society where certain groups are discriminated against, not only are they less able to contribute to the economy, but also this leads to the build-up of ghettos and vulnerable communities.’ Nations that practice discrimination are at a disadvantage, as they risk losing enterprising individuals from victimized groups who tend to move elsewhere.
Intolerance is very often rooted in ignorance and fear: fear of the unknown, of the other, cultures, nations, religions. Tolerance allows people of different backgrounds, religions and races to work and live together, and this promotes unity. In a tolerant country, every citizen remains loyal to his country and is willing to make sacrifices for the sake of the country. This is the goal of our administration. We recognize that the people of a nation are the foundation on which it is supported, and if there are fractures and faults in the foundation, the nation becomes more vulnerable to collapse.
In conclusion as Guyanese we must foster a cultural shift. This must begin with our social behaviour. Our language must change. We must refrain from name calling and hate speech. Let us embrace the value of acceptance and equality for everyone. Let us be our brother’s keeper. We must document and expose allegations or reports of human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity promptly. They must be impartially investigated and perpetrators held accountable and brought to justice. Hate speech and condescending attitudes reduce tolerance for homosexuality and encourage the unknown. They must be shunned and penalized. If we want change it must begin with each of us.
Those who promote human rights have been and remain on the right side of history and history honours them. We must promote inclusiveness: recognize diversity and deepen the protection of fundamental human rights in Guyana. Today I implore you to continue advocating for equality and justice for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Be on the right side of history.