The Intolerant Byrde Eye View
By Avis Byrde

Guyana Chronicle
July 27, 2003

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AS this column is being written, a debate is going on in Parliament, the highest decision- making body of our land, on whether sexual orientation must be a right protected by our Constitution. The religious community, especially through the efforts of Bishop Juan Edghill, has already taken a firm stance against a Bill ensuring that persons of non-heterosexual orientation are not discriminated against. Edghill and his posse already gained two small victories: the first when the Constitutional amendment was originally introduced, with President Jagdeo sending the Bill back for consideration; and secondly, when the words "sexual orientation" were culled from the original Bill and left to stand on their own.

That very action epitomises the fate of gay and lesbian people in our society today; cut off from the rest of the herd and left to face the axe, and I guarantee you, there is an axe, alone. Now in a country where the sins of murder, theft, rape and incest are committed everyday, where the most heinous of these crimes have in recent times been markedly on the increase, that the religious community, especially as represented by the bellicose Edghill, should seek to come out in full force against a simple statement as "don't discriminate", I find it outrageous.

By the time you are reading this, the "sexual orientation" Bill would have already been shot down. The thousands of homosexual people in our society - and I am not speaking about some random group of perverts, child molesters, bestiality practitioners, I am referring to co-workers, best friends, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins and even mothers and fathers - would have realised by now that we do not live in a democracy. We live in a country where the rule of law is liable to come under duress by the vocal, the narrow-minded, the sanctimonious, the bellicose and the ignorant. By the time you are reading it, a young President and a Parliament that is perhaps too old but which I am sure imagines itself as "progressive", would have failed an entire society, in the interests of a few in whose closets I imagine a million skeletons abound.

Constitutional reform is not an easy thing. It is a largely tedious and tenuous process, a shaky bridge over which nations occasionally travel in order to arrive at some better place, a stepping stone to some distant Utopia. With the dismissal of the sexual orientation Bill, we have missed our chance to arrive at a better society. In fact, we have gone a step backwards closer to the dark ages. We should bring out the racks, the stakes, the stocks and the torches and after all the homosexuals are purged from this land, we can go after the atheists and the prostitutes and the idolaters and the thieves and the rapists and the child molesters and the liars. And if there are any people left in the hierarchies of the churches and the mosques and the temples when we are finished, the handful of them can rule Guyana and let the politicians step aside.

All I can make of this rabid and misinformed condemnation of the "sexual orientation" Bill by the combined religious bodies is an unholy alliance. Sooner or later, and I believe sooner rather than later, this marriage of convenience is going to, as they often do, fold in upon itself. And when all the praying and the chanting is over, pandits, priests and imams are going to go to their respective flocks and curse the others for resisting the true path to God. And I assure you, Guyana will be the worse off for it.

Let me put this thing in real terms. Our society is essentially a patriarchal and hence homophobic one. The Bill is not passed and the religious community, especially those from the Edghill camp, go back to their respective flocks and proclaim that their respective faith/God has triumphed over iniquity. One of that flock goes home and internalises everything that his/her leader has said. Come Monday morning, they go into work as an HIV/AIDS counsellor. A young homosexual man walks in and wants some advice on how to ensure that he does not contract HIV or any other STD for that matter. With a parliamentary green light - and don't delude yourself into believing that Parliament's rejection of the sexual orientation Bill is anything but - to use his religious beliefs as the lens through which he/she perceives this young man and as mouthpiece through which to offer him much-needed advice, will this counsellor do otherwise? And this applies everywhere, from employment, to healthcare to plain old friendship.

Perhaps it would have been better if the sexual orientation bit had never been introduced into the Constitutional reform plan. But the fact is that it has been and no one can change that, nor can they change the repercussions that the rejection of this Bill will bring into effect. The challenge for Parliament is to correct the wrong that has been perpetuated on human beings - and homosexual people are still people, despite what the bigots try to portray them as. Our politicians need to consult with all the interest groups on this matter and encourage open and informed debate on this very contentious issue. No sermonising, no inquisition, no shouting, no pushing people on the forehead while your hand is in their pocket; I'm talking about serious but civil debate on the ill effects that ensuring that homosexuals are not discriminated against has brought on societies around the world. And let us see what comes out of it.

This is Avis Byrde signing out and urging you to live and let others live; you'll be a better human being for it.

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