Guyanese/British Peer attacks anti-gay hysteria in Guyana
By John Mair in London
August 27, 2003
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Lord Waheed Alli, one of the more prominent members of ‘The Guyanese Mafia’ in British public life, who is a Labour member of the House of Lords and openly homosexual, described recent anti-gay sentiment in Guyana as ‘appalling’. He reserved his special wrath for the local Churches who were opposing antigender discrimination legislation. “I pity those who create hate and discrimination in the name of God. I just cannot understand it”. He was saddened and felt that such hysteria would simply result in Guyanese of a different sexual orientation having to leave their homeland and ‘I cannot forgive that’.
Lord Alli was speaking to the Stabroek News in an exclusive interview this week. Waheed Alli is the son of a Guyanese father and a Trinidadian mother who grew up in South London. He trained and practised firstly as an accountant before entering the world of television. With his partner in life, Charlie Parsons, he set up the successful Channel Four breakfast programme ‘The Big Breakfast’ before being bought out by media giant Carlton Television and joining them as Managing Director. Subsequently he left them to set up his own independent production company, Shine Entertainment, with Elizabeth Murdoch, the daughter of media mega mogul Rupert Murdoch. Today, he is head of their US arm and ‘I spend one week in three in Los Angeles these days’. Lord Alli, the humble boy from Streatham is today himself truly an international media mogul. But he also has a prominent role in British public life - he is a Labour working peer in the House of Lords - and outside is a core member of the so-called ‘Guyanese Mafia’ which is slowly but surely rising to the top of that tree.
He laughs at being called a member of ‘the G mafia’ - “You know I get very confused. Sometimes people say I am in the Gay Mafia, sometimes in the Guyanese Mafia’ but he does concede the existence of the perception of a group of self-supporting Guyanese, born or bred. ‘Valerie (Amos) and I are very close friends. We have a lot in common. I think her becoming a cabinet minister has sent out the right signals’. He also sees a lot of another UK Government minister of Guyanese origin, David Lammy MP. “To be honest, it’s because we use the same gym’ and some of Trevor Phillips, the Guyanese-born Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality and also fellow peer Lord Herman Ouseley, also Guyanese- born. We’re all in the same generation but we don’t act in concert”.
Furthermore, he added, this ‘Mafia’ was a bit different in that it had open membership and he was hoping that more second generation Guyanese would qualify for membership. His Guyaneseness came through his blood line rather than his environment.
He puts the success of the Guyanese in the UK down to values of discipline and ethics instilled in them by their parents plus the tales of suffering in their homeland. Lord Alli is of Indian Guyanese origin. “I well remember sending food, money, anything for my relatives back in Guyana in the hard times and the joy there was when family came and brought with them casareep and things like that which you could not get in London’. Lord Alli has been to his father’s land thrice, once as a teenager ‘When I was struck by the sheer beauty of it’, once as an adult and most recently as part of the Royal Party with Prince Charles in 1990, an experience he later described as ‘surreal’. There he was able to bond with another ‘Mafia’ member Colleen Harris, the Press Secretary to the Prince, whom he now describes as a ‘friend’. On all of his visits ‘home’ he has been awestruck by the sense of community. He still finds Guyana and the Guyanese very hospitable and very welcoming.
So, for at least one self confessed member of ‘The Guyanese Mafia’ life is good but full of challenges even if tolerance for his sexuality is not to the fore and to his liking in the homeland of his forefathers.