Guyanese society is homophobic – mini essay

STATEMENT: It is here proposed that the society is, at its core, homophobic.

 

INTRODUCTION

Focus will be placed on the Guyanese society for the purpose of this essay and is to be read as such in every instance where the word society appears unless otherwise stated. But before diving into the riptide that is this moot it is important that a working definition be established about what exactly is homophobia. It is natural for one to automatically reach for the literal meaning of the word and indeed numerous sources have defined homophobia as a hatred or fear of homosexuals as the suffix phobia denotes. But there has been criticism of this term by quite a few individuals who believe it makes a pejorative judgment about people whose anti-gay sentiments may not be based on fear or hatred.[1] The counter to this has been forthcoming from psychotherapist George Weinberg who was credited with coining the term in the 1960s and developed the idea more fully in his 1972 book Society and the Healthy Homosexual. In reaction to the Associated Press’ discontinuation of the use of the term in 2012 Weinberg argued that there was no other apt word to describe the phenomenon.[2] The fact that it is still in use decades after its coinage attests to its acceptance by the wider populace despite its perceived shortcomings. But it is clear that the term homophobia cannot simply be referring to fear and hatred since under this umbrella also falls the term institutionalised homophobia which refers to anti-gay teachings of the Abrahamic religions like Christianity and Islam, and state-sponsored homophobia through the imposition of laws which criminalise homosexual conduct. From the information perused then it could be concluded that homophobia as espoused by the homosexual community is really the discriminatory or prejudicial reaction to persons as a result of their identification as homosexual or the perception of them being thus. In this connotative sense in which the term has come to be accepted those reactions may manifest as fear, hatred, violence or denial of rights. It is this understanding of the term that allows the author to take the position that indeed, the Guyanese society is, at its core, a homophobic one. But what is this core that influences how the society operates? The core of any organism or entity is the nucleus upon which the system is built. In sociological terms a core suggests a homogeneity of ideas and systems which informs the people’s moral and other values and it is upon this plateau we embark.

 

PRIVATE MORALITY

A 2013 study of Guyanese attitudes towards homosexuals conducted by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES) found that 58 percent of respondents were either tolerant or accepting of homosexuals.[3]  They were given three choices upon which to base their attitudes, namely homophobic, tolerant or accepting. Twenty-five percent identified themselves as hating homosexuals or homophobic, 39 percent as tolerant and 19 percent as accepting. Seventeen percent of the respondents were tabulated as undecided. At first blush one would be tempted to say only a quarter admitted to being homophobic but a closer look must be taken at that largest category, those who tolerate homosexuals, to see what that really means. It is the author’s contention that tolerance of anything presupposes a differentiation between that which is being tolerated and the individual who is exercising this largesse. In the case of people that differentiation can be identified as inequality. Executive Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Joel Simpson, whose organisation assisted with the CADRES poll, acknowledged via telephone interview that a weakness of the survey had been the classification of that particular category. He too argued that inherent in the position of tolerance is the belief that somehow homosexuals are lesser beings to whom a concession must be extended by their straight counterparts. That, he stated, is discrimination. He posited that were those same individuals to be asked whether they supported gay rights the answers would be that they did not believe people should be harmed because of their sexual orientation, or denied other rights. But invariably, he added, those rights would stop short of the core issue for which the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community is battling, namely full equality before the law. This is clearly illustrated in the study with 49 percent of respondents believing that local laws against homosexual behaviour are a fair expression of their moral and religious standards; this, despite only 25 percent saying they were homophobic. The study reveals that 52 percent of the respondents’ views on sexuality were formed by religion. For good measure, opposition to same sex marriage is listed at 76 percent of those surveyed. It is clear then from the foregoing that tolerance is not recognition of equality. While the homosexual community is a minority its universality clearly indicates that it is by no means an abnormality to be tolerated. Global estimates place homosexual population between one and 10 percent of any given country’s population.[4]

 

LEGISLATION

The religious influence does not end with the impact on private morality but is also evident in the public sphere and can be seen in the holdovers from Guyana’s colonial past in the legislative system. The Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act was written in 1893 when a Victorian sensibility still ruled the day. It sanctions men who wear clothing said to be that of female and vice versa.[5] A subsequent challenge of a cross-dressing case ruling in 2009 by SASOD and several individuals who had been charged under the Act reached before the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the provisions of the legislation breached their constitutional rights. In 2013 acting Chief Justice Ian Chang ruled that there was nothing wrong with cross-dressing but noted the caveat that it was illegal to do so for “improper purposes.”[6] SASOD’s Simpson said while the decision was somewhat welcomed the learned judge’s failure to elucidate on what was “improper purposes” was unsatisfactory and a legal challenge would be mounted on that ground.

But whereas the penalty for cross-dressing is a fine the sanctions for male to male sexual relations is draconian under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, with attempted buggery or “gross indecency” attracting a two-year prison sentence and buggery a life sentence. To say these laws are archaic would be an understatement but it is the reluctance on the part of the political leadership to do away with them that leads to the institutionalisation of homophobia. Efforts to pass legislative amendments to prohibit discrimination against persons based on their sexual orientation were vehemently opposed publicly by the Christian and Muslim communities in 2003 with those bodies eventually having their way.

The position by successive governments in Guyana has been that the society is not ready for the decriminalisation of homosexual relations and this has led to public statements by their representatives such as that the call for decriminalisation is a “storm in a teacup”[7] and that homosexuality was “destructive.”[8] Unsurprisingly, none of those officials were ever sanctioned publicly for their remarks.

However, it must be acknowledged that Guyana has committed to a review of those laws as one of three areas under its obligations to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The body recommended that the state repeal all laws which discriminate against persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.[9] The other two areas to be reviewed are the death penalty and corporal punishment. The issues have been moved to a Special Select Committee of the National Assembly since that 2012 commitment. The committee decided to deal with corporal punishment first, then the death penalty with decriminalisation of same sex relations scheduled for last. According to Simpson, decriminalisation of same-sex relations was slated as it was because it was seen as the most problematic of the three areas. Up to November 10, 2014 when the Parliament was prorogued the committee had not concluded its work on corporal punishment and only time will tell when the issue of same-sex relations would be up for consideration in the highest decision-making body of the land.

EFFECTS

The cumulative results of these attitudes and regulations have seen violence meted out to persons identified or perceived as being homosexual, according to Simpson, and he notes that transgender individuals and lesbians[10] have borne the brunt of the verbal and physical abuse and even death in some cases. But in addition to those overt effects the homophobic tendencies lead to psychological issues with LGBT individuals who fear to identify themselves as such. As noted before between one and 10 percent of any population may identify as homosexual and this was reflected in the CADRES study with three percent saying they were homosexual and four percent that they were bisexual. However, a startling 15 percent were unwilling to identify their sexual orientation leading the pollsters to surmise that as much as 20 percent of the population may be homosexual or bisexual. It does not require any great leap of the imagination to figure out why people would choose not to identify their sexual orientation. It could logically be presumed that a straight person would have no problem with identifying his or her orientation.

 

CONCLUSION

Homophobia is real and pervasive in Guyanese society. It can only be hoped that the powers that be see the need to take the lead on the issue of LGBT rights and usher the people into an enlightened way of thinking. Human rights should be for all humans, not just the majority, for then we would be subscribing to the tyranny of the majority and consigning the members of the LGBT community to a purgatory of abuse and trauma.

 

[1]  O’Donohue, William; Caselles, Christine (September 1993). “Homophobia: Conceptual, definitional, and value issues”. J Psychopathol Behav Assess 15 (3).

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[2] AP Denounces Homophobia, The Word, That Is, The Advocate, 2012

http://www.advocate.com/politics/media/2012/11/26/ap-says-homophobia-mark-describing-antigay-bigotry

 

[3] Attitudes Towards Homosexuals in Guyana, CADRES, 2013

[4] Ibid

[5] The relevant section of the Act imposes a fine for: “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire; or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire…”

 

[6] Court upholds partial cross-dressing ban, Stabroek News, 2013

http://www.stabroeknews.com/2013/news/stories/09/08/court-upholds-partial-cross-dressing-ban/

[7] The cry to scrap anti-buggery laws is a storm in a teacup – PPP’s Manzoor Nadir, iNews, 2014

http://www.inewsguyana.com/the-cry-to-scrap-anti-buggery-laws-is-a-storm-in-a-teacup-ppps-manzoor-nadir/

[8] Gay rights groups urge gov’t to fire Juan Edghill after anti-gay remarks, Stabroek News, 2014

http://www.stabroeknews.com/2014/news/stories/07/16/gay-rights-groups-urge-govt-fire-juan-edghill-anti-gay-remarks/

[9] Statement on Government of Guyana UPR Consultations, SASOD

http://www.sasod.org.gy/sasod-blog-statement-government-guyana-upr-consultations

[10] From madness to mainstream – “Gay rights” in Guyana (part 2), Stabroek News, 2013

http://www.stabroeknews.com/2013/features/in-the-diaspora/07/01/from-madness-to-mainstream-gay-rights-in-guyana-part-2/

 

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friday

It’s 11.15 on a Friday night and I’m looking for some meaning to this life in a styrofoam box of fries. Did that one really stand above the rest and actually taste different? Was it the ketchup that added to it? Should I interpret that to mean that I need to spice things up? Add a little condiment to this existence of mine? As you may or may not be able to tell I’ve had way too much to drink. Which raises another philosophical question – how much is too much? That is something that warrants a clearer head than I’m able to muster now.

I’m Alright

Fell asleep writing this …

Its 12.15am. Monday.

My wife is probably elbow deep in the vagina of a 17-year-old on her third fatherless bastard while I’m home watching Debbie Does Dallas and thinking of a lissome stripper who can tune a pole like a silk scarf riding the wind.

If you think I’m horny you’re wrong. If you bet that I’m drunk you’d be homeless; nevermind the bottle of tequila nearby that is making bonita eyes at me. I am restless. I want to roll through the desolation that is downtown with its garbage piles and fat, resigned, baton-wielding grannies; maybe stop and gamble with the fellas at Regent and King Streets or knock dominoes with the others a little further up. Or maybe drop in at Palm Court where I can see one drunken minister or another chasing teenagers who attend the same private schools that his kids do.

These are the kinds of experiences that might add colour to the cog-like existence you call your life. Is it time to obliterate the morass that has fevered your brain into accepting that your only due is a cheque, a Facebook account and aborted fuckdates because you do not tote a Blackberry? Damn right it is. It is time to beta test that motherfucker you want to be.

I know we have to return to the plantation in a matter of hours …