By Vishani Ragobeer
Stigma and discrimination are the frequent and repeated disapprovals faced by Dillon Mohamed, a member of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) community in Guyana.
Though he believes slow progress has been made towards plummeting its commonness, these challenges continue to bedevil members of the community. And oftentimes, Mohamed explained, it’s as though their lives are policed.
With the return of Guyana’s pride parade on Saturday, however, the community and its allies sought to remind the public of the need to respect and accept each people, regardless of who they are.
“I think it is significant because persons like me have been oppressed for our sexuality.
“This parade is really a statement in the country to say that we’re here and we’re not going to be oppressed,” Mohamed told the News Room at the sidelines of the parade.
In 2018, researchers from the Georgetown Law Human Rights Institute found that LGBTQ+ people in Guyana were worse affected by discrimination, particularly in the workplace.
Even when LGBTQ+ individuals are able to secure jobs, the study showed that those who disclose their non-normative (or presumed) sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) in the workplace, risk being harassed, bullied, and fired.
This discrimination was exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 2020 Caribbean LGBTQ+ survey done by members of the University of the West Indies (UWI). It was also found that members of the community encountered great difficulties accessing much-needed services.
Despite these challenges, Mohamed remains optimistic.
“Things are getting better,” he said, urging accepting members of the public to continue their support for the community.
On Saturday, he joined a large gathering of LGBTQ+ members and their allies to march through the streets of Georgetown with much pomp and flair. Some came with written messages of love and acceptance.
Amid the proliferation of rainbow-coloured flags and apparel, the Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Joel Simpson said that the pride parade offers a safe space to the community.
Because of the stigma and discrimination faced, Simpson said that members of the community may sometimes become uncomfortable with their own identity. That, in turn, may lead them to hide how they feel about themselves and others.
“So, it is important to show them you can celebrate who you are, you can love who you are and be a whole person,” he posited.
Savannah Williams, a representative of SASOD’s women’s arm, echoes similar sentiments. She hopes that more people can understand that members of the LGBTQ+ communities are human with their own preferences.
This year’s pride parade also comes at a crucial juncture for LGBTQ+ people in the Caribbean, Simpson said.
Earlier this month, the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court ruled that Antigua and Barbuda’s buggery law contravenes the Constitutional rights of citizens. And, the Court noted that the selection of one’s intimate partner is a private and personal choice between consenting adults.
Simpson said this is the third instance in the Caribbean where laws criminalising same-sex intimacy have been struck down. Belize and Trinidad and Tobago are the other countries that had rulings in favour of removing the laws already.
And Simpson said, “we think now the matter is academic and countries like Guyana need to just table legislation to decriminalise same-sex intimacy.”
While SASOD continues to advocate for this legislative change, the Managing Director acknowledged that changing these laws which affect LGBTQ people in Guyana appears to be a “sore issue”.
Still, he hopes that the parade could spur legislative action.
“We are out on the road today to send a very, very visible and strong message claiming our sexual rights as a people,” Simpson said.