By Aminta Kilawan-Narine
Guyana is the only country in South America where intimacy between a same-sex couple is still illegal. The statute on the books is antiquated and blatantly discriminatory yet no government to date has repealed the language, which stems back to British colonial days. There could be a window to change this in the near future.
Just a few weeks ago, uproar ignited in Guyana after the coalition government under President David Granger failed to defeat a motion of no confidence brought against the government by Bharrat Jagdeo, General Secretary of the main opposition – the People’s Progressive Party (PPP). In a major political upset, Charrandas Persaud, a member of the APNU/AFC (A Partnership for National Unity/Alliance for Change) voted with the opposition which will likely trigger general elections within 90 days of the motion.
What happens in Guyana impacts the Guyanese diaspora in New York City, particularly because Guyanese in New York are leaned on for financial support during Guyana general election campaign season. Thoughtful conversations are therefore important to ensure that whomever members of the diaspora choose to support are planning to implement sound policies back home. This transcends the racial divide that has unfortunately plagued Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Guyanese for decades. A common and justifiable fear during Guyana election season is increased violence and crime, often on the basis of race. Ultimately, the country would be better off united, and focused on issues like eradicating poverty, building infrastructure, and promoting equity.
On Saturday, January 5th, Richard David, District Leader of NYS Assembly District 32 hosted a conversation with Joel Earl Simpson, Founding and Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) at The Figure Studio in South Ozone Park. Titled “Equality in Guyana,” the event addressed specifically how equal rights can become an election issue in Guyana and how the diaspora can help to promote equal rights, even from afar.
“With elections on the horizon, we want the parties and their candidates to speak favorably about human rights and equality for LGBTQ Guyanese,” said David. “When they come to New York for support, we should be asking them for a plan, a timeframe, a clear position on this issue because they have both abandoned it once in office. This issue brings all racial groups together, and it is why we have brought together a coalition of community leaders in New York.”
Among that coalition of leaders were co-sponsoring partners including SASOD USA Diaspora Network, Caribbean Equality Project, Indo-Caribbean Alliance, Inc., Guyana Tri-State Alliance, Sadhana Coalition of Progressive Hindus, New American Voters Association, Indian Diaspora Council, Guyanese Girls Rock Foundation, The Figure Studio and Jahajee Sisters.
The event underscored the important roles that community based organizations and religious institutions in New York City could play in bringing forward a progressive legal ruling in Guyana as it pertains to homophobic policies. As Joel Earl Simpson of SASOD mentioned at the event, if the statutory language were removed, Guyana would follow countries like India, which recently repealed Section 377 of its Constitution and Trinidad and Tobago which repealed its Sexual Offences Act, along with other countries like Kenya and Singapore.
David also sought to create a space where Guyanese residents in New York City could have community conversations about positive matters. At the event, David mentioned that the neighborhood is “thriving with religious, clothing stores, and cutting-edge entrepreneurs who are just out of college and looking to become small business owners.” It is thus important that the neighborhood is understood and loved for all the great things it has to offer, rather than all the negativity often pitched by media outlets that blemish the neighborhoods reputation.
Inviting Simpson to South Ozone Park for a high-level conversation on Guyanese policy provided a chance for community leaders and concerned members of the diaspora to present questions and express support of Simpson’s efforts. Simpson himself has an illustrious background, with a law degree and a Masters degree in human rights law. David’s conversation with Simpson also paved the way for impacted individuals like Twinkle, also with SASOD, to tell their personal stories. Twinkle, who recently migrated from Guyana to New York City, is a transgender woman and hate crime victim who was denied access to the Guyana court system simply because she presented as a transgender woman.
“Supporting work and activists on the ground has always been, for me, the key to building sustainable change,” said David. “There is no stronger leader than Joel Earl Simpson and SASOD who are at the grassroots. They’re winning hearts and minds, even as they mobilize to take legal action. I hope all Guyanese will find it in their conscience that the LGBTQ community deserves to live as equal citizens.”
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the position or policy of the THE WEST INDIAN.