By Saieed Khalil
In a time of so much hatred, racism and xenophobia, love is a light we should let in.
“Gay Pride was not born of a need to celebrate being gay, but our right to exist without persecution. So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride movement, be thankful you don’t need one.” In 2014, US President Barack Obama designated June as LGBT Pride Month with June being chosen in recognition of the June 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan that marked a tipping point in the struggle for gay rights here in the US.
In June 2015, the US Supreme Court ruled that the freedom of gays to marry is a nationwide right. In June 2016, a lone gunman massacred 50 people at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, an attack being recognized as the worst mass shooting in US history. With every milestone, there is a setback that reminds LGBT folk, their supporters and advocates that the struggle for equality is far from over, and for every country that makes strides towards LGBT equality, there are multitudes moving in the opposite direction .
The attitudes towards the LGBT community were born of and nurtured by a confluence of cultural, religious, imperial and political currents flowing over generations. These attitudes assign an “otherness” to people based on their actual or perceived sexual preferences. Thinking back on it, I realize I have grown up among many gay and bisexual individuals. Although I’d come to learn of their preferences as I got older, these people – neighbors, close friends, family – were extremely ordinary, well adjusted, integrated, functional members of society with nothing to set them apart from the “rest” of the populace, aside from what society’s attitudes towards them would have been, had it been known what their preferences included. When it comes to LGBT attitudes, Guyana is no Iran, where gay folk can be and are hanged for, well, being who they are. Our country does show uncanny tolerance towards its gay celebrities and entertainers, who draw loyal and diverse audiences. Still, there remains on the books, laws criminalizing sodomy, as well as to some extent, cross dressing . In addition to what is there legislatively, what is not there are protections barring discrimination, on the basis of sexual orientation, against LGBT people seeking employment, education, housing and healthcare.
As harmful as lack of legislative protection is, changing the laws alone will never be enough as negative attitudes towards LGBT people are especially painful particularly LGBT youth. As a wily and brainy student at Queen’s College High School, I observed and, at times, endured rampant bullying based on the basis of perceived sexual orientation. There were slurs thrown verbally as well as spray painted on walls, attacks launched on Facebook and the social networking sites that preceded it, and even the occasional physical “roughing up”.
Rumors of being gay were also repulsive enough to school administration officials to cause students to lose out on prefect positions, and other opportunities. Adolescence is arguably the most formative period of a person’s life, where many perspectives are shaped. Grappling with the period of physical, emotional, intellectual and sexual turmoil is hard enough for a regular adolescent and harder so, for one facing stigmatization on the basis of his or her sexuality.
For LGBT youth, young adults and adults, the stigmatization hampers their ability to fulfill one of the most essential human needs: relationships. The backlash from work mates, schoolmates, and more critically, the families and communities is extremely severe. Dating becomes impossible, sly trysts become the norm. While straight couples can easily discuss boy or girl trouble over a few drinks at a bar, a gay guy or girl must be extremely cautious with the identity of his or her paramour, using code names, an encrypted messaging platform and every mode of secrecy that would rival the stealth of a CIA planning mission. A normal relationship becomes impossible, to the extent that LGBT people are often forced to resign themselves to socially acceptable, but emotionally unsatisfying heterosexual marriages or relationships. But, why do straight couples get to have a fair crack at a relationship, but not LGBT people? Relationships are hard enough, gay or straight, without the need to maintain ultra secrecy. Straight couples split up, get divorced, and descend into incidences of domestic violence, but there are no cultural norms discouraging straight people from getting together.
Given all that’s been written here so far, why should anyone besides LGBT citizens of Guyana worry? Because the consequences of LGBT discrimination are tangible and costly. The toll on the mental health of LGBT citizens reduces their productivity in an already sagging economy. It’s good to note that gays have been found to be more prone to financial and academic success, so to let their potential go untapped seems a waste. Moreover, attitudes against LGBT people overlap many of the stereotyping of gender roles that fuel violence against women. For instance, anachronistic notions of how men and women should behave are responsible for rapes and women battering going unpunished.
In a time of so much hatred, racism and xenophobia, love is a light we should let in. In a time, where immigrants are being dubbed rapists and terrorists, and entire faiths come under attack, it is not just to condemn one or two incidences of bigotry, because hatred against whomever is hatred, and love is love is love.
Who is Saieed?
Saieed Khalil is a New York based Guyanese starting his Masters in Economics at SUNY Albany in the Fall. And I am yet to decide whether he is one of the smartest or funniest people I know.