By Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth
Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bishanuth is CEO, Caribbean Family Planning Affiliation and Minister, Guyana Presbyterian Church
On the 6th of September, I had the opportunity of addressing a gathering of distinguished persons at the launch of the Guyana Together campaign. This campaign, with its historic mission, seeks to foster a profound sense of inclusivity and acceptance within the vibrant tapestry of the Guyanese community. Simultaneously, it endeavours to eradicate the persistent pain of stigma and prejudice that have lingered for far too long.
The essence of this transformative initiative lies in the compelling narratives – real stories – of the experiences of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer compatriots. These stories narrate journeys of acceptance, support, and love, stories that resonate across family bonds, among coworkers, within neighbourhoods, among friends, and even within the hallowed halls of faith across Guyana.
Let me wholeheartedly commend the courageous efforts being undertaken to shatter the barriers that hold us back, to envision Guyana as a healthy society where justice, peace, and dignity embrace all its inhabitants. My support stands firmly with our LGBTQ siblings; for to do otherwise would be to stand on the side of division and brokenness, a dismal path, lacking in compassion, love, justice, and grace – the very essence of our shared humanity. My faith is my guiding light, and it leads me to recognize our moral obligation to stand in defence of our common humanity.
We were raised to recognise our interdependence on each other and the earth and taught the Golden Rule – to treat others as we wish to be treated. Yet, we find ourselves in a society where our laws permit the disregard, disrespect, and even disdain of some among us. Guyana has not been spared from witnessing the grievous injustices inflicted upon our LGBTQ fellow citizens. This grim reality compels us to raise our collective voices and demand the repeal of archaic colonial-era laws that criminalize consensual same-sex relationships among adults in private.
As an ordained Minister of Religion, I do not stand alone in this call for change. I am part of a diverse and growing community of faith leaders and persons of faith who share the conviction that the time has come to reaffirm our commitment, to stand in solidarity with our marginalized siblings who have been denied equal rights under Guyana’s laws.
Deep within our hearts, we all understand that every Guyanese is entitled to the full protection under the law, to live life in all its fullness, free from discrimination and marginalisation. The journey to Guyana’s progress demands that we confront and rectify the discriminatory laws that plague our nation. These laws harm individuals, cause crisis of brokenness in families, and undermine our communities and the nation as a whole. Thus, we must rally behind the clarion call for a comprehensive review, one that respects and upholds the sacred dignity and worth inherent in all people. The faith community must rise as one, a prophetic voice, working in solidarity with LGBTQ groups and allies to ensure the dignity of all God’s children.
The path toward progress is one we tread daily, evident in the winds of change that swirl within communities of faith, with youth leading the way. Yet, discrimination and persecution continue to cast shadows over the lives of LGBTQ persons. All too often, they are compelled to live in the shadows, bearing the weight of fear and the lack of opportunities. These are individuals who work diligently to support their families, individuals who contribute to their communities – individuals who should be free to live their lives openly, with honesty, and without fear of retribution.
I firmly believe that most Guyanese, regardless of our diverse religious beliefs, concur that we cannot remain silent when the law targets our neighbours with inequity. It is no surprise that the recent polling demonstrates a robust majority of Guyanese who embrace and tolerate LGBTQ individuals with the majority of Christians, Muslims, and Hindus in Guyana expressing sympathetic opinions of their LGBTQ fellow citizens.
As allies in the Guyana Together movement, we have the opportunity to come together and advocate for transformation and progress. As people of faith, we stand united in our recognition that every human being, regardless of their faith, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity or class is created in God’s image. Our diverse religious traditions and denominations are rooted in the eternal principle that we are all God’s children, imbued with an inherent dignity and worth.
Above all, we are called to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves, to be reconciled with God and one another. The Word of God beckons us to welcome all of God’s children into the fold of Divine care, like a mother hen gathers her chicks (Matthew 23:37-39). This shared calling binds us together, compelling us to welcome and honour each other, transcending differences in religious beliefs, practices, gender, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
At our core, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer Guyanese are no different from any of us. They are our neighbours, friends, family members, and coworkers. They are integral members of our communities, dedicated to the well-being of their families, friends and communities, just as any of us. I recognize that well-intentioned individuals, guided by conscience and faith, may grapple with complex emotions regarding LGBTQ issues. Even if we do not fully grasp every aspect of their lives, we are bound by the imperative to treat all with compassionate love, respect and understanding. Regardless of our differences, we must unite against any law that targets our fellow citizens unfairly.
I implore all Guyanese to lend their full support to the Guyana Together campaign, for it has the potential to spark a national dialogue. This conversation must commence with respect, a prerequisite for conquering fear and prejudice. Through dialogue and understanding, we can move forward, growing together in love and right relationship.
Let us embark on this journey with open hearts, listening with empathy to those whose experiences differ from our own, with respect for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Through this dialogue, we may discover pathways to unity in the Guyana we all cherish. I hope that our faith community will engage in critical conversation and support this campaign. I also call upon our political leaders to join this discussion, ensuring that Guyana advances as one cohesive nation.
All too often, discrimination and harm against our LGBTQ neighbours are cloaked in religious rhetoric. Our religious convictions should serve as a catalyst to end the suffering wrought by discrimination, compelling people of faith to stand in solidarity. May our faith communities be inspired to envision a future where all individuals are deemed worthy of respect, where none are criminalized for embracing their true selves. In doing so, we can continue our sacred mission of justice, compassion, and love.
Support for our LGBT siblings is a testament to our faith, an affirmation that aligns seamlessly with our convictions. We recognize our moral duty to advocate alongside those who have endured mistreatment for far too long, as our faith instructs us to lead with love. I stand shoulder to shoulder with the resounding majority of Guyanese citizens, including significant groups of Christians, Hindus, and Muslims, who ardently support the repeal of discriminatory laws.
In a nation characterized by its diversity, where six races live together and cultural richness thrives, Guyanese people understand that our common bonds as Guyanese surpass our differences. I implore our leaders to embrace the side of love, to stand with us, and to support a Guyana that, together, embraces inclusivity and extends a warm welcome to all. The day draws near when Guyana’s laws will mirror the values cherished by its citizens – a day when we unequivocally assert that our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender queer family and friends deserve respect.
The Guyana Together campaign, a collaborative endeavour led by the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Black Entrepreneurs Association, the Guyana Press Association, and SASOD Guyana, has garnered the endorsement of over 60 Guyanese organizations and businesses. I urge all Guyanese organizations to add their voices to this campaign, and I invite every Guyanese citizen to take the Guyana Together pledge, a pledge that encapsulates our commitment to unity, respect, and justice for all.
In conclusion, let us embark on this journey together, recognizing that what unites us as Guyanese far outweighs what divides us. Each of us contributes to the rich fabric of our nation, and this includes our LGBTQ family, friends, and colleagues. They are a vital part of our communities, caring for their loved ones just as anyone else does. No family member should ever be treated differently because of who they are or who they love.
I take pride in being a part of the Guyana Together campaign, and I wholeheartedly endorse the call for the repeal of discriminatory laws. Every Guyanese should be free to live openly and honestly, unburdened by the fear of violence, discrimination, or sanction. Let us stand as one, unified by the values of respect, justice, and compassion, and together, we will create a Guyana that truly embodies these ideals.