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Legal protection and social acceptance should be accorded to the LGBT community

By Pat Dyal 

In Guyana and Western societies as a whole, little serious and constructive attention had been paid to those persons of different sexual orientation until much after World War II. Such persons were never mentioned or discussed in polite society or conversation. The celebrated case of Oscar Wilde, the great writer, was well-known.

Most persons felt, at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, that the justification for his imprisonment for homosexuality could not be disputed though it was deeply regretted that the career of one of the most brilliant writers in the English Language and one who could have contributed even more to world literature should have been destroyed by his imprisonment.

Though there was apparent calm on the homosexual question, there always existed a deep underground of violence, harassment and vicious persecution of homosexuals which, from time to time, come into the open.

After World War II, sociologists, medical doctors, scientists, human rights activists and persons of compassion began to speak out about the plight of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons (LGBT). Vast numbers of people all over the western world began to feel the guilt of being complicit in the violent persecution, human rights violations, terrorization and generally unacceptable barbarism which were being imposed on a number of innocent fellow-citizens and which they discovered for the first time.

Accordingly, in several developed countries, the laws affecting LGBT people were reformed and they were given protection and rights they had never enjoyed before. This trend is gradually beginning to affect the developing countries, several of which are now mooting legislative reform.

In Guyana, the Human Rights Institute issued a Report on LGBT persons which gave instances of cruel and horrific violence meted out to such persons. These range from murder to being shunned and disowned by one’s family.

Despite the exposure of the wrongs and injustices which LGBT persons suffer, there is still a strong body of persons who genuinely believe that these people are cursed by God and that their sufferings are divinely ordained for their alleged wickedness. They strongly believe that extending tolerance to LGBT persons will destroy society, and they often quote the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah to support their belief.

This harsh attitude towards LGBT persons has its roots in the Semitic faiths. In East Asian faiths such as Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism and Hinduism, LGBT persons are never a special issue and coexist with all others without any special attention being paid to them.

In the Indian sub-continent, for example, LGBT persons are quietly given a special place in society. One of the common names by which such groups are known is ‘Hijerin’, a term which is descriptive rather than pejorative.

The Hijerin are fully accepted in certain professions as singers and dancers though, no one is perturbed if Hijerin people are engaged in other employment. The Hijerin are almost regarded as a third sex. There is no negative or repulsive profiling of such groups in Asian societies unlike in western societies.

The tolerance and indeed acceptance which Asian societies accorded to LGBT persons over centuries has not led to the collapse of such societies nor has the wrath of God been especially inflicted on them. Indeed, over the last generation, Asian countries such as India and China have been growing in wealth, power and cohesion.

African societies which are still affiliated to their own ancient indigenous religions, and which have not been influenced by the Semitic faiths of Christianity and Islam, tend to be tolerant of LGBT persons and accord them acceptance. There is no LGBT issue.

Asian countries, though they accord social acceptance to LGBT persons, have been gradually adopting Western legislation thus strengthening the protection of this group. India, for instance, through its Supreme Court, has recently made same-sex marriages legal.

Though the focus of progressive Western governments is to establish and extend legal protection, social acceptance is very uneven and needs to be cultivated. This could be approached through the education system where the myths relating to LGBT persons are exposed and the rational and scientific reasons for the existence of the LGBT orientation are taught. If some religious leaders are brought on board, it could help to quicken social acceptance. In Guyana, the movement towards social acceptance and full legal protection is now irreversible and we need to work single-pointedly towards the achievement of a more humane society.