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"No Weapon that is Formed Against me shall Prosper" by Vidyaratha Kissoon (Guyana)

My former Chemistry teacher called me up and asked if I and others from SASOD (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) would meet with Sister Michelle Smith. Sister Michelle is a Jamaican pastor whose Ministry is about “saving” gay and lesbian people. Sister Michelle has written her own story about being saved from the lesbian lifestyle.

The week of 10 to 15 June 2012 in Guyana had a series of activities against homosexuality, organised by Operation Restoration.  These activities included workshops in churches, meetings with political leaders, public forums and the meeting with me. The meeting included three women from Operation Restoration, Sister Michelle and her colleague Janet from Jamaica; and Janessa and Camille from Power of Change in Trinidad.

Two weeks previously, I was on an NCN Roundtable with Pastor Loris Heywood. I am Hindu. Some of my colleagues attended one of the public forums against homosexuality.

In the two hours or so which I spent with the group, these are the points which I heard – some of them I had heard before, some were new (some are direct quotes and some are my impressions of what was said):

  • “Homosexuality is a sin, the Bible is the law and the Church must obey the law”

  • They will not tolerate any violence against person who is homosexual, they love homosexuals and want to cure them. One of the women said that she told some students in Berbice that they must not be violent towards homosexuals.

  • “95% of LGBT people were sexually molested as children.”

  • “Most of the violence is not homophobic, it is about gay people killing and beating other gay people” The LGBT people who come to them for help tell them the horror stories of gay violence. They do not want to report to the police because of shame, and because they know that what they are doing is wrong. I heard something about 'sin has consequences' but I did not want to press further. 

  • “Pastors and clergy will be required to marry same sex couples against their religion or they will go to jail.”

  • “Parents will go to jail (a father in Massachusetts went to jail) for asking that their children not be taught about same sex parents.”

  • “Decriminalisation will facilitate more anal sex. Anal sex is unhealthy, the medical professionals know this which is why the Blood bank does not take blood from men who have sex with men. The sodomy laws protect the population - lesbians also have anal sex so they are also at risk.”

  • “Homosexuality is a perversion” including practices such as “fisting, golden showers, sado-masochism.”

  • “The EU and the United Nations are pushing this, this is not of Guyana and the Caribbean” (yep I know this is true, they fund a lot of the LGBT advocacy work and so on).

  • “We should learn the history of sodomy laws and why they were implemented.” One woman said she was surprised that our laws did not decriminalise same sex relations between women.

  • “There are homosexuals in high places so there is no real discrimination and that there is an inner circle of gays who control everything” - I did not ask for names - and I had to emphatically deny that a certain homosexual in a high place was not a member of SASOD.
    (I was shocked that they thought he was!)

  • “The Church does work against domestic violence and child abuse but those things are not being legalised, hence the campaign and Ministries against homosexuality.”

  • “Homosexuals are protected as individuals against violence and other forms of discrimination already.”

  • Some of the women were frustrated because they were not getting anywhere with me.

  • “All who say they are Christian are not Christian.”

These other points were also made:

  • I do not want to listen, that I am closed to their views.

  • I am inclined to distract from their points in my rebuttal of their arguments.

  • I must understand that the messages from the Church are of compassion and love and not what some of 10 to 15 years ago used to say (“fyah bun” is not their message).

  • I look good for my age.

  • I have a tendency to dominate the conversation and not listen.

  • Even though I aspire to stay far from the Christian who I was once close to, that is not good enough for them (and one said that I was not being truthful).

  • I do not want to face the science and research which is proving that homosexuality is unnatural and dangerous. 

  • Don't worry wid me, I does do “meh ting.”

  • Dat I is “someting else” (I made a comment when Sister Michelle asked the camera woman to push the button again I said “ Sister, eh eh - that sound very nice and familiar”).

  • I will not be able to understand since I am not moved by the same Spirit as them.

 

Why did I come? What is my truth?
 

They asked me why did I come then, if I was so convicted in my beliefs. I said that I did not come to change anyone's belief. I could not anyway so why would I do so? I came to find out from them what they thought about how do people who believe differently should live in a place.

Guyana has mixed cultures, religions and other beliefs.

 

But actually I wanted to meet them because I have a secret fascination with how the evangelical Church mobilises and how much of the work and funding is mobilised from grassroots sources - many times from people who are poor who will find ways of contributing in money or labour.. I think of how 75% of the time I spend on LGBT work is spent on arguing with other LGBT people and struggling to meet the donor demands. Why it must be so refreshing to just be able to focus on the message and getting it out there. I wanted to ask Sister Michelle to Minster to the women who are not lesbian, who are survivors of violence and abuse and who have not healed. I came because of all of the Christians I know and love, some of them LGBT, who struggle to reconcile their faith and sexuality.
 

I made these points—none of which were accepted:

  • Homosexuality is natural and that different religions have different beliefs.

  • I honour their experiences that they had changed, others have struggled and not changed and others have made choices of how they would want to live.

  • LGBT rights was not about anal sex alone and that the law criminalised 'gross indecency' between males.

  • Diverse sexual orientations existed in all the cultures which had come to Guyana.

  • Sexual orientation and gender identity have nothing to do with the abuse of children.

One of the women looked genuinely distressed that I seemed not to understand her point of view. And I did feel bad that I had made her so distressed. I realised that as I sat there facing the roots of much of the homophobia and violence which LGBT people faced, that I could not really feel good about letting any of the women feel the pain of the homophobia.

I learnt that it was easy for me to like the women - to feel affection for them - though one bothered me terribly in terms of how she spoke. Her tone of voice was strident, and there was no room for accommodation – or for change. Our personal and cultural histories are complex. I think that if this discussion were happening with six men, it would have been different. I might have been more fearful of the men, perhaps less sympathetic to their homophobia since I believe that male homophobia is often rooted in misogyny and sexism.

 

I have never really dealt with homophobia in women – and these women were clear to say that they are not homophobic. They love homosexuals – just not the sin.

 

I wonder if the reason I have this affinity with the women is that perhaps I am just as driven as they are, and that I recognise that and for some strange reason, I am fascinated by this drive.

Prayers

We ended with prayers. I said the English translation of Twameva Mata. Sister Michelle prayed and I listened to understand. The prayer was not for me to change anything about how I viewed life - or maybe I did not hear that - it was for me to see light.

 

Sister Michelle also spoke in her prayer from Isaiah, and she prayed that no weapon formed against me shall prosper. One of the women asked me if I do not think that I am male, and I told her that I am a black lesbian she did not understand.

As I write this, perhaps with the hope in that prayer – the Christian prayer for a Hindu – I am glad that even though we ended the meeting thinking about homosexuality the same way we started, I do not see these women or their work as weapons against me.

 

 

Vidyaratha Kissoon lives in Guyana and works in the application of information technologies for development.

He is active on social justice issues and has been involved in work against gender-based violence, violence against children, and homophobia. He blogs at Thoughts of  a Minibus Traveller .

[Image cropped from Stabroek News ]