Expressing my view!

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Letter to Editor – answer the detractors, bringing discussion closer to home

On Feb 26, 2010, Kaieteur News, a local daily in Guyana, published an article I had written as a letter to the editor in response to the cross-dressing suit brought by five young men and the organization SASOD in the High Court. Following publication of that letter, there were response letters to the editor in the same papers and in Stabroek News, another local daily. Below is my response to those comments:

Dear Editor,

I first met Mark, a young man in his late teens and early twenties, when he came to join the Catholic-sponsored Scout troupe at Sacred Heart Church. Then he wasn’t a Catholic and since it was a requirement for membership, he did what was necessary to become a member, including converting and receiving the initial sacraments; I was his godfather and sponsor. As a leader of the troupe, I sensed that Mark desperately wanted to belong, and when he was able to join, he fit right in and was happiest when the troupe went on camps, because there, being in charge of the food and kitchen, he was in his element, ensuring that more than 50 teenage boys had three meals on time every day for the duration of the camp. When we weren’t at camp and had regular meetings, Mark was fastidious with the gear: the ropes and staves, ensuring that everything was well taken care of and properly stored. To my knowledge, while Mark was in the KBS, he never displayed or perpetuated any inappropriate behavior to and with any of the boys. He wasn’t effeminate or flamboyant and did the boys care that Mark may or may not be gay? I don’t believe that concerned them. But a few years later when I was in my novitiate in a religious organization, he came to see me. He was troubled; the pain of suffering and abuse was evident in his eyes. His face was gaunt, he was thin, his clothes hung on him, and he appeared tired, he had lost weight and was homeless. He told me how his stepfather beat him and put him out the house he shared with his mother and other siblings because the stepfather suspected that he was gay. He looked at me and as the tears streamed down his face, told me of some of the abuses he had endured and I realized then, even though there was no definitive confirmation, that he was gay. Also, knowing the society’s reaction to anyone who they think is an “anti-man”, and by association anyone seen with someone they perceive as such, I told Mark that I was proud of him and I would not be ashamed to walk with him on the street. After our conversation, we walked north on Camp Street, oblivious to the stares. I knew he felt proud, supported and accepted.

Sometime in August 1995, as was related to me, Mark died. I was told that in the circumstances surrounding his death he had attended a party on the West Bank of Demerara and while on his way home, after the party, he was set upon by a group of young men and beaten, all the while accused of being an “anti-man,” ostensibly because of how he was dressed. According to the report, with a broken arm, sustained in the attack, he dragged himself to a nearby police station for assistance and instead of receiving help, he was placed in a cell beaten again, suffered a concussion, and when he lapsed into unconsciousness, he was transported to the Public Hospital Georgetown, where he later died – alone, abused, battered and probably wondering why he deserved this treatment. Who should be held responsible for his death: the misguided who are blinded by their beliefs to forget that the person they are attacking is another human being, someone who could be their brother, son, cousin, nephew, uncle, or close friend; by extension, the religious organizations that demonize homosexuality and advocate curing by any means, but who are just as guilty of the same offenses they ascribe to gays and lesbians; or the stepfather who put him out of the house?

I recall this story because of the vitriol, hatred, and bigotry spewing from the many commentators incited by the equally misguided and brainwashed Roger Williams and Abu Bakr, both of whom leveled criticism against my letter published in the Kaieteur News on Feb 26, 2010. In his response, Bakr correctly stated in the beginning of his critique that I was attempting to encourage a change when I wrote about the far reaching consequences of the cross-dressing suit before the High Court as a break with the mental slavery in which many Guyanese are still living, victims of a colonial power that is physically absent, but yet present in the laws. I ask those who continue with their hatemongering, using religion, convenient morality and pseudo-scientific examples to justify their misogyny how would you feel if your son, brother, daughter, sister, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, cousin, or close friend was treated as Mark. Some would say, “pray for him,” others “beat it out of him,” but, in this world of religious indoctrination, where is the acceptance and compassion that are tenets of Christian teachings?

Why couldn’t Mark be allowed to live, as he was, a same-gender loving man? Is our society so hypocritical that we would rather kill than show compassion? Mark was rejected by at least three important pillars of his society: his family, those sworn to protect and defend the laws, and by the community. I could again be accused of romanticizing this issue before the court, but Mark’s suffering in life and his death are real. By extension what the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are seeking, is it not to claim the guarantee and the rights provided by the Constitution, the acceptance it assures? Is denying someone the right to live as he feels, free from fear of abuse and of discrimination, depriving him of his human right?

No one is advocating turning the society lawless, no one is promoting incestuous practices, bestiality or any perverted behavior to which being gay was associated. Bakr and Williams have conveniently chosen to cherry pick, ignore, and deny historical facts, that homosexuality was practiced and accepted as a part of the way of life in superior African civilizations and cultures long before the colonialists arrived. In a conference paper, “Homosexuality in Africa: Myth or Reality? An Ethnographic Exploration in Togo, West Africa” presented by Virgile Capo-Chichi and Sethson Kassegné at the 5th African Population Conference in Arusha, Tanzania, December 2007, quoted in the introduction: “Same-sex relations are denied in most African countries even though studies have found cultural and traditional practices that demonstrate their existence for centuries (Roscoe & Murray, 1998)” and “Compared to other regions, Africa has the lowest levels of awareness and communication with regards to male-to-male sex (McKenna, 1996) and the most repressive laws against it.” The report continues, “Other gatekeepers believe that same sex relations and homosexuality have always existed in traditional societies in Togo “…tendencies towards homosexual behavior have always existed among men as well as women. It is more pronounced among men and that’s why they were called ‘nyonu – sunu’ (man – woman); that is, a man living as a woman. Or, alternatively, ‘sunu nyonu’ (woman-man) because they tend to behave like a person of the opposite sex.”(Gatekeeper, Aneho)”.”

We can all choose the material we want to justify or support an argument, but there has to be a meeting point, of agreement, that in human nature, homosexuality is as natural as being male or female. Dr. Tiger H. Devore, a New York-based psychologist, in a recent interview said that Western civilizations created the binary delineation, male and female. In reality, he said, there are three genders, male, intersex, and female. In India where on Nov 12, 2009 the Indian election authorities granted independent identity status to those who are intersex or transsexual, allowing them to be counted in the census and to vote – both democratic rights. It is reported that in remote villages in the Dominican Republic and other countries, there are the “guevedoces,” (literal translation: penis at 12) people identified as female at birth and transformed into male at puberty; all accepted as part of their respective societies and cultures. According to the Oct 2006 The Medical News report, 1,500 species in the animal kingdom practice homosexuality. Petter Boeckman, academic advisor for the “Against Nature’s Order?” exhibition at the Norwegian Natural History Museum of the University of Oslo, said, “One fundamental premise in social debates has been that homosexuality is unnatural. This premise is wrong. Homosexuality is both common and highly essential in the lives of a number of species.”

Despite the airs and pretensions with which we have clothed ourselves, and the exploitative and oppressive effects of religion, we should not forget that in the wider scheme of nature, we are still part of the animal kingdom. Many of the detractors have ignored the qualitative contributions gay men and lesbians make to society: they don’t walk around wearing a sign on their foreheads announcing their sexual orientation, instead they go about their tasks or jobs without fanfare. Looking beyond the colonial mindset, one wonders at the preference of perpetuating the “rod of correction” and beat that which is natural out of the child or continue to have a society where there are men and women living unhappy, trapped lives, resorting to violence against their spouses, alcohol and drug abuse, and sexual promiscuity, which of course means that many of the men would be down-low, and a consequence the rise in HIV infections. Or, would the preference be to perpetuate the hypocrisy of those men and women who sneak around for trysts and assignations, but profess heterosexism and homophobia, and deride anyone who is gay with their friends? While many people like to pretend that there is no one gay or lesbian in their family, “not in my family”, it is a fact, homosexuality is a part of human nature. What would these commentators do if their son or daughter were to declare they were in love with someone of the same gender?

Respectfully,

Antoine Craigwell

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March 6, 2010 - Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, death, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Public Health, Uncategorized

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