News Report: Ramkarran’s Call for Repeal of Anti-Gay Laws Should Be Cue for Other Politicians

The Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is applauding former Speaker of the National Assembly and member of the PPP/C Ralph Ramkarran for his recent statements in support of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Guyana and said that other political leaders should take their cue from him. Writing in April in an edition of the Weekend Mirror, Ramkarran noted that the current laws against gay sex are a colonial artefact, archaic and should be expunged from the statute books. “What Mr. Ramkarran has done is open up this issue in Guyana,” said Vidyaratha Kissoon, one of the founding members of SASOD. He noted that some persons in the Caribbean, such as Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica, have already been speaking on the issue.

Further he pointed out that anytime former president Bharrat Jagdeo—who remains one of the leaders of the ruling party—was asked about these issues, he always tried to maintain the position that he was not interested in discriminating against anyone. Kissoon said that Jagdeo took this stance when other leaders in the Caribbean at the time were taking a different approach to the whole question of LGBT rights.
“While we welcome Mr. Ramkarran’s statements we hope that other politicians make similar statements on their own behalf,” he said, recognising the challenges that party politics create in this regard. “We were surprised by that position but we welcome it,” he said.

“What we would expect though is that Mr. Ramkarran could be further engaged on this and we don’t know if he would be amenable and accessible to being involved in further discussion, more than just writing in the papers. This is how Guyana is…these messages have to be enforced,” he said. “It is also clear that he is not representing the PPP which we think is unfortunate,” Kissoon added. “One of the things we have been learning from our history is that the PPP as a party held very progressive views on certain social issues, such as not supporting corporal punishment of children.”

“SASOD’s experience has been that many of the MPs know that these issues have to be dealt with but they are afraid of the backlash,” he said. Nevertheless, he noted that SASOD hopes Ramkarran’s open support of the LGBT community would inspire others to do the same. “Their silence means that they are consenting to the discrimination out there,” he pointed out. SASOD’s executive and founding member Joel Simpson also applauded Ramkarran for finding the courage to publicly support equality and human rights for LGBT Guyanese and the repeal of laws which discriminate and justify abuses against that community.

“We have long recognised that rational, right-thinking Guyanese who support human rights and democratic freedoms for all citizens could come to no other reasonable conclusion, but to call for the repeal of these insidious laws,” Simpson said in a comment to this newspaper. “We hope that other Guyanese politicians, religious figures and opinion leaders will be as brave to publicly articulate similar positions soon,” he said. Simpson noted that the Government of Guyana has announced its intention to honour its international commitments made through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process to hold consultations with a view to repealing the laws which run contrary to Guyana’s human rights obligations.

“Given the response by sections of the Evangelical Christian community to government’s announcement, SASOD is also pleased that Mr. Ramkarran recognises that homosexuality is completely normal, and not a ‘condition’ that ought to ‘cured’ by counselling, therapy or other means,” Simpson said. “In fact, science supports Mr. Ramkarran’s position. No less a world-renown body than the American Psychological Association (APA) has indicated that there is no adequate research that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation is safe and effective, and that these attempts can rather be harmful, by reinforcing stereotypes and contributing to a negative climate for LGBT people, especially in conservative religious settings,” he said.

“SASOD is proud that Mr. Ramkarran took this public stance, knowing that he will be on the right side of history,” said Simpson. In his column, Ramkarran said that the Guyanese society should be liberal in outlook and socially progressive in character. “We must lead the way in the Caribbean region and lead the way in dispensing with the outdated notion that heterosexuality is the basic premise of masculinity for the male and femininity for the woman. Negative social attitudes should be combated even if they are popular. And where conditions exist making it is possible to do so, as in Guyana, it ought to be done,” Ramkarran wrote.

“Discrimination has no place in Guyana. The LGBT community is crying out for recognition and an end to ridicule, violence and discrimination,” he wrote. He said that the continuation of discriminatory practices “harms our society and criminalises people in our midst who chose to live differently from the majority but nevertheless make as good a contribution to society as anyone else.” “Unfortunately Guyana and the rest of our Caribbean societies are deeply conservative on social issues. But I am not going as far on this occasion as asking for approval of same sex marriage. While I support it, I hardly believe that either our people or our Government, and indeed even our Opposition, will want to accommodate that issue at this time,” Ramkarran wrote.

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