This article is published in Huffington Post
I arrived in Guyana late Thursday night, and promotion for SASOD‘s 10th anniversary started early Friday morning with radio interviews at 94.1 Boom FM and 98.1 Hot FM with SASOD Co-Chair Joel Simpson and videographer, SASOD Trustee, Ulelli Verbeke.
Now I’ve done my share of interviews and I’m fairly good at not rambling or taking too many… um… pauses, and as a mental pep talk, I remind myself of this before every interview. But on this particular morning I got distracted from my private pre-interview ritual as Joel started sharing SASOD’s story.
It began in 2003 with about 10 university students responding to an injustice – in Guyana’s constitution, there is no legal protection for LGBT people. Over the past 10 years, this group set about creating change and now the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is awaiting judgement of a suit filed against the state for unconstitutional violations of 4 trans individuals. SASOD has also been reporting to the United Nations Human Rights Council with the goal of repealing all laws that criminalize same sex intimacy and cross dressing. On other fronts, SASOD has produced “Painting the Spectrum.” Now in its 9th year, it is the only LGBT film festival in the English speaking Caribbean, and if that wasn’t enough, this year marked their 4th annual International AIDS Candlelight Memorial held on the steps of St. George’s Cathedral, one of the tallest wooden buildings in the world.
As I listened, I felt a deep sense of pride for what this small organization has managed to accomplish in spite of all the insurmountable odds. This is the Caribbean we are talking about, where resources are limited and prejudice and ignorance can be plentiful. I know… I grew up in Guyana and I spent too many nights crying because of that prejudice and ignorance. I left as soon as I could, but there is a group of individuals who, for whatever reason, stayed, and I will always be in awe of this fearless band of LGBT warriors.
We headed back to the Sidewalk Café for a press conference and I was floating on my usual cloud of optimism when someone asked, quite innocently, my thoughts on the reaction my LGBT affirming songs would have on a Guyanese audience. Um… Now I truly believe music brings people together – I believe music’s purpose is to break down walls that divide us… but I have to admit, at that moment, some childhood fears managed to creep in. How would songs like “Bromance” and “Gay Warrior Song” go over?
I didn’t have long to wait, as it turned out, we had one more interview to do on Voice Of Guyana’s “For a Better World” 102.1FM. The host was a kind motherly woman. She played “What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong and sprinkled her program with positive quotes. During the course of Joel’s interview, he shared that I dedicated the “Gay Warrior Song” to SASOD’s activism and right afterwards she turned to me and asked me to share one of my songs – I started singing…
I am a warrior… preparing for war
I am a warrior…. I step through this door
The enemy is ignorance
The enemy is hate
I am a warrior… I’m fighting for
I believe she was moved, I know I was – I remember singing somewhere in that radio station as a child the songs my parents taught me, now I was singing the songs I taught myself, surrounded by people who knew what I was singing about. Needless to say the concert that night was amazing. Big shootouts to the local acts: Natasha Yhap, Keimo Benjamin, Keep your Day Job, Lloyda Nicholas, Andrew Tyndall, Isaiah Luther, Maria Rosheuvel, Anthony Stayman and Francis Bailey for invoking music to work its magic.
After the concert, we cleared the chairs and danced together – straight, gay, lesbian, trans, bi, queer, questioning and I’m sure some groups we haven’t found names for yet. It is a night I will always remember.
On Sunday night Bishop Francis Alleyne, Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana joined us for a panel discussion following the screening of this year’s feature film – “You Are Not Alone,” a documentary about depression in black gay men. During the discussion the Bishop reaffirmed his support for the repeal of Guyana’s discriminatory laws, but given the Church’s history on LGBT issues, it sounded like many empty words, until one trans woman made a comment. She was one of the 4 involved in the suit, and she publicly thanked the Bishop for his support during those difficult times.
Now any organization that can bring the Church and the trans community together, get radio hosts excited about LGBT rights, sue the government for discrimination, and throw a damn good party has my support. Congratulations SASOD… and all the best for the next 10 years!
For more information about SASOD visit www.sasod.org.gy