by Svetlana Marshall
Roman Catholic Bishop Francis Alleyne has joined Pope Francis in calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality, saying that while it is a “human condition”, it must not be seen or treated as a crime.
“Being homosexual is not a crime,” Pope Francis said during a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Across the world, 67 countries, including Guyana, have laws that still criminalize consensual same-sex intimacy. 11 of those 67 countries still institute the death penalty for violation of the anti-gay laws.
In Guyana, the Head of the Catholic Church in the country, Bishop Francis Alleyne, who has long lobbied for Guyana to repeal its anti-sodomy laws, said the existing laws in Guyana have been used and are still being used as a justification to violate the rights of citizens who are part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) community.
“It is on the books and it has been used against the community, that particular community, as a sort of justification. The law says, therefore, I can treat you with disregard or disrespect or even disdain. And we have seen here in Guyana the violent behaviour against that community,” Bishop Francis in an interview with News Source.
Going a step further, the Catholic Bishop said he has heard horrifying stories of members of the protective and legal services including members of the Guyana Police Force, abusing their powers under the Laws to target and marginalize members of the LGBT community.
“I have heard the unfortunate accounts of the protective services, even the legal services, acting against and using what is there in the law to come down on members of that community…I have heard unfortunate stories where those services have penalized, use their authority in an irresponsible manner under the cover of the law,” Bishop Alleyne explained.
According to Section 353 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, any male person, who attempts to commit buggery, assaults any person with intent to commit buggery shall be guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for ten years.
The law also states that someone who commits buggery on a human being or any other living creature can also face the possibility of life in prison.
While making it clear that he is not against laws barring against rape and acts of sexual violence, Bishop Alleyne said the Legislature should not label consensual same-sex intimacy as a crime. Like the Pope, he contended that homosexuality is a ‘human condition.’
He said while biblical scriptures have explicitly denounced same-sex intimacy, in today’s society various disciplines including sociology and psychology could be used to have a wholesome understanding of persons who are attracted to the same sex.
Noting that “we are all children of God,” Bishop Alleyne said instead of passing judgement on those within the LGBT community, the religious community, and society at large, should seek to better understand them
“Let’s us walk with people, where ever they are. It doesn’t help to say this is where you should be. This is where you are, let’s meet you there…let us understand, who you are, where you are coming from. How you see the world, and with that, you can also exchange that our faith tradition looks at life this way. You generate a dialogue, a conversation, and you do so with respect,” the Bishop said.
He said premature judgment will not help the situation.
“A lot of the judgments, condemnation that we see surfacing come out of fear. It is very interesting,” he said why underscoring the need for society to turn to sociology, medicine and psychology among other disciplines to have greater insight into the lives of homosexuals.
Last October, a study on the perceptions and attitudes of Guyanese towards LGBT persons in Guyana revealed that nearly a majority believe that the Government should prioritize legally protecting the rights of LGBT people.
According to the study, which was conducted by RMK Consulting Enterprise at the behest of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), 49.6% of the 1070 respondents indicated that the Government should legally protect the rights of LGBT people.
The findings suggested that a large portion of the population not only supported legal protection for LGBT people but thought that it was government’s responsibility and ought to be prioritized.
Further, the poll found that a clear majority of 53.9% of the Guyanese population are likely to support the elimination of the law criminalizing sex between men.
In August 2021, the National Assembly decriminalized cross-dressing, in keeping with a ruling handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ). But while SASOD has welcomed the legislative change, the human rights orgasnization said steps must be taken to decriminalize same-sex intimacy.
According to SASOD, the colonial-era laws are unconstitutional.