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Bishop apologises, encourages dialogue with LGBTQ

Bishop Francis Alleyne (from left), Swami Aksharananda and Brother Wazir Baksh. Source: Catholic Standard

GUYANA

Bishop Francis Alleyne OSB of Georgetown has apologised to the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer) community, acknowledging that the Church has not always interfaced with LGBTQ persons in the best manner.

Bishop Alleyne shared this sentiment at a February 17 public discussion at the National Library on the theme Loving Thy LGBTQ Neighbour/Family Member hosted by the Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow)—a community-based advocacy and empowerment organisation serving lesbian, bisexual, queer and questioning Guyanese women.

The bishop was among the panellists at the forum, alongside Brother Wazir Baksh of the Guyana Islamic Trust and Swami Aksharananda, founder and head of the Saraswati Vidya Niketan School. Over 30 persons attended including a human rights delegation from the law school of Georgetown University, Washington, DC.

In his remarks, Bishop Alleyne acknowledged his own struggles and prejudices but highlighted the impact that occasions for dialogue and sharing have had in helping reduce fear and discrimination.

A press release from GuyBow said that the bishop highlighted research data that has shown that while attitudes in Guyana towards LGBTQ persons are indeed discriminatory, a high level of compassion exists when people are asked about those close to them, such as co-workers and family members. The full text of the press release was published in the February 23 issue of Catholic Standard.

In it, the release said, “He reminded the audience that the starting point of the social teachings of the Church is that everybody is good, everybody belongs and that all people are created in the image of God. He described the principle of association—that we are in connection with and responsible for each other—as well as the Christian notion of solidarity with and concern for minority and marginalised persons as key tools for shaping a better society.”

Bishop Alleyne lamented the degeneration of basic human respect in the Guyanese context and encouraged persons to embody the alternative—to be a presence of integrity.

Instead of telling persons what to do or provide rules, he espoused instead the notion of helping others to develop their own understanding and awareness.

“He also emphasised the notion of rights and responsibility and urged persons to become actively involved with and contribute meaningfully to society.”

Brother Baksh, in his remarks, stated that while Islam frowns upon public displays of sexuality and the overt sexualisation of the physical body, it acknowledges the shared humanity of all persons. The Quran, he noted, commands Muslims to love and be generous to their neighbours.

He advised Muslim parents who might be confused, concerned, or ashamed of their LGBTQ children to understand that that is their choice as adults, and as Muslim parents they should only advise and counsel their children to be true to their conscience. It’s wrong, said Brother Baksh, to go beyond that or to act violently to LGBTQ persons, even if they may be doing something you consider to be a sin.

Swami Aksharananda said that in the Hindu tradition, each person is an embodiment of God, so there is nothing that any human being can do to violate God. He described a fundamental Sanskrit prayer that wishes happiness to all and explained that key to Hindu ethics is the concept of non-injury.

Meanwhile, Colleen McEwan, one of the leaders of GuyBow said that the discussion was an attempt to encourage dialogue, reduce stigma and discrimination and build appreciation and respect for human rights. She acknowledged the important role religious leaders play in shaping public opinion and urged their support in helping to instil more loving values among Guyanese.

There was a lively discussion from some audience members who disagreed with the statements of the panellists but a respectful atmosphere prevailed throughout and all agreed upon the need for more discourse. Notable also was the contribution made by several lesbian Guyanese who spoke of their own faith and desire for acceptance and love by others.