Since I’ve been in Guyana, I’ve heard one, two… a dozen homophobic comments. I’ve taken them as individual cases, but the shootings in Orlando seem to have brought everything together in one big sticky mess.
I don’t know what to do when I hear homophobic comments. I’ve never really faced it close up before. I live in this bubble where I just assume people are cool with homosexuality – until they say otherwise – because in my experience they mostly are.
I’m used to hearing stories of homophobia in the Caribbean though. That’s part of the Western narrative: sun, beaches, crime and homophobic music. So when I arrived in Guyana and made some friends who were openly gay, I was kind of surprised.
Then I started hearing the comments. They were offered casually, by people of all ages. “It’s disgusting”, “It’s wrong”, “Why do they have to push it in your face?” I heard the appalling terminology for a gay male – “an anti-man”.
I’m not gay, but these people didn’t know that. If I had been, how would I have felt? What would I have done? Kept quiet, I guess. Or made some tentative attempt at challenging their views, as I’ve done – cautious about being too critical of someone I’ve just been introduced to.
I’m sure there are many people with similar views in the UK. In London. Amongst my friendship group even. Is it only because we’re never discussed it that this issue hasn’t come up before?
Encountering these views is strange to me. I just can’t see it. I can’t see what’s wrong. It may not be common to see same-sex couples holding hands in the street or kissing, so I can understand people being surprised or even uncomfortable initially… but, as the public ads from gay charity Stonewall say in the UK, get over it.
Homosexuality is not some recent discovery. There have been gay people for thousands of years. It may just seem new because finally LGBT people and those of us who support them are finding a voice and platform. Why does it have to be done so publicly? Because that’s the only way we’ll reach all those who cite religion, nature or whatever other excuse they have for their homophobia. And because there’s strength in numbers. And safety.
I understand that my views may have been the total opposite simply if I was born in a different time or place. But this is comforting in a way, because it just shows this prejudice is learned – and can be unlearned. We just need to have patience and persistence to get the message across and to share some truths.
Like supporting LGBT rights doesn’t mean you are gay. Like being gay doesn’t mean you cannot be homophobic. Like sexuality is not as black and white as some would like. Like being gay is not ‘infectious’.
We all have our own perspective and deeply engrained beliefs, but can we not agree on one thing? To love and respect the decisions of our fellow man or woman. The slogan and hashtag for the protests and tweets that have poured out since Orlando is #lovewins. It’s the perfect response. Who can argue against love?