Connecting local responses around the world
Friday, December 2, 2011 it was a warm placid night. I could hear an assortment of sounds: the buzz of the fan as it whirred; the faint sing songs of the vicious hungry mosquitoes; the happy chirp of the crickets outside my window; the neighbor’s dog barking and that familiar, happy ring tone of Skype. This is a very intimate conversation with Ryon Rawlins. A young local gay man who is part of the Guyana Community Life Competence, he shares his personal experience of how SALT has impacted his life.
Z: Who were you before SALT?
R: Who am I? Great Question! I was struggling to realize certain things. I was more of the person that would normally look for help. I was more like the weakness person always trying to ask people to help me to sort my own stuff I always thought that someone else knew the answer for me.
Z: Did the experience of SALT, change how you felt or thought in any way?
R: With SALT I learnt to look for strengths, my own strengths. Since SALT I now try to see my strengths and build on them. I do my utmost best to make myself a better individual.
Z: Are you open about your sexuality
R: Yes I am open about me being gay
Z: Do you see your sexuality as a weakness or disadvantage?
R: Yes, especially when my back is against the wall and when opportunities pass me by. I know of how gay persons are treated. When these things happen I tend to look at my sexuality as a curse or something extremely bad.
Z: Do you still look at it like that and why?
R: No, things have changed. With SALT I see how good my sexuality is, how it has blessed me. In realizing who I am, has made me happy
Z: What changes have you made since?
R: In the whole, I am just being me, and not made to please others, just myself! It helps me to appreciate myself more.
Z: What gave you that push to go to University?
R: I always wanted to have my Degree, SALT helped me to get there, I believed in myself enough to make that application. The doubts, the second guessing, I cleared that up!
Z: You are a second year student in International Relations, is that correct
R: Yes, that’s correct
Z: Tell me about your recent experience in the Bahamas at the Caribbean AIDS Conference
R: I am confident now to get more engaged in more serious projects and to understand my community and the impacts that HIV has on it. The risks associated and the responses.
Z: Tell me a story where you were inspired to make a contribution to the community
R: As I was growing up I noticed that many Men who sex with Men (MSM) did not know how HIV was transmitted. I am the eldest of 15 grandchildren in my family. I noticed that my younger cousins began having sex and I felt that I needed to know about these things to guide my cousins so they would understand how important it is .From here the focus broadened. Sometimes MSMS are not comfortable in accessing information or condoms or lube because of stigma and discrimination. In these cases I am a support for them and often a resource person.
Z: Right now you are unemployed because of the discrimination, what are you doing about it?
R: I have volunteered for many Human Rights Workshops with SASOD (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) in sharing my life story with people so they can understand how much of a struggle it is when I am discriminated against. When my human Rights are violated, in this case my right to work because of my sexuality. I speak for myself and the countless others who dare not.
There were many subtle emotions that punctuated this very intimate conversation ..there were signs, laughter, silences....and after about an hour there were goodbyes.