THE human rights activist, Zenita Temall Nicholson, who was the first Guyanese to be awarded an International Woman of Courage Award from the U.S. embassy here, has died in what is so far being described as a suicide. Reports are that Ms Nicholson, 37, called a friend just after 2:00 a.m Monday saying she needed to go to the hospital. On the way to the hospital, Nicholson told the friend she had ingested ten carbon tablets.
Nicholson was the Country Coordinator for Caribbean Vulnerable Communities/PANCAP Global Fund.
Five days ago she shared this post on Facebook regarding suicide: “Many people think that a suicide attempt is a selfish move because the person just does not care about the people left behind. I can tell you that when a person gets to that point, he truly believes that his loved ones will be much better off with him gone. This is mental illness not selfishness.”
Many of her friends and colleagues were shocked at the news, remembering her jovial personality and her ability to inspire them.
“This award is about courage and leadership. Zenita Nicholson embodies these principles and exemplifies the traditions of personal freedom and equality that remain shared values between Guyana and the United States,” U.S. Embassy Chargé d’Affaires Bryan Hunt said in presenting Ms Nicholson with the Woman of Courage Award in March, 2014.
“She has been an energetic, effective and passionate advocate at both the national and international levels for the principle that both women’s rights and the rights of lesbian, gays, bi – sexual and transgender persons are human rights, deserving of equal attention and protection,” Hunte added.
In accepted the award, Nicholson said: “Today I’m being honoured for my courage, but I have no courage; not compared to those who inspire me to advocate for equality, human rights and dignity.”
On Monday, the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown said Nicholson worked tirelessly in her quest for equal rights for all people regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.
“Zenita’s advocacy with the government, local politicians, and the UN Human Rights Committee was vital in advancing the national dialogue,” the embassy said in a press statement.
The Embassy noted that as a member of the Board of Trustees for the Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), she successfully lobbied for resolutions on human rights, sexual orientation, and gender identity at the OAS General Assembly.
As an active lead member of the Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM), Nicholson worked closely with bilateral and multilateral donors to help Guyana reach its national goal of sustainable HIV epidemic control, the Embassy stated.
“Zenita’s work reflected her unwavering commitment to justice and equality for all people. Her passion has inspired many, both in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean to continue this struggle.
“While Zenita’s life has been tragically cut short, it is our hope that her legacy will endure and that Guyana and the Caribbean will build societies free from the homophobia and transphobia against which she so effectively fought,” the Embassy stated.
SASOD said it is shocked and saddened by the news of Nicholson, whom the organisation described as one of its leading activists.
“Zenita was passionate about human rights and a fearless defender of the rights of vulnerable people. She applied this drive and commitment to her work, delivering exceptional results at SASOD to raise awareness and strengthen advocacy for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people,” SASOD said in a statement.
She joined SASOD in May 2011 as a member and Coordinator of the “Human Rights Education for the Protection of Sexual and Gender Minorities in Guyana” Project.
She later became Secretary on the SASOD Board of Trustees in September 2012 – a volunteer position which she held for two years.
She remained a member of SASOD and represented the organisation at the 45th Regular Session of the Organisation of American States General Assembly in June in Washington, D.C.
“Her death is an irreplaceable loss to the Guyanese and global human rights movement,” SASOD stated.
Nicholson leaves to mourn her two children, Dmitri and Daria Nicholson, mother, Kamanie Singh, brother, Andrew Temall, and countless relatives, colleagues and friends whose lives she touched.