Homophobia: Impeding Access to Health Education and Services in Guyana
Thursday, 15 May 2008 - 9:00pm
SASOD joins with other organisations and countries (including Cuba and Costa Rica) around the world to commemorate May 17 as International Day Against Homophobia. This day is the anniversary on which the World Health Organisation removed ‘homosexuality’ as a mental disorder marking a formal end to medical homophobia. This year, SASOD observes International Day Against Homophobia under the theme “Homophobia: Impeding access to health education and services for all Guyanese.” A community consultation recently held by the Youth Friendly Services programme at the Adolescent Unit of the Ministry of Health revealed that persons faced discrimination based on their perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity at the hands of health care workers and auxiliary staff when utilising the public health system. Access to health services in Guyana can be improved by providing anti-homophobia training for health care workers and auxiliary staff to mitigate same-gender and HIV-related stigma.
As the quality of client services improve, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Guyanese will gain confidence that the public health system does not house homophobic prejudices and allow discriminatory practices. Detrimental effects of homophobia on HIV health promotion also affect all Guyanese. Heterosexuals still often shun the benefits of HIV education for its ‘gay’ stigma while LGBT Guyanese are driven underground, away from critical life-saving information. It is with this in mind that the Spectrum Health Net project was designed to cater for the invisibility of many to targeted prevention programmes. While web-based dissemination is useful where literacy is adequate and internet accessible, without meaningful face-to-face engagements, we lose a powerful tool in providing AIDS services, including HIV prevention. Recent reports received by community advocates of young men being raped by other men in and around the capital city and the reluctance of male victims to report these heinous crimes to the police and access victim support services, including Post-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV, also point to the urgent need for law reform and health services to address sexual and gender-based violence.
Reforming the law on sexual offences should include provisions to ensure that male victims of rape are not re-victimised by health care workers and police who have a mandate to ensure that all cases are rigorously investigated and prosecuted. In addition, these crimes further underscore the priority for repeal of section 351 of the Criminal Law Offences Chapter 8:01 which criminalises consensual sex between adult men in private and only serves to reinforce same-gender stigma and anti-social prejudices. SASOD acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Health, National AIDS Programme Secretariat and the World Bank through the Guyana AIDS Prevention and Control Project, administered by the Health Sector Development Unit, in supporting the development and implementation of the Spectrum Health Net project. Recognising the role that homophobia plays impeding access to health services and education, Spectrum Health Net was designed to provide holistic Information, Education and Communication materials primarily through web-based formats which include special pages for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people. This project has resulted in the development of the website at http://www.sasod.org.gy and other supporting materials which will be launched at 15:00 hrs on Monday, May 19, at the National Library Conference Room on Church Street, Georgetown.