News Report: SASOD Urges Action to Stop Homophobic Bullying in School

Guyana Times article 
October 1, 2012 
By Danielle Campbell
 
The Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has expressed dissatisfaction at a growing trend of bullying in both the public and private education system perpetrated on students perceived to be overweight, of a different race, or a certain sexual orientation. As such, the organisation is again urging a comprehensive review of a broad range of policy statements and is calling for the development of clear guidelines with specific reference to the education sector. During an interview with Guyana Times, SASOD co-chair Joel Simpson revealed that the organisation has received complaints from at least two young students, who have faced homophobic bullying – one at a senior secondary school in the city.
 
The society is attempting to have the information provided by the students, documented for research purposes. "One of the challenges is that when these students are being harassed by classmates, they don't want to complain for fear of reprisal and further victimisation. So our strategy becomes to work with them just after school to see how we can address the issue in a systematic way," Simpson said. He added that in such cases, school becomes a challenging environment to work in as there are no formal counselling mechanisms in place for support, guidance, and even solidarity when students face discrimination, harassment or any form of bullying. The organisation was quick to point out that bullying does not have to be homophobic, but can range from racist remarks to jokes about size, stature, physical features, and deformities.

"We have seen in one particular instance where the school administration has sanctioned this type of bullying by sending a strong message that the confused student should change his orientation," Simpson remarked. He described this dilemma as problematic and said this situation needs to be addressed at the policy level in terms of educating and training school administrations and to provide a mechanism for students to seek redress. SASOD Secretary Zenita Nicholson emphasised that there is also no systems in place to deal with holding teachers accountable for allowing any form of bullying and even sanctioning and contributing to it. Nicholson said when it comes to education and children, once a child is different, they are exposed to the worst forms of schoolyard bullyism and discrimination.

"If that child is too fidgety, let's label him as having Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or ADHT, and more or less if that child has a suspicion of a sexual orientation, they are called names and taunted and this is encouraged by some teachers." She noted that when such incidences occur, it is very unfortunate since the child is not encouraged to study and may eventually drop out of school or even commit suicide. Nicholson believes that this creates unequal rights to education, as well as an imbalance in the way bullied youths have access to schooling without interference.  "They deserve the equal opportunity to an unhindered education just like every child, regardless of their abilities or orientation," Nicholson said.
 
Cross-dressing and men in the closet
Speaking on the laws against cross-dressing, Nicholson said SASOD has received numerous complaints about police perpetuating crimes against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transvestites (LGBT) who are found in default.
"Some policemen break into their homes, steal their wigs, and carry away their clothes and shoes. They harass them, demand sexual favours, and would even strip them naked on the seawalls and have them walk into the spotlight of their cars," she alleged. Nicholson said these are reports that she has personally documented, and she is extremely saddened by this state of affairs.She explained that during recent consultations, some officers in the disciplined services, who prefer to keep their orientations secret, have expressed embarrassment that their homosexual partners would point them out in public.

"One of the things they told me is that they didn't want to be identified on the street and they didn't want these men to be calling out to them when they are with their workmates. "They believe that gay men needed to stay in the closet. They claim they needed to be homophobic when they meet their partners on the road, because if they admit to knowing them, their colleagues would subject them to the taunts of being gay." Nicholson stated that so-called macho men would throw slurs at homosexuals during the day and seek them out for sex at night.
 
Homophobia
Commenting on the issue of homophobia, Simpson stated that psychological research has proven that one of the factors which drive violent homophobia is a fear within a person that they may have homosexual inclinations.
"Many times when we see people act out violently against gays, it is sometimes because they have struggles within themselves and may themselves be battling with homosexuality," Simpson stressed. He believes that most of the responsibilities for addressing homophobia reside with state actors, since many of the difficulties surround "legislatory red tape", as homosexual behaviour is still considered criminal. "So that cross-dressers who are stripped naked by police and placed to walk home in the headlamps of their cars would not want to make a report to police because the law says it's illegal to cross-dress. "So how do we even start to address issues of justice, if the law already rules out certain lifestyles as criminal?" Simpson questioned. He remarked that some gay men experience extortion at the hands of police, since they would opt to pay a bribe rather than face arrest or imprisonment. "For them, the law accentuates the shame and stigma attached to certain behaviours.

This is what we need to change if we want to address the extortion, the harassment, the bribery, and discrimination that come with these issues," Simpson stressed. He detailed that SASOD has been engaging the Guyana Police Force in an ongoing conversation and is working through all available avenues to continue its mandate of preventing discrimination. The organisation has printed and distributed brochures on the police powers of arrest, search and questioning so that members who may have committed a crime would not face further violation of their rights due to ignorance.
 
Homosexuals can be cured
Simpson said the religious community and conservative elements are of the view that sexual orientation is a choice and can be corrected and cured. Referring to remarks by Pandit Reepu Daman Persaud, Simpson indicated that research from all parts of the globe has discounted this notion and has proven that attempts to fix homosexuals can cause severe damage to their psyche. "There are people who struggle every day with homosexuality and trying to change who they are. Some eventually commit suicide and many of them live unhappy lives entering into heterosexual relationships which eventually lead to divorce. "They don't last; they don't work out and years after when they have children, then they decide they need to face their true orientation. We see all these stories across the world and on Oprah," Simpson related. He questioned which person in their right mind would choose to live a lesbian, gay, transvestite or bisexual lifestyle knowing the stigma and discrimination that comes with it. "It doesn't make any sense to me who would choose the most difficult path when it's easier to just live a heterosexual life. So I think it's important that such messages be discounted and be called out for what they are – a psycho-social attempt to reform LGBT people which can be met with very, dire consequences."
 
Lobbying for law reform
Government recently tabled a motion which was passed in Parliament to hold countrywide consultations with the Guyanese people on three outstanding recommendations outlined by the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), on the 2010 Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The motion asked that a special select committee be established to hold consultations on the death penalty, corporal punishment, and homosexuality and present a report on the findings to the National Assembly. "I think the parliamentary process will help to strengthen the consultations and how they are viewed. It's important, because it allows for participation from all the parliamentary political parties.
This is important if we are aiming for law reform to address many of the issues which relate to removing the discriminatory laws and policies," Simpson reiterated. SASOD said it looks forward to when Parliament reopens on October 10. "We are expecting that the communities directly affected by these laws, that there will be mechanisms for hearing these views and to have them play centre stage in these consultation process," Simpson pointed out.
The Constitution in Article 30 requires that people have a stake in the decisions that directly affect their lives. "And because we are dealing with issues surrounding marginalised people, we are already starting from the perspective where these groups have less access to mainstream mechanisms… Many of these decisions are dominated by voices which do not have a stake in these issues," Simpson said.
 
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