Newspaper Report: Gays, Lesbians Face Greater Inequality Here Because of Criminalising of Same Sex Relations

A human rights expert says that by virtue of Guyana keeping on its books laws that criminalise homosexual behaviour, persons from the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered (LGBT) community face inequality on a higher scale than other marginalised groups. Speaking at a public forum on equality and LGBT rights at Moray House Trust on Wednesday evening, Dr. Dimitrina Petrova, Executive Director of Equal Rights Trust says Guyana’s laws criminalising homosexuality and cross-dressing are not in consonance with Government’s responsibility of ensuring that there is equality for all.

The expert, who hails from Bulgaria, said that the mission of her organisation is equality and it is regarded as a basic principle of human justice and a fundamental human right. She said that equality is one of many human rights and it is the business of Equal Rights Trust to put serious human rights issues into context so that they can be seen as being based on equality. In explaining why it was that the organisation chose to work in Guyana, Dr. Petrova said that while there are many problems in Guyana for many groups – indigenous peoples, women, race – it is the LGBT group that seems to be the most affected since the discrimination against them is enshrined in law.

“There are gaps in the protection.
The levels of protection are different for different people [in Guyana]. Looking from outside, the LGBT seems to be the most unequal group,” Dr. Petrova said. She pointed out too that there can be no equality if one group is left out. Dr. Petrova shared SASOD’s view that the Government should not be taking its cue from the religious community in order to make decisions regarding the rights of LGBT people. SASOD reported that representatives of the Government stated they would have been seeking moral guidance from the three main religious groups in Guyana without considering any discussions with the groups which are affected by the discriminatory laws and policies. “The dialogue should be [among] the faith-based groups, cultural promoters, the Ministry of Health, the Guyana Police Force and should include citizens and groups who support the view that LGBT Guyanese are deserving of the same rights as any other Guyanese citizen,” SASOD said in a statement.

Speaking at the event, Vidyaratha Kissoon, one of the founding members of SASOD said that the body believes that a Guyana which offers equality for LGBT Guyanese will be characterised by the inclusion of LGBT issues in all human and social development discussions that occur at national and community levels and will be incorporated as a cross cutting issue in development plans. “SASOD has called on the Government and national decision makers to amend   the Constitution to include gender identity and sexual orientation as grounds (prohibiting) discrimination so as to protect LGBT citizens and allow for legal recourse,” Kissoon said.

He said too that SASOD is calling for the repeal of Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, which sanctions the wearing of clothes considered to be those of the opposite sex. Kissoon said this law stigmatises transgendered people and facilitates arbitrary arrest and police abuse. The group also wants Section 351 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Chapter 8:01 which reads, “any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is party to the commission, by any male person, of an act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.”

SASOD is also campaigning and making representation to educate members of the uniformed forces – police, prison and army – and to evaluate their performance based on their obligations in terms of non-discriminatory treatment towards sex workers, LGBT persons and people living with HIV/AIDS. “Discriminatory and abusive behaviour on the part of police officers should be investigated and punished where necessary,” Kissoon said. He said that SASOD hopes to embark on the critical implementation of actions which ensure that the needs of LGBT citizens are addressed within the health care system and social services provision. “The health and well being of LGBT citizens should not be left to the selective judgements of the health care workers and social workers,” Kissoon said.

SASOD wants to also open a broader dialogue on culture and human rights so as to guarantee that no human rights violations will be perpetrated under the name of culture, religion or tradition. Further, Kissoon said that many LGBT persons need low income housing and are not allowed to apply for a house lot since they are single and often have no children of their own. SASOD wants Government to ensure that the Ministry of Labour is equipped to deal with cases of discrimination against LGBT persons which prevents access to employment. It wants Government to ensure that the Ministry of Education implements a policy which ensures that LGBT youth are not discriminated against in the school system and that health and family life educators speak to the diversity in sexual orientation and gender identity.
 
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