SASOD and Linden Partners Launch Region 10 LGBT Sexual Health Training Project

– Linden M&TC pledges to work in support for an equitable society free from discrimination

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in partnership with Linden Care Foundation (LCF) and For the Children Sake Foundation (FCSF) with support from Peace Corps Guyana launched the Region 10 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Sexual Health Training Project in Linden, the district’s town on Friday, July 22, at the LEAP Building, McKenzie.

Members of the general public and various representatives of civil society in the Upper Demerara -Upper Berbice region attended the simple launch event, which was chaired by SASOD’s Assistant Treasurer and LCF’s Health Advocate, Trevon Garner. The speakers were Joel Simpson, SASOD’s Managing Director; Yanick Copeland, LCF’s Prevention Coordinator for Key Populations; Vernon Todd, FCSF’s Executive Director; Keenan Williams, Chairperson of the Social Development Committee of the Linden Town Council; and Caitlin Sullivan, Region 10 Health Volunteer with Peace Corps Guyana.

SASOD Director Simpson explained the need for the project, citing that LGBT persons living in Guyana face barriers in accessing appropriate mental health services, and are often, unaware or do not understand the importance of sexual health. According to him, this is largely attributed to society’sgeneral attitude of discrimination towards LGBT persons, and corresponding internalized homophobia, which prevents persons from living their lives freely. Perceived stigma also prevents LGBT persons from seeking HIV testing when they need it the most.

He further explained that with no support available, LGBT persons may face internal identity struggles, and further turn to risky behaviours for hopeful resolution. “This is especially the case for  LGBT persons living outside of more urbanized Georgetown, and possibly very relevant to Linden, which is considered the most homophobic town in the country, due to the high level of poverty, limited access to education, media, internet and other sources of knowledge, domestic brain drain and high unemployment rates, ” Simpson said.

 A community consultation conducted by SASOD and the Linden partners earlier this year with  LGBT Lindeners further found a need for improved cohesion in the local LGBT community in the region itself, as well as capacity-building training to meet their emotional, psycho-social and sexual health needs.

The project aims to empower and build capacity of LGBT persons in the Region; promote positive mental and sexual health practices and basic human rights relating to non-discrimination and equality; reduce internal stigma among LGBT persons in Region 10; and identify a support network of LGBT persons and allies to establish a sustainable and ongoing linkage of local support after the project has concluded.

“We recognize that there is dire need to work in Region 10 and that it is important to work with partners here,” Simpson said. Linden Care Foundation, For the Children’s Sake Foundation and Peace Corps Guyana are all project contributors targeting beneficiaries such as the media and civil society in Linden and the greater Linden community in Region 10. The representatives of Linden Care Foundation and For the Children’s Sake Foundation both expressed gratitude to SASOD for their partnership in this project which serves to empower and improve the mental and sexual health of LGBT persons in their Region.

Similar sentiments were greatly expressed by Chairperson of the Social Development Committee of the Linden Mayor and Town Council, Keenan Williams. According to Williams, the project sits well with the municipality’s vision of democratic renewal, socio-economic stability and strengthening institutional capacity. He called for the Government and people of Guyana to uphold and respect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and work towards a democracy that includes all sections of society for a more progressive and equitable Guyana.

At the podium: Keenan Williams, Chairperson of the Social Development Committee of the Linden Town Council. Sitting (l-r) Joel Simpson, SASOD’s Managing Director; Yanick Copeland, LCF’s Prevention Coordinator for Key Populations; Vernon Todd, FCSF’s Executive Director; and Caitlin Sullivan, Region 10 Health Volunteer with Peace Corps Guyana.

“The council will facilitate this capacity building for LGBT Lindeners. We look forward to the sustainability of this initiative and to have future dialogue and a comprehensive response to these social issues such as sexuality, suicide and mental health – it is going to take all of Guyana to work together including all sections of society and that is why I am happy to see civil society coming together and contributing in a major way,” Williams emphasized.  

He addressed Simpson’s comments that in a national survey Linden was found to be the most homophobic town in Guyana. “Linden has too many negative tags attached to it, but the Linden Mayor and Town Council will work to make this community a better one and we will work with everyone regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality – the municipality is committed to supporting every initiative that will end discrimination and social inequalities in our communities,” Williams responded.

Wrapping up the launch event, Peace Corps Guyana Health Volunteer Caitlin Sullivan, who is based in Linden, noted that she herself has seen first-hand the negative effects of stigma towards the LGBT community in Region 10 from working alongside the HIV and Infectious Disease team at Wismar Hospital in Linden. “Many persons who should be seeking HIV and STI testing and screening are not doing so due to fear of what others in the community may say or think about them. Therefore, they are disregarding their sexual health and putting themselves at high risk,” she explained.

Delivering remarks, Caitlin Sullivan, Region 10 Health Volunteer with Peace Corps Guyana

“Empowerment is the key to improving the lives of LGBT people in Guyana. Through collaboration, I believe we can achieve this empowerment. Collective efforts of government and civil society are a solid foundation on which we can build upon together,” she concluded.