Advocacy and Communications Officer of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Ms. Schemel Patrick during a recent meeting with the Minister of Social Protection, Honourable Volda Lawrence, M.P. and the Ministerial Advisor of Social Protection, John Adams, M.P. expressed that although Guyana’s labour policies support the elimination of discrimination in employment, training, recruitment, and membership of professional bodies, there are gaps that needs to be addressed in the Laws of Guyana.
Section 4(2) of the Prevention of Discrimination Act of 1997, which provides for the promotion of equal remuneration for work of equal value goes on to prohibit discrimination, defines unlawful discrimination, and protects employees from discrimination on the basis of “race, sex, religion, colour, ethnic origin, indigenous population, national extraction, social origin, economic status, political opinion, disability, family responsibilities, pregnancy, marital status or age except for purposes of retirement and restrictions on work and employment of minors” but there is no explicit mention of protection from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity or health status.
In Photo: From Left - Alana DaSilva, Secretary of the Board of SASOD; Hon. John Adams, M.P. Ministerial Adviser on Social Protection; The Honourable Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence, M.P; Managing Director of SASOD, Joel Simpson; SASOD Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick; SASOD Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues. Photo credit to: Aubrey Odle, Ministry of Social Protection.
According to Patrick, “the absence of a specific prohibition on sexual orientation, gender identity and health status within the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997, leaves LGBT persons and persons with stigmatized health conditions vulnerable to discrimination with impunity in the workplace, allows employers to refuse to hire LGBT persons, people living with HIV (PLHIV), people with mental health challenges and other stigmatized health conditions to harass or otherwise discriminate against them during their employment, or to terminate their employment on these grounds, with essentially no consequences under the law.”
The organisation on a whole reiterated the lack of protection in law and policy for persons when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity and health status. SASOD called for more action the Coalition government as it built its campaign on social cohesion, equal rights for all Guyanese, inclusion and cooperation amongst all people. Managing Director, Joel Simpson reminded the Minister Lawrence and Mr. Adams that Guyana as a state party has made certain voluntary commitments to international agreements, and has a legal obligation under international human rights law to honour its commitments. These include recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review in 2015 to consider de-criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing, and enact laws which protect LGBT people from discrimination. Simpson spoke of a “schizophrenic situation” regarding Guyana’s laws asking, “How can someone who is transgender go to the police station to report intimate partner violence and other crimes against them when they themselves are persecuted for something as simple as being who they are by cross-dressing?”
The organisation insists that the simple amendment would not take more than the inclusion of six words in the 1997 piece of legislation, “Gender Identity”, “Sexual Orientation”, and “Health Status.” This Simpson posited has a great deal of positive impact in accessing other socio-economic rights for all citizens and serves as a push for Parliament to consider and amend other gaps in legislation that discriminates against certain groups of Guyanese citizens.
The Minister agreed that there should be no discrimination in employment, education and health. She expressed her responsibility to protect all Guyanese citizens and noted her position that everyone is entitled to their rights. “We can’t have one group benefitting while another is suffering. We (The Ministry) do not share the view that the rights of citizens are good for one but not the others,” Minister Lawrence said.
SASOD also recommends that the Government of Guyana amend Article 149 D of the Guyana constitution that prohibits discrimination to include sexual orientation and gender identity; amend section 4(2) of the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include sexual orientation, gender identity and health status as grounds for discrimination; and implement and support comprehensive workplace equality policies and education programmes aimed at curbing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and health status in the workplace, both in the public service and private sector.