Minister Amna Ally pledges to be driving force to end discrimination against LGBT persons

As part of its 2016 advocacy engagements with the Government of Guyana, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) met with Government’s Chief Whip and Minister of Social Cohesion, Honourable Amna Ally, M.P. at her Ministry of the Presidency office on Friday last.
Managing Director, Joel Simpson; Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues and Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick attended the meeting to discuss the impacts of discrimination on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth in the education sector; social inequality due to stigma and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the workforce; and mental health challenges faced by LGBT Guyanese and the prevalence of suicide due to homophobic and transphobic stigma and discrimination.
(l-r) SASOD Managing Director, Joel Simpson; Social Cohesion Minister, Amna Ally; SASOD Advocacy and Communication Officer Schemel Patrick and SASOD Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues.
Simpson kicked off the meeting by introducing his team and sharing with Minister Ally SASOD’s position that social justice and human rights are fundamental prerequisites for social cohesion in Guyana. “We cannot build a cohesive society, if particular groups are excluded in law, policy or practice” Simpson stated. “LGBT Guyanese are systemically marginalized in Guyana’s laws, policies and we face real barriers to accessing basic socio-economic services, especially our rights to education, work and health, particularly mental health services which are critical to our communities,” he added.  
Rodrigues noted that while there are no laws or policies specifically preventing LGBT persons from accessing education, many LGBT Guyanese students drop out of school due to homophobic and transphobic bullying and discrimination, which bars them from practically fulfilling their right to education. This he said has more negative consequences in the sense that bullied school children, with little to no comfort and protection from administrators or their families; carry this psychological damage into their adult lives.  “From not attaining their full potential in schools these now vulnerable youth are driven into poverty to fend for themselves and some come into conflict with the law.  Others that cannot attain sound employment opportunities turn to sex work which further puts them at risk of drug abuse, sexual transmitted infections and diseases and more prejudices which adds to their stress and can cause depression. These mental health burdens become worse without adequate support as more stigma and discrimination is stacked upon them in other areas of their lives” he explained.
Patrick described some of the documented cases reported to SASOD about homophobic and transphobic discrimination in the workplace and how this discrimination leads to social inequities within the realm of employment. She noted that with the absence of specific prohibition of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997, LGBT persons are left open to discrimination in the workplace, with essentially no consequences under the law. In light of that, she urged the Minister’s and government’s commitment to amending the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include “sexual orientation and gender identity” as grounds for discrimination.
Simpson spoke to the Minister on SASOD’s approach to working with the Government to strengthen mental health support for the LGBT Guyanese. He explained to Minister Ally that worldwide research has found LGBT people are 2 to 3 times more likely to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts, and that the findings in Guyana are no different, based on SASOD’s ongoing research in this area. As part of the organization’s Human Services programme, Simpson recommended ways and means SASOD can offer support to reduce the effects of mental illnesses and work with the Ministry and other stakeholders as the nation implements ways to reduce suicide across the country. He offered SASOD’s support in training government providers to enhance their sensitivity towards LGBT persons who access their services. 
The Minister spoke of the Coalition Government’s commitment in eradicating discrimination in all its forms, noting that discrimination does not only come along in ethnic lines but very well due to gender identity and sexual orientation.
SASOD responded that the issues brought forward are major hindrances that affect social cohesion and progress in the Guyanese society for this and future generations. SASOD shared concerns that we are in a critical point in our nation’s history for unity and cooperation.
Ally expressed her willingness to further discussions with her Cabinet and Parliamentary peers; “The Ministry of Social Cohesion for one will not stand for any sort of discrimination. It is the policy of this Government to not discriminate or foster any form of social inequalities – we recognize we have people in society that are of all kinds and we have to respect each other. I as Social Cohesion Minister promise to drive such policies in combating discrimination,” she said. “Be assured of my support to LGBT persons,” Minister Ally concluded.