Minister Lawrence Calls for Inclusion, Recognition and Upward Mobility of LGBT Persons

In commemoration of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016, the British High Commission, Georgetown, in collaboration with Red Thread, Guyanese Women Roundtable (GWR), Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted a Women’s Empowerment Cocktail and Reception to celebrate marginalized women.
The event, which was held on the evening of IWD itself, last Tuesday, March 8, at the British High Commissioner’s Residence in Georgetown, was organised to create an empowering space for lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women and allies; to celebrate the strength and perseverance of these women; and to stimulate networking and strengthening of relationships among LBT women and allies. Chaired by GWR’s Convenor, Dr. Dawn Stewart,  the programme was well attended by scores of persons including First Lady,  Sandra Granger; Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence; Minister within the Ministry of Communities, Dawn Hastings–Williams; many members of the diplomatic corps, civil society representatives and media personnel.
Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence (left) and First Lady Sandra Granger at the IWD 2016 Reception at the British High Commissioner's Residence.
(Ulelli Verbeke Photography)
Delivering welcome remarks was Acting British High Commissioner, Ron Rimmer. He underlined that International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, and also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity and that the United Kingdom is fully committed to equality and non-discrimination and actively promotes women’s rights nationally and internationally, and has done so for a considerable period of time.  He urged everyone present to do their bit to ensure that the rights of girls and women are realized. “Each of us can assist within our own spheres of influence and commit to take pragmatic action to accelerate gender equality, pledge to take concrete steps to help achieve gender equality more quickly, take action to collectively help women advance equal to their numbers and realize the limitless potential they can offer. This can be done by helping women and girls achieve their ambitions, calling for gender-balanced leadership, respecting and valuing difference, developing more inclusive and flexible cultures and rooting out workplace bias,” Rimmer said.
Acting British High Commissioner Ron Rimmer delivering welcome remarks at the IWD 2016 Receptio
(Ulelli Verbeke Photography)
The Honourable Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence offered special remarks on behalf of the Government of Guyana. Minister Lawrence noted that, “in Guyana, gender inequality rears its ugly head in different forms; we have women who are discriminated against in terms of accessing employment and equal remuneration, we have groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people which are stigmatized and ostracized, because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, whose rights to acceptance in work environments and accessing educational pursuits are denied. We witness the high incidence of abuse and domestic violence of our women and young girls, trafficking in persons, not to mention the alarming trend of suicide that is rampant among our young women as well as our young men.” She stressed that, “in this era of global progress, we can ill-afford to remain caught in the traps of traditional mind-sets, shunning and deeming LGBT persons as outcasts in our society. We have to wake up to the realization that these are human beings whose human, political and social rights are being violated when we deny them access to the opportunities that we enjoy, when we categorically say no to every initiative of theirs to be involved or we pressure them in the work environment when we learn that their sexual orientation or gender identity is different from ours. Admittedly, we would have failed as a society, as a nation if we do not take the necessary steps and make the shift towards acceptance of these individuals.” In closing, Minister Lawrence posited that, “it is critical that we find sustainable solutions to the social issues that plague us. I wish to reiterate that we have to commit to changing the perception of these individuals. Yes, if we intend to promote gender equality, we cannot pretend that this group is non-existent. In our workplaces, in our institutions, we have to embrace these individuals and use their potential and skills for the benefit of economic, social and political progress. We must accord them the same process of inclusion, recognition and upward mobility irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We therefore have to spread awareness in our working environments. From the top of the organizational chart right through to the auxiliary staff, we have to rally for a change in attitude. We must spread the message of tolerance, and remove the gender bias with respect to this group (LGBT people).” She underscored the importance of transforming thoughts and words into positive actions and reiterated the Ministry of Social Protection’s commitment to prioritizing gender equality and women’s empowerment, and supporting all organizations that are involved in the struggle for gender parity.
Minister of Social Protection Volda Lawrence delivering special remarks at the IWD 2016 Reception at the British High Commissioner's Residence.
(Ulelli Verbeke Photography)
The keynote address was delivered by Attorney–at–Law Patricia Bacchus who expressed her delight in being able to contribute to the progression of gender equality.  Bacchus chronicled her experience as a young woman working in the male-dominated corporate sphere and the many occurrences of gender bias she’s had to face; many of which were manifested through curious glances, unwarranted comments about her appearance and belittling her intelligence. She noted that, “oddly, the preconceptions on gender roles were also manifested by women – many of whom would ask me when I would take a break or slow things down to find a good husband and make some babies.” Bacchus indicated that initially she ignored these situations but that times are changing and she believes that she must take the opportunity to correct them and inspire some attitudinal changes.  Bacchus highlighted some of the specific initiatives she thought we should focus on as a country working towards gender equality: ensuring equal opportunity employment policies in both the private and public sectors; adhering to policies regarding equal pay for equal work; revisiting the industry opportunities for women, and ensure access to opportunities outside of the conventional realms of teaching, nursing, security services, garment assembly and domestic work and written policies by both private and public sector employers, regarding equal opportunity, non-discrimination, as well as written and enforceable policies against workplace abuse and violence.
Attorney-at-Law Patricia Bacchus delivers the keynote address at the IWD 2016 Reception at the British High Commissioner's Residence.
(Ulelli Verbeke Photography)
The evening was also filled with empowering performances by a number of remarkable women artistes. Jackie Jaxx, singer and songwriter, was outstanding in her rendition of Alicia Keys’ “Superwoman.” Before her performance she noted the struggles faced by women artistes in Guyana and her commitment to empowering herself and others in the local entertainment industry. The second performer, Natasha Yhap, delivered an amazing rendition of “A Woman’s Worth,” also by Alicia Keys. Also lending their talent to the event was spoken-word poet and actress Lloyda Nichols, who read an excerpt from a Caribbean women’s anthropology to which she contributed called “Senseisha,” and delivered one of her new poems on sexuality, “Slay,” written specially for last week’s event.