SASOD calls on President to put words into action

On December 31, 2015 President Granger expressed his support for freedom of choice by Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons in Guyana during his weekly media briefing, “The Public Interest”. The President stated that he is prepared to respect the rights of any adult to indulge in any practice, which is not harmful to others. President David Granger was further reported to have said, “I would like to feel that there should be some element, first, of respecting the human rights of individuals, and second, at the Governmental level, free choice; that persons should be able to express their views freely without necessarily sticking to a party line.”
SASOD can only describe the comments made by President Granger as a progressive step in the right directions towards respect for human rights and equality for all, however while noting that the issue has not been discussed at the level of Cabinet, President Granger maintained that human rights are paramount, over party opinions. 
Presently, Guyana is the only country in South America where homosexual acts are still illegal. Under the laws of Guyana, same-sex intimacy between men carries a possible punishment of life imprisonment.
SASOD commends the President’s stance, but needless to say the organisation looks forward to further engagement and legislative amendments which action his position. 
At a media engagement held at SASOD’s Charlotte Street office last Monday, January 11, the organisation issued the following statement: 
“SASOD welcomes President Granger's recognition that "Respect for human rights should prevail" on policy and law reform issues related to LGBT issues in Guyana. While His Excellency's rhetoric is a step in the right direction, SASOD must point us that his comments do not action the May 2015 Elections Manifesto commitments of the APNU + AFC Coalition to "putting in place measurses to ensure that all vulnerable groups... and those marginalised because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against.” The most basic measure is repealing the insidious laws which criminalize same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing and perpetuate, institutionally, anti-LGBT discrimination in society. 
President Granger also intimated that the issue has not been ventilated at the Cabinet level and hence there is no timetable for the review of these laws. SASOD is very disappointed that a clear commitment of the Coalition government has not at least been discussed for implementation in the now more than 7 months since the administration has taken office. It would take very simple amendments to repeal the laws criminalizing same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing - nothing complicated. The Coalition government needs to demonstrate that it has the political will and take leadership on LGBT issues. Repealing these archaic laws is the first step towards “Respect for Human Rights" of LGBT Guyanese. Our communities want real action in 2016; not mere rhetoric.”
From Left to Right - Managing Director, Joel Simpson; Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick; and Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues addresses the media.

Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD, has expressed in some sections of the media that the APNU+AFC coalition Government had campaigned on platforms of national unity, social cohesion, equal rights and gender equality. 
Simpson stated that they expect the new Government to bring action to their rhetoric and take legal and policy measures to prohibit discrimination by including sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited categories in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 and the Guyana Constitution, repeal laws criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing and end the discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians donating blood at the National Blood Transfusion Service.
SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues called for a supportive society as the Government is being lobbied to repeal discriminative laws, “It is important for the Guyanese citizens  understand the needs to not only scrap the laws that define the LGBT people as a lesser class but recognize their rights as equals.”
“SASOD receives reports of harassment and abuse, sometimes perpetrated by state officers; we receive reports on intimate partner violence, how the media broadcasts real issues in our communities such as suicide and murder. We have seen instances of neglect from families and teenagers being thrown out of their homes – we need laws to protect these persons, a judicial system that supports their rights and a society that is comfortable with their right to live and be treated just as fairly and equally as all others. SASOD over the years has implemented community-based approaches and engaged stakeholders in our support of human rights but we stay through to our aim of pressing for legal action from the Government. In 2015 a promise was made to the LGBT Guyanese and SASOD is pressing for the President’s words to be action in the forms of legislative amendments  presented to the National Assembly in 2016 by the relevant subject Ministers.”
In 2016, SASOD intends to hold the Coalition Government accountable to these commitments they have made; specifically under its Human Rights programme headed by Schemel Patrick, SASOD’s Advocacy and Communications Officer. SASOD, with support provided by the US State Department through the US Embassy in Georgetown, will have regular engagements with Government Ministers and Parliamentarians whose responsibilities encapsulates issues relating to equality, social cohesion, discrimination and workplace issues. 
The organisation will embark on sexual orientation, gender identity and health status as grounds for discrimination in the Prevention of Discrimination Act of 1997. This will provide protection for LGBT Guyanese in the areas of discrimination related to employment issues and other socio-economic rights related to work, accessing healthcare and other social services.
SASOD will strengthen the Civil Society movement further with collaboration with coalition partners of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), which the organisation founded in 2011. SASOD is working with GEF partners to scale up the network’s Discrimination and Incident Reporting System to strengthen redress mechanism and documentation of issues relating to discrimination, inequality and human rights abuses in society.
Under its Homophobia(s) programme, SASOD in March 2016 will commence a Sexual Rights Training programme for members in various Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). HIV testing, counseling and referrals to other sexual health and social services remains an ongoing activity by the organization under its Health programme, led by SASOD’s Projects Coordinator, John Quelch, as the organization continues to develop its LGBT Mental Health sub-programme in 2016.