By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has made notable strides on its journey to realise a Guyana where members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community can live without being discriminated against. But the destination remains far away.
During a recent interview with Guyana Standard, SASOD’s President, Joel Simpson, indicated that the organisation realises that its task is monumental.
Simpson was referred to a recent article published by this media house where High Commissioner of the United Kingdom, Greg Quinn, stated Britain’s optimism that Guyana will soon move to legislate gay rights and remove discriminatory laws.
Simpson was pointed to the fact that the very act of men having sex with each other in the form of buggery remains a crime in Guyana.
The activist said that this remains a concern to his organisation but the removal of that is law not currently the legislative priority of SASOD. At least not in this year.
Simpson said, “While we believe those laws should be removed and that they serve no useful purpose, our top priority is amending the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as grounds for discrimination.”
Simpson was keen to note that the current prevention of discrimination act deals with discrimination in relation to the right to work. “We think that that is a very fundamental human rights issue,” he said.
Furthermore, the activist said that SASOD records lots of complaints relating to discrimination in accessing work. He said too that LGBTQ persons indicated that when they do get hired, they face on the job discrimination, both in the private and public sector.
He said too that LGBTQ persons report not receiving equal pay for equal work on the basis of their sexual orientation. They have also been overlooked for promotions and other on the job benefits.
Therefore, Simpson said that SASOD believes that addressing such discrimination should be the root at legislative movement to protect such persons.
He said, “We think that this is a critical socioeconomic right; it is a bread and butter issue because when your right to work is affected, a number of social and other rights are in turn affected.” Simpson said that these include the rights to food, clothing, housing, and water.
He further told Guyana Standard, “If you are not able to earn a livelihood to the best of your abilities, the quality of these other rights are affected.”
He continued, “We need to be able to say to the society that it is illegal and immoral to discriminate against anyone in relation to their right to access work.”
Simpson said that making such form of discrimination illegal will provide the opportunity for legal recourse to be taken by persons who are made to endure such a form of discrimination.
He explained, “When people face this kind of discrimination now, unless they can link it to something more general like unfair dismissal or so, they largely do not have any legal recourse but if we add these grounds to the existing legislation, people can get justice.”
Simpson said that this can help the Department of Labour, which falls within the Ministry of Social Protection, to be better equipped in terms of having a policy and a legislative footing to stand on when dealing with these matters.
Furthermore, Simpson said that people will be far less inclined to perpetuate discrimination against members of the LGBTQ community — in relation to accessing work and in the work place— if there is a law against it.
Ensuring the amendment of the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 is by no mean a far-fetched goal of SASOD. In fact, the organisation has already secured a draft amendment.
Simpson said that after meeting with Attorney General, Basil Williams in late 2017, SASOD learnt that it could have a chance of effecting change if only it can put in some of the work.
Simpson told Guyana Standard that Williams indicated that his Chambers was swamped with legislation to draft and the human capacity was very limited. “He told us that we stood a far better chance of accelerating the movement on this draft legislation if we were to do it ourselves and submit it as a draft to him.”
The activist said that SASOD then requested technical support from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) “and we have been working with UNDP for the last year and a half on the amendment.”
Simpson said that UNDP hired an international legal consultant to work with SASOD on developing the amendment in consultation with key stakeholders who are affected by labor rights legislation.
“In the drafting process we consulted with the trade unions, international stakeholders, religious organisations, parliamentarians, Private Sector Commission (PSC), Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), and a few other. We are very pleased with the broad based support that the proposed amendment is receiving,” said Simpson.
He continued, “Everyone who was willing to meet with us, understood the need for the legislation, and understood that it was a very narrow and specific piece of legislation that would only bring protection from discrimination in relations to the right to work. It does not apply to other rights.”
Simpson said that the UNDP also provided support of local legal consultant, Public Health Attorney, Kesaundra Alves who did some work with SASOD to fill some gaps that it thought existed in the amendment bill.
“We concluded with a draft amendment bill with which we are very happy and, as at the last quarter of 2018, we were planning two half-day workshops with the Parliamentary Committee on Economic Services and the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Social Services,” said Simpson.
He explained that the workshops — a morning session and an afternoon session — were slated for December 17 but then the Bharrat Jagdeo-sponsored no confidence motion came up and overtook everything.