By Abena Rockcliffe-Campbell
At the 2015 elections, the now main Opposition party—the People’s Progressive Party/Civic—lost the presidency by a mere 5,000 votes. Therefore, it is no stretch to say that 10 percent of Guyana’s population—a rough 77,785 as of 2017—can make a difference for any political party vying for the upcoming polls. The homosexual population in Guyana is estimated at around 10 percent or more.
That is why Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is calling for its voice to be heard by political parties ahead of the March 2 polls. This morning, SASOD hosted a press conference at its Duncan Street Office where Founder and Managing Director, Joel Simpson shed light on some of the main issues that the body wants to be addressed by the political parties.
Simpson said that SASOD wants political leaders to say, before elections, to what extent are they willing to address the concerns of persons in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer plus (LGBTQ+) community.
He said that SASOD came up with a bare minimum list of demands and the community wants political leaders to make their stance on these demands known soon. He said that LGBTQ+ persons will then use that to help them decide where they are putting their X.
Members of SASOD then presented the media with a list of demands.
Foremost on the list of demands are matters to be addressed under Constitutional and Law Reform, a measure that is already being touted by most parties. SASOD thinks that LGBTQ+ matters should be considered if and when Constitutional reform is addressed.
SASOD member, Devon Black registered a call for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in the nondiscrimination provision of the Guyana Constitution (Article 149) by 2025.
Also, Black said that SASOD wants the new government to repeal sections 351 to 353 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act which criminalizes same-sex intimacy between consenting, adult men in private, by the end of 2020. Even further, Black called for the inclusion of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as grounds for discrimination in the Prevention of Discrimination Act (Section 4) by the end of 2020.
Black told the media that Guyana is party to international treaties that require the protection of basic human rights for everyone, including LGBTQ+ people. She said that Guyana’s next government must engage in law reform efforts to bring Guyana’s laws into compliance with its international obligations, and to ensure that the rights of every citizen are fully realized.
SASOD also wants issues on sexual and gender-based violence to be addressed.
On this front, SASOD member Jasmin Bacchus registered a call for the new government to fully implement and apply existing laws regarding sexual and gender-based violence, ensuring there are adequate resources to provide services to all victims, including LGBTQ+ persons.
She said that the community wants all police, probation officers, social workers, and child protection officers to be trained on gender, sexual diversity and human rights, so they are fully equipped to respond to instances of sexual and gender-based violence, as well as hate-motivated crimes.
In the Education, SASOD asks that the new government tackles bullying of LGBTQ+ youth. “Teachers should be trained from the level of the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) on the issues students face and how to effectively address them,” said Bacchus.
SASOD also highlighted a call for sex education in all schools to help young people either delay their sexual debut or prevent teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, if they choose to be sexually active. Also, Bacchus spoke about the need for the Ministry of Education to provide remedial and second-chance education programmes for disadvantaged youth, including LGBTQ+ persons, who did not complete secondary education.
Speaking on public health concerns was SASOD’s Homophobia and Education Coordinator, Valini Leitch. She made a call for the Ministry of Public Health to make pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available in the public healthcare system in all 10 administrative regions of Guyana for persons who are “substantial risk” of contracting HIV, according to the World Health Organization guidelines, by January 2021.
She also relayed SASOD’s desire for the government to allow persons who have been exposed to HIV to access post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), regardless of the circumstances of that exposure, by the end of 2020.
Among other measures, Leitch asked that the new government provides quality, accessible and stigma-free mental health services for vulnerable groups, especially LGBTQ+ people who face greater burdens.
Regarding social protection, Leitch asked that the new government provides comprehensive and accessible entrepreneurial training programmes for vulnerable groups, including LGBTQ+ people, and make capital accessible to start up small businesses through grants and low-interest lending schemes. She also asked that government provides access to housing for LGBTQ+ people, especially children, who have been temporarily displaced or rendered homeless due to violence.