Representatives of organisations in the fight for justice for sexual and gender minorities converged at Herdmanston Lodge yesterday afternoon for an enlightening discussion as the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) celebrated 20 years of groundbreaking work.
The panelists included Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD; Schemel Patrick, Board Secretary of Sexualities, Women and Genders (SWAG); and Kaira Annamay, Stigma and Discrimination Officer at Guyana Trans United (GTU).
They discussed gains that have been made, including improved relationships between police and people who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ), the decriminalization of cross-dressing, and improved attitudes toward the community among the general Guyanese populace.
Other notable achievements included the very first Pride Parade in 2018, and the formation of GTU and SWAG. GTU was birthed during the movement to strike down the law that had criminalized cross-dressing.
Annamay welcomed allies to join GTU, noting that the group is not exclusive to trans people.
Likewise, SWAG is not exclusive to women who are lesbian, bisexual and trandgender.
Originally an arm of SASOD, Patrick explained that SWAG eventually registered to stand on its own feet as an organization to represent the unique interests of women in the community. She said SWAG is about creating spaces for conversations and empowerment.
June just so happens to be the month of Pride, during which LGBTQ people, as well as their allies, find community in their quest to promote the rights and dignity of LGBTQ people.
Simpson noted that Pride has its origins in protest. Hence, while many of the events being held this month are celebratory, Simpson said he continues to see it as a protest. In this vein, Simpson and the other panelists noted that there is still much work to be done to advance the cause of LGBTQ rights in Guyana.
Annamay discussed, for instance, the need to make accommodations for transgender persons, like a process to allow for a change of gender markers on identification documents like national identification cards and licences. She also noted the uncomfortable and often discriminatory experiences of trans people when presenting documents that show their gender assigned at birth to organisations, while they are dressed to fit the gender they know themselves to be.
The organisations are also looking for legislative change. The priority target, according to Simpson, is the inclusion of protections for the community in the Prevention of Discrimination Act. There are also laws criminalising same-sex intimacy which, while not actively enforced, have hindered SASOD’s ability to undertake sensitisation programmes.
A proposed Data Protection Bill includes language which speaks to protecting the sensitive data of persons’ sexual orientation and sexual life. If passed, it would be the first law in Guyana with any language that speaks directly to members of the LGBT community with a view of protecting them. While Simpson applauded the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’, he said the law should also include ‘gender identity’ as another protected class.
The proposed law is seen as important for preventing ‘outing’, which is the practice of exposing the sexual or gender identity of someone who did not consent to it being exposed.
Pride events continue to be undertaken throughout the week. This year’s Pride Parade, the most high-profile event on the line-up, is scheduled for Saturday, June 7 in Georgetown.