By: Sueann Wickham

Since the celebration of Pride Month in June last year, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Guyana has led a transformative journey towards championing greater LGBTQ+ rights and tackling societal acceptance in Guyana. During an exclusive interview with the Guyana Standard, Joel Earl-Simpson, Director of SASOD, reflected on the significant milestones made over the year while also noting ongoing challenges faced by the organization and the community it serves.

The Guyana Together Campaign: A Catalyst for Change

One of the most noteworthy advancements in LGBTQ+ advocacy in Guyana has been the launch of the Guyana Together Campaign in September 2022. Earl-Simpson describes it as “one of the greatest things that has happened” since last year. This campaign, in collaboration with the Guyana Press Association, the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and the Black Entrepreneurs Association, has made a significant impact in just nine months. Its primary focus has been on decriminalizing same-sex activity, a crucial step towards legal equality for LGBTQ+ individuals.

Simpson proudly highlighted, “Our videos, (which consisted of both queer persons and allies telling their stories), have had over 3 million impressions on social media alone over the past nine months—between our three testimonial videos. And lots of views on television.”

This visibility, according to Earl-Simpson, is essential for “changing attitudes, changing hearts and minds, and winning more allies over to support LGBTQ+ people in Guyana.” The widespread engagement with the campaign’s message highlights a crucial step forward in public education and awareness, which is vital for fostering a more inclusive society.

Advocacy and Legal Strides

Despite the success of public education efforts, the legal landscape for LGBTQ+ individuals in Guyana remains largely unchanged. He noted with some disappointment that “unfortunately, there hasn’t been any legal or policy changes in the last year.” However, he highlighted an important opportunity for progress with the draft Protection from Harassment Bill of 2023.

“We were just able to submit our comments at the end of May of this year,” he said. “One of the things that we recommended was an expanded definition of the term harassment in the draft bill. Our comments just went in a couple of weeks ago, and we’re looking forward to seeing what the revised draft would be from the ministry after they’ve considered feedback from all the various stakeholders.”

The Director explained that the organization’s ongoing commitment to legal advocacy reflects a broader struggle for equality and recognition. Earl-Simpson emphasized, “When it comes to LGBTQ people, we need to recognize that targeting somebody based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics, that’s a form of harassment as well.”

Strengthening Community Support

In addition to legal advocacy, SASOD has focused on enhancing support systems within the LGBTQ+ community. Simpson emphasized that, rather than introducing new initiatives, the organization has been working on strengthening existing programs. This includes a membership programme, a volunteer initiative, and a newly developed student internship programme.

“We have a membership programme, a volunteer programme and now we’ve also developed a student internship programme where university students anywhere in the world in their penultimate or final year of their undergrad could do an internship with us for a limited number of hours a week,” he elaborated.

The organization has also bolstered its referral services for sexual and mental health, ensuring better access to essential services for LGBTQ+ individuals. Earl-Simpson underscores the importance of these support systems, stating, “We’re really trying to strengthen and amplify them so that people have better access to services.”

Shifting Public Perception

One of the most encouraging trends observed over the past year is a significant shift in public perception towards LGBTQ+ individuals. Simpson cited the positive feedback received from the Guyana Together Campaign as evidence of changing attitudes. “We’ve observed over the last year, just anecdotally, a lot of changes in public perceptions of LGBTQ people,” he noted. “When we look at the comments on social media, there’s a lot more supporting, affirmative, accepting comments from allies, and you can see people moving and shifting and becoming more educated about the issues.”

He was at the time shedding light on a SASOD report which noted that over the past nine years in Guyana, positive attitudes towards lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people have significantly increased. According to the 2022 poll conducted by RMK Consulting enterprise on behalf of SASOD, LGBT acceptance in Guyana rose from 19% to 34.5%. Moreover, 72.4% of respondents stated that they accept and tolerate LGBT individuals.

This change is not just limited to online interactions. Earl-Simpson mentioned that individuals who have shared their stories through the campaign have received overwhelming support from their communities. “Our messengers, the people who have come forward with these real-life stories, have received a great deal of support,” he explained. “Nobody has any kind of backlash story. People have been well supported by communities, in their workplaces, in their faith groups, in their faith institutions, among their family, among their friends.”

This evolving public sentiment he said, is a testament to the power of visibility and education in challenging stereotypes and fostering empathy. Earl-Simpson emphasized that, “The response has been overwhelmingly positive. It’s a testament to the growing empathy and understanding within our society.”

Ongoing Challenges and the Road Ahead

Despite these positive developments, the LGBTQ+ community in Guyana continues to face significant challenges. This includes the lack of legal reforms and the need for more comprehensive protections which both remain critical issues. “Our efforts to strengthen community support systems and advocate for legal changes are essential for ensuring that the progress made is not just superficial but translates into meaningful and lasting change,” he said.

As Guyana moves forward, the work of organizations like SASOD will be crucial in sustaining the momentum towards equality and acceptance.

Earl-Simpson said that the past year saw significant strides in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in Guyana, with the Guyana Together Campaign standing out as a beacon of hope, amply demonstrating the impact of collective action and the power of personal stories.

While the road ahead may still be fraught with challenges, the progress made thus far provides a solid foundation for continued advocacy and support for LGBTQ+ individuals in Guyana, according to Simpson.


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