Monday, May 20, 2019

New US Ambassador and SASOD Guyana Celebrate Recent LGBTQ+ Victorie

In observance of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOTB) on May 17, the United States Embassy in collaboration with Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) hosted a reception at Aura Sky Lounge, Pegasus Hotel Guyana, on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, to celebrate recent victories.   
Guyana’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) movement has had some small triumphs over the past year. Guyana was the first country in the English-speaking Caribbean to host a Pride Parade in early June last year. And then in November, the Caribbean Court of Justice, Guyana’s highest court, delivered a landmark decision declaring a colonial-era law against ´cross-dressing’ unconstitutional and striking it down. On World Day for Social Justice on February 20 this year, SASOD Guyana closed its first phase of two-day training workshops where 153 police officers from all across the country were trained in Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights.
In her opening remakes Her Excellency Sarah-Ann Lynch, US Ambassador to Guyana, posited, “In Guyana and many other parts of the world, members of the LGBT community have sometimes faced violence, harassment, intimidation, and disregard of their basic human rights. More troubling is the fact that despite being signatories to the many United Nations human rights agreements, many governments still seem far from establishing real legal protections for members of the LGBT community.” “[However,] Gay rights are human rights [and] If we as a society are committed to ensuring that all people are respected and treated equally, then it is imperative to remember that this includes the LGBT community as well. Justice and protection must be for all.”

US Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch delivering opening remarks at the reception.
The Ambassador commended SASOD Guyana for leading the effort to bring about judicial and legislative change to ensure justice and protection for all Guyanese. “We are encouraged by the small triumphs for the gay community in Guyana recently,” Ambassador Lynch added. “The Government of Guyana has signaled a softer tone towards the LGBT community, permitting the first gay pride parade in June 2018.  We commend the government for its support.  And last November, the Government said that it respects the Caribbean Court of Justice’s landmark decision that found that the Guyanese law against cross-dressing was unconstitutional.  These are slow but promising changes in attitude at the national level,” Ambassador Lynch remarked.  

US Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch (second from left) delivers opening remarks while US Deputy Chief of Mission Terry Steers-Gonzalez (left), First Lady Sandra Granger (second from right) and SASOD Guyana’s Managing Director Joel Simpson (right) listen from the stage.
Speaking on behalf of SASOD Guyana, Managing Director Joel Simpson echoed Ambassador Lynch that IDAHOTB 2019 was a moment for Guyana to celebrate the recent LGBTQ+ victories. Simpson, however, noted that the struggle for non-discrimination and equality still continues as LGBTQ+ Guyanese face violence and discrimination in every the sector of their lives. He reminded the gathering that Guyana’s laws still criminalize same-sex intimacy between consenting adult men and that colonial-era “small crimes” like vagrancy and loitering target “the poorest of the poor” in society. Simpson mentioned the social and economic challenges that LGBTQ+ persons face accessing public transportation, education, healthcare and work in the formal economy. He noted that the IDAHOTB 2019 theme which is “Justice and Protection for All” is timely as SASOD Guyana is proposing a simple amendment to the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression as categories of protection from discrimination. While alerting the gathering that the 1997 Act only deals with discrimination in relation to the right to work, Simpson posited that just adding those three terms would be an important first step in providing legislative protection from discrimination for LGBTQ+ Guyanese who face social and institutional discrimination and have no specific recourse under the law.

In the foreground, First Lady Sandra Granger (left), US Ambassador Sarah-Ann Lynch (middle) and SASOD Guyana’s Managing Director Joel Simpson (right) sharing a light moment with some of SASOD Guyana’s Board Directors (in the background).  

Thursday, April 11, 2019

GTU and SASOD Mark Transgender Visibility Day with Public Transport Consultation

In observance of International Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure hosted a Stakeholder Consultation on Violence and Discrimination in Access to Public Transportation for LGBTQ+ Persons at the Ministry’s Fort Street Kingston board room on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.
The aim of the consultation was to share information, facilitate dialogue and formulate solutions with regards to the standard of respect and treatment required for all persons utilizing public transportation. The meeting discussed the effects of anti-LGBTQ discrimination in accessing public transportation and regulations and solutions aimed at preventing and punishing violence and discrimination against LGBTQ+ persons seeking to utilize public transportation services.
Participating in the stakeholders consultation were representatives from the United Mini Bus Union, Ministry of Public Infrastructure, Ministry of Business, Guyana Police Force, UNAIDS, USAID Advancing Partners and Communities Project, GTU and SASOD Guyana.
In brief opening remarks, Managing Director of SASOD Guyana, Joel Simpson, noted that the goal of the consultation was to find collective solutions to prevent the violence and discrimination some LGBTQ+ persons, especially transgender persons, suffer when using public transportation. SASOD Guyana’s Human Rights Coordinator, Valini Leitch, pointed out the difficulties some LGBTQ+ persons encounter in accessing public transportation. This, she said, subsequently affects persons’ ability to access healthcare and basic needs and has been an ongoing problem, especially for transgender persons who face the brunt of the abuses simply because of their visibility.
Simpson emphasized that every citizen should be able to access public transportation without fear of violence or discrimination. The problem, he said, is not just limited to mini-buses, but cuts across the local transportation sector, including taxis and speed boats. He also noted the limitations that LGBTQ persons encounter in accessing justice while also pointing out that the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) struck down Guyana’s law against crossdressing in November of last year.
The Traffic Chief, Senior Superintendent Linden Isles explained that the law is clear on the obligation to carry passengers. He recognized that cases of discrimination do occur and pointed out the importance of reporting swiftly to the police and giving a clear and detailed statement of the police when these infringements occur. SASOD Guyana’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, noted that in some cases the traffic ranks do prejudicially take the side of the taxi driver or mini-bus operator. Simpson emphasized the need for sensitizing traffic ranks and transport operators.
 Muriel Tinnis-Duke, Director of Consumer Affairs at the Ministry of Business, noted that the recently released Code of Conduct for Minibus Operators was prepared with the prevention of all forms of discrimination in mind. Recognizing gender as a prohibited category of discrimination in the Code of Conduct, Simpson noted that “sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” needs to be expressly included in the list of grounds in the Code’s non-discrimination provision. He expressed the need for broader consultations on future iterations of the document.
Clive Williams, Planning Officer at the Ministry of Public Infrastructure’s Central Transport Planning Unit, noted that his Ministry was in full agreement that persons should not suffer any discrimination in accessing public transportation. He emphasized the need to engage transportation bodies to have sensitization sessions. In closing, Simpson acknowledged the role of education going forward and expressed interest in further collaborations and bilateral meetings with the other stakeholders at the meeting. He also noted the need for GTU and SASOD Guyana to undertake community education so that LGBTQ+ persons can be informed of their role in the process.

               Traffic Chief, Senior Superintendent Linden Isles (right) speaking at the consultation. 

           GTU representative, Omatola Edwards (left) listens attentively at the consultation. 

Some of the participants at the recent Stakeholder Consultation on Violence and Discrimination in Access to Public Transportation for LGBTQ+ Persons. Seated (left to right) are President of the United Mini Bus Union, Eon Andrews, Traffic Chief, Senior Superintendent Linden Isles, and Executive Director of Guyana Trans United, Q. Gulliver McEwan. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

LGBTQ+ Movement Celebrates Social Justice Day with Closing of Police Training

Marking World Day of Social Justice on Wednesday, February 20, 2019, Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) and Guyana Trans United (GTU) celebrated a milestone in their collaboration with the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and the Ministry of Public Security with a closing ceremony of the first phase of training workshops on Gender, Sexuality and Human Rights.

The ceremony was held at the Guyana Police Force Officers’ Training Centre. In attendance were Deputy Police Commissioner (Administration), Paul Williams, DSM, representing Commissioner of Police, Leslie James, DSS, and Lead Training Officer, Senior Superintendent Fizal Karimbash, representing the GPF; Mikiko Tanaka, United Nations Resident Coordinator, other members of the diplomatic corps, public officials, officers of the GPF, and civil society representatives, and sexual and gender minorities.

Mr. Clement Henry, Manager of the Citizens Security Strengthening Programme at Ministry of Public Security, delivered the feature remarks. Mr. Henry discussed the necessity of this type of training to address pervasive discrimination in Guyana at its core. The first series of two-day workshops entitled “Gender, Sexuality, and Human Rights” facilitated by SASOD Guyana and GTU began on January 21, 2019, and sensitized 143 officers from all the divisions across the country. The training was designed to educate officers on basic human rights, sensitize them to the unique needs of vulnerable populations, including gender and sexual minorities. The pre/post-test results from the first phase of the training have shown a marked improvement of the police officers’ knowledge and understanding of diversity issues.

Clement Henry, Manager of the Citizen Security Strengthening Programme at Ministry of Public Security, delivering feature remarks.
Deputy Police Commissioner, Paul Williams, DSM, spoke on behalf of the Commissioner of Police. He reiterated the GPF’s commitment to continuous education for the eradication of discrimination and the protection of human rights. Mr. Williams remarked on the necessity of collaboration and training for collective progress, and endorsed subsequent phases of this collaborative training programme. He voiced optimism for an inclusive and respectful Police Force and stated “that there must be no discrimination.” The Deputy Commissioner told the gathering that the GPF would welcome posters on LGBTQ+ human rights for display at every police station in the country that would remind the officers of their commitments to equality and respect for gender and sexual diversity, based on this training intervention. 

Deputy Commissioner (Administration) Paul Williams, DSM, speaking on behalf of the Guyana Police Force.

With ongoing support from the Ministry of Public Security and the Guyana Police Force, this training programme will be extended to more members of the GPF on a broader scale in the coming months. This project is being supported by Frontline AIDS’ Rapid Response Fund and the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition’s Global Fund Regional HIV Grant.

Representatives of the Guyana Police Force, Ministry of Public Security and SASOD Guyana at the closing ceremony.

Friday, February 08, 2019

LJP visits SASOD

Lennox Shuman, Presidential Candidate and Leader of the Liberty and Justice Party (LJP) visited Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) on Friday, February 1, 2019, at their office at 203 Duncan Street, Lamaha Gardens, to introduce LJP and share the party’s values and vision for a Guyana which is inclusive and respectful of gender and sexual diversity. Meeting with Managing Director Joel Simpson and Human Rights Coordinator Valini Leitch, Shuman and Sean Dublin, Senior Member of LJP Executive, also invited SASOD Guyana to review and comment on the party’s draft constitution, especially its provisions on human rights and social justice.

In the photo (from left to right) are Sean Dublin, Joel Simpson, Lennox Shuman, and Valini Leitch.

Monday, December 17, 2018

SASOD Celebrates 15th Anniversary and Human Rights Day

On Sunday, December 16, 2018, Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) celebrated its 15th anniversary with a cocktail reception at the Impeccable Banquet Hall in Georgetown. For over 15 years, SASOD Guyana has been a dedicated voice for the LGBTQ+ Guyanese and has promoted non-discrimination and equality in the country and the Caribbean region.

The Hon. Dr. Nicolette Henry, M.P, Minister of Education, delivered special remarks on behalf of the Government of Guyana. Minister Henry spoke about SASOD’s notable achievements on local, regional, and international stages such as engaging local government, leading public education and sensitization on gender and sexual diversity, and providing essential services to Guyana’s most marginalized citizens. Minister Henry also commended SASOD for the recent victory at the Caribbean Court of Justice where the organization played a critical role in demolishing a colonial-era law that criminalized cross-dressing and disproportionately penalized transgender and gender non-conforming persons. She said that this landmark decision highlights the fact that outdated laws do not reflect the current realities and values of inclusion and cohesion in Guyana today. The Minister confirmed the Government’s commitment to ending all forms of discrimination and fulfilling the promise of equality and a good life for all Guyanese.

Education Minister Hon. Dr. Nicolette Henry M.P. delivering special remarks.
Founder and Managing Director, Joel Simpson, spoke on behalf of SASOD Guyana. Simpson spoke fondly of the grassroots movement’s humble beginnings as a student-led lobby group, and proudly of the acclaimed, influential movement, it has become. SASOD Guyana has represented the LGBTQ+ people for the past 15 years and has used every opportunity possible to hold the state accountable for its human rights obligations. SASOD will continue to advocate for equality and inclusion of all persons in Guyana.

Managing Director of SASOD Guyana, Joel Simpson, giving opening remarks.
Also in attendance was Opposition Chief Whip, Hon. Gail Teixeira, M.P., and Hon. Nigel Dharamlall, M.P., of the People’s Progressive Party / Civic (PPP/C). The two PPP/C parliamentarians joined the Education Minister and Simpson in cutting the SASOD 15th-anniversary cake. The evening concluded with holiday merriment and excitement for the anticipated progress in the upcoming New Year. The celebratory event was supported by the United Nations Development Programme and COC Netherlands.

SASOD Guyana's Joel Simpson (third from left) cuts the 15th anniversary cake as opposition PPP/C parliamentarians, Nigel Dharamlall M.P. (far left) and Gail Texeira M.P. (second from left) and Minister of Education Hon. Dr. Nicolette Henry M.P. (far right) look on. 

SASOD Guyana's Joel Simpson (third form left0 feeds Opposition Cheif Whip Gail Texeira M.P. (second from left) a piece fo the 15th-anniversary cake as Nigel Dharamlall M.P. (far left) and Minister of Education, Hon. Dr. Nicollete Henry M.P. (far right) look on.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Recruiting Data Collectors for Key Populations Viral Load Study

Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD Guyana) is seeking data collectors to assist with in-country efforts on a project to estimate viral load suppression among key populations enrolled in HIV care and treatment in Region 4 of Guyana.

Core Qualifications and Experiences
·         Completed secondary school
·         Excellent communication skills
·         Ability to work in a non-judgemental and sensitive manner with stigmatized groups such as men who have sex with men, transgender persons and female sex workers living with HIV
·         Willing to travel moderate distances
·         Ability to work as part of a team
·         Familiarity with technology, smartphones and tablets

Additional Desirable Qualifications and Experiences
·         Prior experience in conducting surveys
·         Post-secondary education in social sciences or health-related field would be an asset
·         Previous work with marginalized communities

Successful applicants will be required to:
·         Attend a mandatory 3-day training session tentatively scheduled to start on January 11, 2019, in Georgetown. Transportation stipend and lunch will be provided
·         Conduct surveys as needed using predetermined guidelines and protocols
·         Complete scheduling and logging activities
·         Report to supervisors and other personnel in the research team as outlined in the guidelines, terms of reference and contract 
·         Adhere to strict ethical and confidentiality standards; will be required to sign confidentiality agreements
·         Participate in team correspondence, meetings and debriefings as needed
·         Interact in a professional manner with the research team, participants and stakeholders
·         Uphold respect for diversity and equality in interactions, maintain good interpersonal working relationships and conduct duties in accordance with appropriate health, safety and sustainability practices

Working Hours: Day-time hours and week days only for data collection.

Duration: Data collection is expected to last approximately 8 weeks

Remuneration: Data collectors will be paid per survey completed at rate of $2,000 per survey

Application Procedures
Please submit application letters and resumes especially noting any prior survey experience by email only to no later than 23:59 hours on Monday, December 31, 2018. Only short-listed candidates will be contacted for interviews. SASOD Guyana is an equal-opportunity group and encourages applications from marginalized persons, including sexual and gender minorities, sex workers and people living with HIV.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


Trans litigants and Caribbean civil society groups welcome the landmark ruling 

In a greatly anticipated decision delivered on Tuesday morning, November 13, Guyana’s final court of appeal, the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ), ruled unanimously that the law which makes it a criminal offence for a man or a woman to appear in a public place while dressed in clothing of a different gender for “an improper purpose”, violates the Constitution of Guyana and is void. 

The judgment of the Hon. Mr. Justice Saunders, the newly appointed President, said, “No one should have his or her dignity trampled on, or human rights denied, merely on account of a difference, especially one that poses no threat to public safety or public order.”

 The four appellants, Gulliver (Quincy) McEwan, Angel (Seon) Clarke, Pheches (Joseph) Fraser and Isabella (Seyon) Persaud, are trans women who were arrested and convicted in 2009 of the cross-dressing offence found at section 153(1)(xvlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, which is an 1893 law.

 The four spent three nights detained at a police station after their arrest for the minor crime. At their trial, the magistrate told them that they were confused about their sexuality, that they were men and not women, and urged them to go to church. They pleaded guilty to the cross-dressing offence because, as the President of the CCJ pointed out, “it was more convenient and less expensive to do so than to retain counsel to dispute the charges”, and were ordered to pay a fine of $7,500 Guyana dollars each.

 In 2010, the four appellants and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), brought an action challenging the constitutionality of the offence and the statements made by the magistrate. The CCJ said that, given SASOD’s objectives, the courts below had no good reason to strike the organisation from the proceedings in 2013. The CCJ said courts should take a liberal approach to standing in litigation that seeks to ensure the Constitution is properly interpreted and applied.

 First-named litigant and co-founder of Guyana Trans United (GTU), Gulliver McEwan, elatedly reacted that “the whole trans community in Guyana is very happy today. I have always said that we should know what the law expects of us before we act and I am pleased that the court agreed that this law is vague.” McEwan added: “It was very important for us to be heard and get justice.” Discrimination is a part of everyday life for many trans Guyanese. Isabella Persaud, one of the appellants said, “We are always treated like trash.”

 The CCJ looked at the historical context of this post-slavery vagrancy law and concluded that it was a law from a different time that no longer served a legitimate purpose in Guyana. The panel of CCJ judges comprised the President, the Hon. Mr. Jacob Wit, the Hon Mr. Justice Winston Anderson, the Hon. Mme. Justice Maureen Rajnauth-Lee and the Hon. Mr. Justice Denys Barrow.

 The entire panel of five judges concluded that the law was unconstitutionally vague. The Court said that laws must define criminal offences with “sufficient clarity that ordinary people can understand what conduct is prohibited.” The majority concluded that the vagueness left transgender persons “in great uncertainty as to what is and is not allowed” and also gave law enforcement virtually unlimited discretion in applying the law.

 A majority of the judges also found that the law resulted in transgender and gender non-conforming persons being treated unfavourably because of their gender expression and gender identity.

 Justice Winston Anderson in a separate decision noted that forms of dress by themselves are not objectionable and that “the essence of the crime … appears to consist … entirely of the state of mind of the persons engaged in otherwise perfectly innocent conduct.” He concluded that “our jurisprudence properly accepts that intentions by themselves are not constitutionally the proper subject of the criminal law.” The CCJ strongly criticized the comments of the magistrate at the 2009 trial, describing them as “inappropriate.” The majority said that “judicial officers may not use the bench to proselytize” and went further to say that the remarks “went beyond proselytizing” and “revealed stereotypical thinking” about transgender persons.

 Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD, lauded the decision as “a clarion call to engage state actors on how the law engenders social and economic exclusion of disadvantaged groups. Trans persons remain vulnerable to arrests for small crimes like loitering in Guyana’s colonial-era vagrancy laws which are still on the statute books.” He added that “The Court’s ruling that SASOD has standing to bring a claim on behalf of the broader community of persons we represent will allow civil society groups to take legal action when rights of its members are violated. This is a victory for human rights and justice in the Caribbean.” 

Colin Robinson of Trinidad and Tobago’s Alliance for Justice and Diversity, who was among representatives in court on Tuesday morning in Port of Spain, said, "There's so much to celebrate about Caribbean justice today—about Caribbean lawyers, about Caribbean judges, about four pioneering trans women who have expanded justice for so many Caribbean people the law fails, but what we in Alliance for Justice and Diversity celebrate most is the CCJ's ruling that organisations like ours must have access to the courts to advocate for our constituents."

 The legal team for the appellants and SASOD was led by human rights lawyer, Douglas Mendes SC, a co-founder of and Advisor to the Faculty of Law, The UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP), which has been involved in the case from the outset. Dr. Arif Bulkan, also a member of U-RAP, and then attorneyat-law Mr. Gino Persaud, appeared in the earlier stages of the case. The legal team also included Mr. Nigel Hughes (Guyana), and Ms. Mishka Puran (Guyana), Clay Hackett (Trinidad and Tobago) and Isat Buchanan (Jamaica). Lead counsel Douglas Mendes SC described today’s judgment as one that “will be acknowledged as a significant contribution to Caribbean jurisprudence, especially because of its insistence on the need to give due respect to everyone’s humanity.”