Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bigotry Towards LGBT Guyanese Causes Poor Mental Health – says Expert Panel

In observance of the annual International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17 and commemorating Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted a Lunch Talk on Mental Health and Well Being for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese with discussions being led by Dr. Janice Jackson, Psychologist and retired University of Guyana lecturer; Leroy Adolphus, Policy and Advocacy Officer at the National Coordinating Coalition Inc (NCC); and Dr. Melissa Varswyk, Principal of Georgetown American University and Vice-Chair of Blue CAPS. The discussions were moderated by Ulelli Verbeke, Chairperson of SASOD's Board of Directors.

Guyana needs more mental health professionals 
Given the scarcity of mental health professionals in Guyana which impedes access to services for LGBT people, Dr Melissa Varswyk made a call for vulnerable communities such as the LGBT Guyanese to form groups in civil society for policy and advocacy and community support like SASOD which she said can very influential in offering support for persons suffering with mental health conditions. This she said will not be easy initially but support mechanisms are essential for persons who are struggling. Dr. Varswyk expressed that there is a significant lack of trained mental health professionals in Guyana and on the policy side of things Guyana needs to focus heavily on investing in more skilled professionals such as psychiatrists and psychologists. According to the medical professional, a lot of students show interest in mental health and psychiatric specializations but Guyana does not have the human resources and necessary specialized training to fulfill the needs for these fields of study.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

GCCI President Calls for Amendment of the Prevention of Discrimination Act

President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) Mr. Vishnu Doerga made a call for the government to amend the 1997 Prevention of Discrimination Act to include sexual orientation, gender identity and health status as grounds for non-discrimination in employment; he made this call while addressing an audience at the seventh national AIDS Candlelight Memorial Vigil hosted by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Sunday evening at the Catholic Life Centre, Brickdam.

The Chamber President spoke about the importance of engaging people, communities, governments, donors and the private sector in ending the epidemic and to also support those living with the HIV virus, “We must seek to empower people living with HIV to stand up for their right to live a life free of stigma and discrimination. In this regard, it is important for us to ensure that our organisations are free from stigma and discrimination through workplace programmes for our staff.”

Monday, May 16, 2016

Remarks by President of GCCI, Vishnu Doerga at the 7th National AIDS Candlelight Memorial

President GCCI, Vishnu Doerga 
Head of the Roman Catholic Church in Guyana, Bishop Francis Alleyne, PEPFAR Guyana Country Coordinator, Ms. Stephanie Joseph de Goes, other members of the diplomatic community, government officials, civil society representatives, ladies, gentlemen, boy and girls, good evening to you all. 

The International AIDS Candlelight Memorial brings together affected communities, policy makers, health professionals, religious leaders and members of the public to show solidarity and support for persons infected and affected by HIV; to encourage people to continue to act together, and to call on the public to end stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV, and key affected populations.

As President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), I fully endorse this year’s theme which is “Engage, Educate, Empower.” I do believe that it is imperative to engage people, communities, governments, donors and the private sector in ending the epidemic. The private sector has a pivotal role to play in limiting the spread of HIV. An important avenue to ensure that this happens is through workplace education. We have a responsibility to educate the current and next generation about HIV prevention, treatment and care, and how it affects our lives.

Friday, April 22, 2016

GEF Delegation Lobbies Minister Greenidge on Human Rights Concerns

On Friday, April 8, a delegation representing the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) met with Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon. Carl Greenidge along with Foreign Service Officers, Jason Fields and Vonetta Victor, to follow up on the thematic hearing between the GEF and Guyana at the 154th period of sessions before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) held a year ago in March 2015.

Sabine McIntosh, President of the Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG) along with Managing Director, Joel Simpson, and Advocacy and Communications Office, Schemel Patrick of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) attended the meeting with the Minister to call attention to Guyana’s international commitments and remind the state of its obligations to address discrimination in the enjoyment of social, economic and cultural rights in Guyana.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Bar President Calls on Legal Fraternity to Do More for LGBT Guyanese

Commemorating the International Transgender Day of Visibility 2016 held just a few days ago, the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in collaboration with the USAID Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Project held a special media engagement which lead into a “Brunch Talk” forum to discuss the recent case where a male-to-female transgender person, Twinkle, was barred from attending matters in court by Magistrate Dylon Bess for cross-dressing, presenting herself in female attire. SASOD and APC have been organizing a monthly panel-discussion series on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

Deliberate and mischievous ruling
Karen De Souza of Red Thread made it clear that the law should be just and applied equally to everyone, it should not discriminate against anyone regardless of who they are. In her opinion the Magistrate presented gender and class biases in Twinkle’s case. She further opined that the High Court judgment is problematic and deliberately been made so, “Ian Chang deliberately and mischievously left “improper purpose” undefined and that is what Magistrate Bess is using for his own biased reasoning.”

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Show me the “Improper Purpose” – Transgender Woman Tells Forum

To commemorate the International Transgender Day of Visibility 2016 observed on March 31 just a few days ago, the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) held a special media engagement which lead into a “Brunch Talk” forum to discuss the recent case where a male-to-female transgender person, Twinkle,  was barred from attending matters in the Georgetown court by Magistrate Dylon Bess for “cross-dressing” by presenting herself in female attire.

Justice delayed is Justice Denied

Twinkle spoke of her experiences from the incident to the actual court hearing. GTU member Twinkle talked about transphobic hate crimes perpetuated against her. In this particular instance, she was attacked by a man because of her gender identity. After being hit in the head with a glass bottle, Twinkle defended herself against the man which caused him bodily harm and he reported this to the police. She reported that the police did not take any reports from her and although she was physically harmed, no medical report was facilitated. “The police didn’t treat me as a matter of concern. They didn’t ask for a medical or anything because they said they didn’t see any injuries but the man got taken care of,” Twinkle said.

At the court hearing, Magistrate Dylon Bess who presided refused to even acknowledge the case, asking Twinkle to change her clothing before she could present herself to his court. “I had to be rebellious. I don’t think the case mattered on how I’m dressed as a trans-woman.” Twinkle was fully dressed in female attire. “I wouldn’t change for a magistrate. I respect the Magistrate for his position as someone in the law and the Magistrate should respect me as a human being expressing my true identity.”

Even the Prosecutor warned Twinkle about how she presents in court stating that she, Twinkle, has little respect for the Court and if she was in America (The United States of) she was going to be locked up. Aside from being barred from the courtroom it was the Prosecutor that informed Twinkle that the Magistrate will not even listen to the case, despite that there were allegations were brought against her to defend. The case was subsequently dismissed while there were police officers guarding the gates to the Court to prevent Twinkle and other GTU members from entering the premises.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Equality before the Law for All

Twinkle, Transgender Activist & Member of GTU
March 31, 2016 (Georgetown, Guyana) Transgender persons in Guyana face grave levels of discrimination, harassment and humiliation and social exclusion in their daily lives. On Transgender Day of Visibility, the Guyana Trans United (GTU), Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the UWI Faculty of Law Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) call attention to the fundamental principle affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that ‘all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights’.

It is the duty of judges to respect a person’s gender identity, consistent with the Constitution of Guyana which guarantees that ‘the State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or equal protection and benefit of the law’, universal principles of equality and non-discrimination under international law and regional and international standards of judicial conduct.

During the course of March 2016, in at least three separate incidents in the Magistrates Courts, transgender women have been prohibited by sitting Magistrates from attending court or appearing before the court in matters that relate to them because they have been dressed as women.

In one instance, Magistrate Dylon Bess in Georgetown alluded to section 153(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act which makes it an offence for any person who, ‘being a man in any public place or way, for an improper purpose, appears in female attire’. Magistrate Bess said that the law had not changed and that the defendant would not be permitted to be remain in his courtroom to answer the charges dressed as a woman.

Contrary to the Magistrate Bess’ assertions, the laws of Guyana do not prohibit a trans woman from attending court dressed as a woman. This was explicitly confirmed by the then Honourable Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Chang, in his 2013 decision in the challenge to the constitutionality of section 153(xlvii), the case of McEwan and others v The Attorney General. Individual members of GTU and SASOD as an organisation are the applicants in that case which has been appealed and is awaiting a date for a hearing before the Court of Appeal.