Monday, May 29, 2006

Working to ensure the rights of Guyanese to their sexual orientation and gender identity in Guyana – SASOD 's experience

1. Guyana is an independent country located on the North Coast of South America. The population of 750,000 people lives mostly on the coastland of the country. The population is made of descendants of the indigenous Amerindians, slaves from Africa, indentured immigrants from India, China and Portugal, and other settlers. The country is a former British colony. The cultural influences are from these diverse backgrounds, and the religious influences are Christianity in various denominations, Islam, Hindu, Bahai and others.
2. The legal structures of Guyana are inherited from the British Legal system, Guyana is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other Rights Conventions established by the United Nations.
3. Section 351, 352 and 353 of the Criminal Law Offences Act (8:01) states that
351. "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, by any male person, of any act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour's and liable to imprisonment for two years.
352. Everyone who: (a) attempts to commit buggery:; or
(b) assaults any person with intent to commit buggery; or (c) being a male, indecently assaults any other male person, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for ten years.
353. Everyone who commits buggery, with a human being or with any other living creature, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life".
4. These laws have not been used to incriminate consensual acts recently, but only used when there is a form of sexual assault, especially against minors.
“If any laws were broken, the police would charge ...”
“Commissioner of Police, press conference, 2004 responding to reporters' questions after a police officer and a civil servant were 'found' in a hotel room.
5. Homophobia in Guyana is grounded around these laws and the advocacy of some religious groups who cite religious teachings to oppose rights to sexual orientation and gender identity. This homophobia has also transferred into popular culture with the influence of some Jamaican based dancehall artistes.
The first attempt to address the legal basis of homophobia is in 2000 during the Constitutional Reform process. The Constitutional Reform committee used the South African model as the basis for a new inclusive society in which human rights are guaranteed for all persons.
3. In January 2001, the Parliament of Guyana voted for a constitutional amendment that would amongst other things, include 'sexual orientation' as one of the characteristics for non-discrimination. President Jagdeo refused to assent to the Amendment after pressure from members of the Evangelical Christian and Muslim clergy. The Parliament was dissolved for General Elections. The issue was raised again in May 2003, when the Constitutional Amendment bills were passed to establish the various rights commissions.
4. The public debate was led largely by the Christian and Muslim community which lobbied at all levels to remove that discrimination.
5. SASOD (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) is an informal network of people who are opposed to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This group formed as a response to the prevailing homophobic conditions and to present the case in support of the rights of gay and lesbian people.
6. The Amendment Bill floundered in Parliament, with no vote being taken. This was because the Government introduced a bill which it had no intention of supporting, creating unprecedented history in the Parliament.
7. In November of 2004, the Minister of Health acknowledged that the sodomy laws in the Caribbean would have to be repealed to effectively deal with HIV/AIDS . His views were opposed by members of the Evangelical Christian Community, who also protested against the idea that the Ministry of Health would offer condoms to male prisoners. The Cabinet Secretary subsequently indicated that the Government had no intention of changing their position on the Sexual Orientation;
Dr Ramsammy said existing laws that make prostitution and homosexuality offences are not being enforced and if they are enforced, commercial sex workers and gays will go underground because of fear of discrimination.
"We know them, and we have stopped criminalising them. We aren't going to take them to court. But our legal books say it’s wrong," he said.
"It's better that you take the thing (laws) off the books than to have them and be hypocritical about it and do nothing about it (HIV). For me it's not a moral issue, the fact is that these things stigmatise people."
Dr. Luncheon refutes speculations that Government’s position conflicts with that of the Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy..
“This may seem to be so, but there is no conflict…there might have been arguments made in the public, maybe even suggestions about courses of interventions from the health perspective; but when it comes to the Government’s positions on sexual orientation, I can assure you that the Government’s position is the Government’s position,” he said.
8. SASOD has asserted the following :-
* The right to equal protection of the law without any discrimination (Article 7) is denied by omitting sexual orientation from our constitution and anti-discrimination laws.
* The right to privacy (Article 10) is denied by the existence of ‘sodomy laws’ under s. 352 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap. 8: 01 which seek to criminalize sexual activity between consenting male adults.
* The right to work (Article 23) is the most affected among the economic rights as many lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Guyana are being fired or discriminated against in employment policies and practices because of their perceived sexual orientation and are too scared to raise these issues in the public domain for fear of further victimisation
* The right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being including medical care and necessary social services (Article 25) is at conflict with discriminatory policies and practices, some physicians’ homophobia, the lack of adequate training for health care personnel regarding sexual orientation issues or the general assumption that patients are heterosexual.
* Some lesbian, gay and bisexual students in Guyana do not enjoy the right to education (Article 26) because of an unsafe climate created by peers and educators in schools.
9. SASOD has engaged in several public activities to promote awareness around the issues on gay and lesbian rights, while participating in different actions. SASOD has been successful in hosting several events such as a film festival, a leaflet distribution campaign, and some other forums. However, persons have been concerned about the publicity of these events since it is felt that people would be targeted for attending them.
Many gay and lesbian Guyanese hide their sexual orientation since the sodomy laws could be invoked. As a result, some people have accused for example SASOD members of making up stories since there is no evidence to back the stories. The environment of secrecy discourages full evidence led actions in some instances – for example in challenging employment related discrimination.
Combating homophobia in popular Culture.
10. In December, 2005, SASOD members wrote to the Ethnic Relations Commission, a public body mandated to,amongst other things ““encourage and create respect for religious, cultural and other forms of diversity in a plural society” (Article 212d(f), Constitution of Guyana) requesting sanctions against the musicians and their promoters who attacked gay and lesbian people in their lyrics. The Ethnic Relations Commission has so far not responded to this request and this is a serious indictment of the role of a State body.
11. SASOD recognises that in Guyana and the English speaking Caribbean, the sodomy laws can be enforced selectively depending on the judicial system. SASOD recognises that other countries, including the United Kingdom have repealed the sodomy laws, and have also enforced stronger legislation to combat sexual assault perpetrated on male victims. The English Speaking Caribbean territories must also overcome the historical injustices which were imposed on people who are not heterosexual.
12. SASOD believes that the homophobic rhetoric emanating from fundamentalist religious bodies in North America and elsewhere will impact on the ability of local activists in the Caribbean to combat discriminatory practices.
13. SASOD notes that different Caribbean Governments, and Government officials have taken different stances on the rights of gay and lesbian peoples. SASOD believes that the Caribbean Governments which are signatory to International Conventions must rise above the pressure exerted in the name of religion to ensure that all citizens can be assured of their right to sexual orientation and gender identity.
September 2007
Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination – SASOD

Sunday, May 28, 2006

SASOD joins Citzens Elections Network to Monitor Elections

The twenty-two civic and religious organizations listed below have come together on the basis of a shared interest in seeing well-run national elections take place by the due date which the overwhelming majority of the population will perceive to be fair and free from fear. Key components in achieving this result are acceptable technical standards and a conducive and secure environment.

At a meeting held under the auspices of the Forum on Effectiveness & Solidarity (FES) at the Methodist Outreach Centre on Saturday March 18 2006, civic organizations agreed to involve our memberships in appropriate activities at local community levels related to elections.

Organisationally, a network rather than an organization, more accurately captures how we propose to function. In this respect the work will be driven by each organization according to interests and capacities with a Steering Committee rather than a Secretariat coordinating our efforts.

All independent civic and religious organisations and NGOs are invited to join the network. Until a website and e-mail address is established any such organisations should contact the network via or at the telephone listed below.

Our activities will serve both to strengthen the electoral process and at the same time educate ourselves on the extent to which acceptable standards and a conducive environment are being set in place.

Both of these goals centre principally around provision and dissemination of reliable, impartial and comprehensive information in the preparatory and the polling day phases of election. Our intention is to disseminate reliable information gathered from members to provide civic organizations and the public in general with a sound basis for drawing their own conclusions and advising their members.

We do not seek to duplicate the work of others nor to work on behalf of other interests. In keeping with the above we propose monitoring two dimensions of electoral preparations: technical components which contribute to standards of ‘free and fair’ and a conducive environment free from fear.

The basis of technical monitoring will be the list of deliverables agreed upon in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the Government of Guyana, GECOM and donors.

Monitoring the election environment is relatively new for Guyana. This would encompass such issues as the current security environment at community level; specific examples of security-induced restrictions on economic, social and religious activities, state of preparedness and security of designated polling places across the country; intensity of rumours which instill fear, etcetera. We will develop guidance for our memberships on this type of monitoring without exposing our members to risk.

Contact Information :Mike McCormack c/o Guyana Human Rights Centre, Tel: 226-1789

March 24 2006

List of Organisations Inaugurating the Network

Amerindian Peoples Association (APA)

Church Women United – Guyana

Church Women United – East Bank Demerara

Clerical & Commercial Workers Union (CCWU)

Community Based Rehab Programme – East Bank Demerara Unit

Gandhi Youth Organisation (GYO)

Georgetown Ministers Fellowship (GMF)

Guyana Bar Association (GBA)

Georgetown Chamber of Commerce Inc. (GCCI)

Guyana Citizens’ Initiative (GCI)

Guyana Council of Churches (GCC)

Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA)

Guyana Trades Union Congress (GTUC)

Guyana Workers Union (GWU)

National Association of Agricultural Commercial & Industrial Employees (NAACIE)

Rights of Children (ROC)

Red Thread


UG Hindu Society

Vilvoorden Women’s Group

YMCA - Albouystown

Youth in Development – Linden