Thursday, May 15, 2008

Homophobia: Impeding access to health education and services in Guyana

SASOD joins with other organisations and countries (including Cuba and Costa Rica) around the world to
commemorate May 17 as International Day Against Homophobia. This day is the anniversary on which the
World Health Organisation removed ‘homosexuality’ as a mental disorder marking a formal end to medical

This year, SASOD observes International Day Against Homophobia under the theme “Homophobia: Impeding
access to health education and services for all Guyanese.”

A community consultation recently held by the Youth Friendly Services programme at the Adolescent Unit of
the Ministry of Health revealed that persons faced discrimination based on their perceived or actual
sexual orientation and gender identity at the hands of health care workers and auxiliary staff when utilising
the public health system. Access to health services in Guyana can be improved by providing anti-homophobia
training for health care workers and auxiliary staff to mitigate same-gender and HIV-related stigma. As the
quality of client services improve, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Guyanese will gain
confidence that the public health system does not house homophobic prejudices and allow discriminatory

Detrimental effects of homophobia on HIV health promotion also affect all Guyanese. Heterosexuals
still often shun the benefits of HIV education for its ‘gay’ stigma while LGBT Guyanese are driven
underground, away from critical life-saving information. It is with this in mind that the Spectrum
Health Net project was designed to cater for the invisibility of many to targeted prevention
programmes. While web-based dissemination is useful where literacy is adequate and internet accessible,
without meaningful face-to-face engagements, we lose a powerful tool in providing AIDS services, including
HIV prevention. 

Recent reports received by community advocates of young men being raped by other men in and around the
capital city and the reluctance of male victims to report these heinous crimes to the police and access
victim support services, including Post-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV, also point to the urgent need for
law reform and health services to address sexual and gender-based violence. Reforming the law on sexual
offences should include provisions to ensure that male victims of rape are not re-victimised by health care workers and police who have a mandate to ensure that
all cases are rigorously investigated and prosecuted.
In addition, these crimes further underscore the priority for repeal of section 351 of the Criminal Law
Offences Chapter 8:01 which criminalises consensual sex between adult men in private and only serves to
reinforce same-gender stigma and anti-social prejudices. 

SASOD acknowledges the support of the Ministry of Health, National AIDS Programme Secretariat and the
World Bank through the Guyana AIDS Prevention and Control Project, administered by the Health Sector
Development Unit, in supporting the development and implementation of the Spectrum Health Net project.
Recognising the role that homophobia plays impeding access to health services and education, Spectrum
Health Net was designed to provide holistic Information, Education and Communication materials
primarily through web-based formats which include special pages for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and
Transgender (LGBT) people. This project has resulted in the development of the website at and other supporting materials which will be launched at 15:00 hrs on Monday, May 19,
at the National Library Conference Room on Church Street, Georgetown.