Thursday, April 18, 2013

Ambassador Hardt Supports LGBT Rights as Core Human Rights at Media Workshop

        GEORGETOWN – At a Media Workshop on Coverage of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Issues in Guyana, U.S. Ambassador to Guyana D. Brent Hardt underscored that human rights are for all human beings, regardless of race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation.  While expressing appreciation for religious and cultural sensitivities about LGBT issues, the Ambassador said it is “long past time to put our shared belief in the universality of human rights into action:  into new laws and a new spirit of respect and solidarity for our fellow citizens.”  He emphasized that gay rights are human rights, and pointed out that throughout history, "those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights have been and remain on the right side of history," while those who have sought to restrict human rights were on the wrong side."  Noting the "profound shift in global understanding of such rights" in recent years, he encouraged participants to be on the “right side of history” and put belief of the universality of human rights into action.  The Ambassador welcomed the opportunity to meet with SASOD and media representatives to "discuss the way forward to a stronger local, national, and international consensus that full recognizes and respects the rights of LGBT citizens." 
Dr. Roberto Brant Campos, Country Representative of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) also supported the call to ensure that human rights protections encompass LGBT persons and he encouraged revisions to Guyana's laws to ensure broader societal acceptance of the LGBT community.  
            The April 14 workshop was organized by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), the Guyana Press Association (GPA) and the Equal Rights Trust (ERT) with support from the European Union (EU), through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), and the United States Embassy.   
During the Media Workshop, participants learned about the current legal framework relating to LGBT persons in Guyana, focusing on Guyana’s laws and the status of the Parliamentary Select Committee’s consultations on issues related to matters of law reform on sexual orientation and gender identity. 
SASOD representative Zenita Nicholson explained to participants how the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process works and where Guyana currently stands within that process.  Members of the media had frank discussions on society’s perceptions and stereotypes of LGBT persons.  The workshop’s facilitator Karen Davis reviewed correct terminology for reporting on LGBT issues.  As part of the workshop, participants analyzed articles, headlines, photographs, and video on LGBT issues from Guyanese media sources, highlighting the importance of fair and balanced reporting. 
            Under President Obama's leadership, the United States has moved with increasing vigor to defend the human rights of LGBT people in the United States and worldwide as part of its domestic commitment to equality, comprehensive human rights advocacy, and broader foreign policy.  U.S. embassies around the world are working to raise concerns about specific cases where human rights have been violated and laws continue to discriminate.  The U.S. Embassy in Guyana will continue to work closely with LGBT human rights defenders and civil society groups to promote universal rights for all people.

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Ambassador's Remarks at Media LGBT Sensitization Workshop

Ambassador D. Brent Hardt
Opening of SASOD/U.S. Embassy’s
Media LGBT Sensitization Workshop
Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 a.m.
At Moray House Trust, Georgetown

Zenita Nicholson, Secretary of SASOD,
Dr. Roberto Brant Campos, Country Representative of UNAIDS,

Representatives of the Guyana Press Association (GPA),
Media Executives, Publishers, Editors, and Columnists, 

Good morning.  Thank you for being part of this path-breaking human rights workshop.  In 1776, the United States Declaration of Independence boldly proclaimed:  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."  There were no qualifications or fine print that said one's rights depend on who you love or what you believe.  Human rights, as we have discovered often painfully in our own history, are for all human beings, or they are not rights at all.

We all know that the issue of LGBT rights is considered sensitive for many people and many governments.  We know that the obstacles people seek to place in the way of protecting the human rights of fellow citizens who are LGBT are often said to arise from deeply held personal, political, cultural, and religious beliefs.  But the issue is rightly most sensitive and essential to those in the LGBT community.  For the rights at stake are your rights.  Others may ponder and pontificate about what rights you should or should not have.  But at the end of the day, we are talking about your rights, your exercise of equality, and your enjoyment of freedom.  This affects you, not others.  Efforts of others to constrain your rights, by contrast, do not directly affect them, but do affect you.

While progress in advancing LGBT rights has never been easy, I believe we are beginning to witness a profound shift in global understanding of such rights.  In the United States, public opinion has shifted dramatically over the past decade.  A decade ago, for example, the public opposed gay marriage by a solid majority, with nearly 60 percent opposing and only 34 percent in support.  Today, by contrast, around 52 percent support gay marriage, while only 42 percent remain opposed.  In the 1990's, the only way gay people were accepted within the military was on the basis that they keep their sexuality to themselves -- that they "don't tell."  That barrier toppled two years ago, and today gay service members serve without hindrance and with full respect.  The purveyors of gloom and doom who had said African Americans could never serve alongside whites, or that women could never serve alongside men, have also been proven wrong in this case.  That is an important lesson of history for societies and governments today.  When people tell you things just can't be done, that's when you know they can.

In the United States and in countries throughout the world, including Guyana, it is long past time to put our shared belief in the universality of human rights into action:  into new laws and a new spirit of respect and solidarity for our fellow citizens.  It is in this spirit that I am pleased to have this opportunity to meet with you this morning to discuss the way forward to a stronger local, national, and international consensus that fully recognizes and respects the rights of LGBT citizens, our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, friends and family.

LGBT Rights are Human Rights

Some have suggested that gay rights and human rights are separate and distinct; but, in fact, they are one and the same.  Sixty years ago, the governments that drafted and passed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights were not thinking about how it applied to the LGBT community.  They also weren’t thinking specifically about how it applied to indigenous peoples or children or people with disabilities or other marginalized groups.  Yet in the past sixty years, we have come to recognize that these so-called groups of people are entitled to the full measure of dignity and rights, not because they are a member of a distinct group, but because they are simply people with whom we share the common bonds of humanity.

It is a violation of human rights when people are beaten or killed because of their sexual orientation, or because they do not conform to cultural norms about how men and women should look or behave.  It is a violation of human rights when governments declare it illegal to be gay, or allow those who harm gay people to go unpunished.  It is a violation of human rights when lesbian or transgender women are subjected to so-called corrective rape, or forcibly subjected to hormone treatments, or when people are murdered after public calls for violence toward gays, or when they are forced to flee their countries and seek asylum in other lands to save their lives.  And, it is a violation of human rights when life-saving care is withheld from people because they are gay, or equal access to justice is denied to people because they are gay, or public spaces are out of bounds to people because they are gay.  No matter what we look like, where we come from, or who we are, we are all equally entitled to our human rights and dignity.

Religious and Cultural Values

One of the most challenging issues arises when people cite religious or cultural norms and practices as a reason to violate or not to protect the human rights of LGBT citizens.  This is not unlike the justification offered for some allegedly traditional violent practices towards women, such as honor killings, widow burning, or female genital mutilation.  Some people still defend those practices as part of cultural traditions.  But violence toward women isn't cultural; it's criminal.

Here, the example and history of slavery is instructive.  Slavery was once justified as sanctioned by God, but it is now properly reviled as an unconscionable violation of human rights.  Racial discrimination was once widely accepted as justified on the basis of alleged genetic superiority or inferiority of different ethnic groups, but this has long been recognized for the gross fallacy it was.  In each of these cases, we have come to learn that no practice, tradition, or custom trumps the universal human rights with which we are, as Thomas Jefferson wrote in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, "endowed by our Creator."   And the same is now is happening to the antiquated beliefs that inflicting or accepting violence or even murder on LGBT people, criminalizing their status or behavior, expelling them from their families and communities, denying them the right to legal partnerships or marriage is acceptable.  Perhaps the best retort to such discrimination is the remark that Abraham Lincoln made in 1865:  "When I hear anyone arguing for slavery, I feel a strong impulse to see it tried on him personally."

In this context, it is essential to point out that most religious traditions and teachings are not in conflict with the protection of human rights.  Indeed, our religions and our cultures are most often sources of compassion and inspiration toward our fellow human beings.  In fact, our common commitment to defend freedom of religion and the dignity of LGBT people emanates from a common source.  For many of us, religious belief and practice is a vital source of meaning and identity, and fundamental to who we are as people.  And likewise, the bonds of love and family that we forge are also vital sources of meaning and identity.  Caring for others and loving others are both reflections of our faith and our family bonds, and both are expressions of what it means to be fully human.  It is because this  human experience of faith and love is universal that human rights are universal and cut across all religions and cultures.

The Way Forward:  Legislation

History teaches us many lessons about how we progress as humanity toward universal rights for all people.  Progress starts with honest and open discussion.  Happily, universal human rights include the freedom of expression and freedom of belief, even if words or beliefs may denigrate the humanity of others.   But human rights do not end with discussion, and understanding takes more than speech.  For while we are individually free to believe and to say whatever we choose, we cannot do whatever we choose if, in our acting, we infringe on the rights of others.  That is why we respect the rule of law and protect the rights of all, including the most vulnerable.  For it is in the debating and shaping of laws that we define as a society the constraints imposed on our exercise of individual freedom by the demands of the rights of others. 

Achieving good, just, and equitable legislation that balances rights and often stark differences of opinion must begin with a willingness to discuss and debate openly in public forums and in the National Assembly.   While there may be differences of opinion, that difference is a reason to begin a conversation, not avoid it.  And that conversation and debate must lead to legislation that protects rights for all.

It is important to note that, while changing attitudes can lead to changes in law, the opposite is also true.  Many times in the history of my own country, the first step toward progress has come from changes in law.  Legal protections have preceded, not followed, broader recognition of rights.  Our civil rights laws in the mid-1960s came at a time when racial discrimination was still widespread, and attitudes in many states remained mired in quagmires of racial hatred and distrust.  In so many cases, the laws -- whether the Voting Rights Act or others -- forced people to reconsider old traditions and attitudes.  They had a teaching effect that helped build new practices and attitudes.  Laws that require equal protections reinforce the moral imperative of equality.  So, practically speaking, it is often the case that laws must change before widely accepted attitudes and fears dissipate and evolve.  That is why U.S. President Millard Fillmore once observed:  "The law is the only sure protection of the weak and the only efficient restraint upon the strong."

The Way Forward:  Global Efforts

So how do we do our part to advance the global effort to ensure respect for human rights for all people, including LGBT people?  The LGBT community, as we see here today, can help lead this effort.  Your knowledge and personal experiences are invaluable, and your courage is inspirational.  While it is too often true that those who are denied rights are least empowered to bring about the changes they seek, by acting together as in SASOD, you can achieve much more to spark new thinking, new attitudes, and new laws than by acting alone.

When any of our brothers and sisters cannot enjoy their full and equal human rights, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines.  Every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a common and united effort from people on all sides of a racial, gender, cultural or religious barrier.  In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial.  The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races.  Combating Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a task for people of all faiths.  And the same is true with this struggle for equality.  People of all sexual orientations must come to see this for what it is -- a fight for our common humanity.

Conversely, when we see denials and abuses of human rights and fail to act, that sends the message to those deniers and abusers that they won’t suffer any consequences for their actions, and so they carry on.  But when we do act, we send a powerful moral message. 

The Way Forward:  Guyana

I firmly believe we can work together here in Guyana and in every region of the world to galvanize more support for the human rights of LGBT communities and individuals.  The Government has been conducting a National Consultation on LGBT issues, and that conversation is a positive step.  But as I noted earlier, conversation and dialogue must lead to action, and specifically to legislation that replaces antiquated colonial laws with modern, national laws that advance the rights of all Guyanese people.  Leadership, by definition, means being out in front of the people one leads.  It requires courage in standing up for the dignity of all fellow citizens and persuading others to do the same.  And that is what is now required in the National Assembly and among all parties.

Beyond legislative progress, it is vital to recognize that the lives of our gay brothers and sisters are shaped not only by laws, but also by the way they are treated and accepted every day by families, friends, business colleagues, and  neighbors.  "Laws can restrain the heartless," Martin Luther King observed, "but they cannot restrain the heart."  That is why respect for rights must also begin in the small places close to home – the streets where people live, the schools they attend, the factories, farms, and offices where they work.  The actions people take in these daily interactions, the words they express, and the ideals they embody, will determine whether Guyana will ensure that human rights for all Guyanese, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation, will flourish.

Way Forward:  The United States

Under President Obama's leadership, the United States has moved with increasing vigor to defend the human rights of LGBT people in the United States and worldwide as part of our domestic commitment to equality, as part of our comprehensive human rights advocacy, and as a priority of our foreign policy.

In 2011, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad.  Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons. 

At home, the President repealed the discriminatory:  "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy within the U.S. military, he signed historic hate crimes legislation, he ensured hospital visitation rights for LGBT partners, ended the practice of defending in court the Defense of Marriage Act, and announced his support for repeal of the Act.  Political leaders across our political spectrum are increasingly speaking out in defense of LGBT rights and gay marriage.  The tide has turned.  

U.S. Embassy LGBT Efforts

In our embassies around the world, our diplomats are working to raise concerns about specific cases where human rights have been violated and laws continue to discriminate.  We are working globally with a range of partners to strengthen human rights protections for all.  Our public support for the human rights of LGBT individuals sends a powerful signal of support for the efforts of civil society groups and individuals under threat.  We report on the human rights of LGBT people in our annual, country-specific Human Rights Reports.  We host public discussions and private roundtables, publish opinion editorials, and support Pride events.  We also seek to engage governments and stakeholders on a bilateral and regional level to encourage countries to repeal or reform laws that criminalize LGBT conduct or status.  The U.S. government is determined to reinforce the human rights of LGBT people in multilateral for a.  We are identifying effective partners and working with the broader human rights community to build greater recognition and respect for the human rights of LGBT persons.  This weekend’s workshop is a wonderful example of such collaboration. 

Our Embassy in Guyana will continue to support LGBT human rights defenders and civil society groups.  Last year, Embassy representatives participated in SASOD’s UPR meetings to learn more about their efforts to lead change in Guyana.  Last year, we hosted an LGBT Roundtable at the Embassy to discuss issues of major concern directly with stakeholders.  We sent a reporter to the United States to participate in a Foreign Press Center Tour entitled:  “A Developing Narrative:  LGBT Issues in the United States.” Only last week, we supported a workshop on Human Rights documentation.  We are also seeking to reach the broader public through social media, exchange programs, and speaker programs.  We look forward to future opportunities for collaboration.


President Barack Obama once said:  “Every single American - gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender - every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of our society.”  I speak today recognizing that my own country's record on human rights for gay people is far from perfect.  Many LGBT Americans have endured violence and harassment in their own lives, and for some, including many young people, bullying and exclusion are daily experiences.  So we, like all nations, have much more work to do to protect human rights at home.

There is a phrase that people in the United States invoke when urging others to support human rights:  “Be on the right side of history.”  The story of the United States is the story of a nation that has repeatedly grappled with intolerance and inequality.  People from coast to coast joined in campaigns to recognize the rights of women, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, children, people with disabilities, immigrants, migrant workers, and many more.  Throughout all of these ups and downs, dark chapters and brighter visions of our history, the march toward equality and justice has continued.  Those who advocate for expanding the circle of human rights have been and remain on the right side of history, and history honors them.  Those who have sought to restrict human rights were on the wrong side, and history reflects that as well.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. best observed:  "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice."  Today, I am confident that we are on the down slope of the arc, accelerating every day toward the goal of equality and justice for all citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.  Belief will once again converge with truth, the immutable truth that all persons are created free and equal in dignity and rights.  So let us be on the right side of history, for our people, our nations, and for future generations, whose lives will be shaped by the work we do today. 
Thank you very much

The Obama Administration’s Fact Sheet

The Obama Administration’s Accomplishments Promoting the Human Rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender People

The Obama Administration defends the human rights of LGBT people as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.  There are many things President Obama has done that the LGBT community can be proud of, including appointing a record number of LGBT persons to serve in his administration. 

In 2011, President Obama put into place the first U.S. Government strategy dedicated to combating human rights abuses against LGBT persons abroad.  Building on efforts already underway at the State Department and across the government, the President directed all U.S. Government agencies engaged overseas to combat the criminalization of LGBT status and conduct, to enhance efforts to protect vulnerable LGBT refugees and asylum seekers, to ensure that our foreign assistance promotes the protection of LGBT rights, to enlist international organizations in the fight against discrimination, and to respond swiftly to abuses against LGBT persons.  The Obama Administration’s record in support of the LGBT community includes:

Repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell: The President signed the bill to repeal Don’t Ask Don’t Tell on December 22, 2010, putting in motion the end of a discriminatory policy that ran counter to our values as Americans.  As of September 20, 2011, when the repeal took effect, gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans can serve openly in our Armed Forces and without fear of losing their jobs for who they are and who they love.

Ending the Legal Defense of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA): In February 2011, the President and Attorney General announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend Section 3 of DOMA against equal protection constitutional challenges brought by same-sex couples married under state law.  In July 2011, the White House announced the President’s support of the Respect for Marriage Act, introduced by Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Jerrold Nadler, which would repeal DOMA and uphold the principle that gay and lesbian couples should receive the same Federal rights and legal protections as straight couples.  The President has long supported a legislative repeal of DOMA.

Signing Historic Hate Crimes Legislation: President Obama overcame years of partisan gridlock to pass and sign the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act into law, which extends the coverage of Federal hate crimes law to include attacks based on the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity.

Ensuring Hospital Visitation Rights for LGBT Patients and Their Loved Ones: Following a directive from the President, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) now requires all hospitals receiving Medicare or Medicaid funds – just about every hospital in America – to allow visitation rights for LGBT patients.  The President also directed HHS to ensure that medical decision-making rights of LGBT patients are respected.

Developing and Implementing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy: President Obama fulfilled a pledge to those with HIV by developing and releasing the Nation’s first comprehensive plan for responding to the domestic HIV epidemic. In 2009, President

Obama signed legislation reauthorizing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program for four years to provide critical health services to uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV.  The Administration has also prioritized funding increases for HIV prevention, care, and research in each successive President’s budget.  In FY 2011, the Administration fought for and secured a $50 million increase in appropriations for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) and a $31 million increase for HIV prevention.  President Obama continued this commitment in FY 2012, when he announced on World AIDS Day an additional $35 million for ADAP and a $15 million increase for Ryan White Part C medical clinics.  Finally, the health reform legislation that the President signed into law, the Affordable Care Act, ensures that Americans have secure, stable, and affordable insurance, which will make it easier for people living with HIV and AIDS to obtain Medicaid and private health insurance and overcome barriers to care from qualified providers.

Expanding Access to Health Coverage: The Affordable Care Act ensures that Americans have secure, stable, and affordable insurance.  In 2014, insurance companies will no longer be able to discriminate against anyone due to a pre-existing condition, and because of the law, insurers can no longer turn someone away just because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.  In addition, the federal website,, designed to help all consumers find the health insurance best suited to their needs, makes it easy to locate health insurers that cover domestic partners.
Addressing Health Care Disparities: The Affordable Care Act is funding preventive efforts for communities, including millions of dollars to use evidence-based interventions to address tobacco control, obesity prevention, HIV-related health disparities, better nutrition and physical activity.  In addition, the new health care law is making other investments that will help address health disparities.  Funding is going toward building a more diverse and culturally competent health care workforce, as well as investing in community health centers to serve up to 20 million more patients. And through increased research and data collection on health disparities, policymakers will have the knowledge and tools they need to continue to address the health needs and concerns of the LGBT community.
Ensuring Equality for LGBT Federal Government Employees: President Obama has taken numerous administrative actions to advance equality for LGBT Federal employees, setting an example for all employers.  In response to the President’s directive, the Office of Personnel Management is expanding Federal benefits for same-sex partners of Federal employees to the extent possible under current law, including by allowing same-sex domestic partners to apply for long-term care insurance.  The Administration’s directive on same-sex domestic partner benefits also opened the door for the State Department to extend legally available benefits and allowances to same-sex domestic partners of members of the Foreign Service serving abroad.

Taking Steps to Ensure LGBT Equality in Housing and Crime Prevention: The Administration announced the first ever national study of discrimination in housing against LGBT persons and, in January 2012, issued a final rule to ensure that the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s core housing programs are open to all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.  The Justice Department also issued guidance stating that Federal prosecutors should enforce criminal provisions in the Violence Against Women Act in cases involving same-sex relationships.

Preventing Bullying Against LGBT Students: President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Department of Education, and the Department of Health and Human Services convened students, parents, and teachers, in addition to non-profit leaders, advocates, and policymakers, for the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention in March 2011.  Early in the Obama Administration, six Federal agencies joined together to establish the Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Steering Committee to explore ways to provide guidance on combating bullying to individuals and organizations.  The Department of Education has issued guidance to support educators in combating bullying in schools by clarifying when student bullying may violate Federal education anti-discrimination laws.  In June 2011, Secretary Duncan issued a “Dear Colleague” letter, accompanied by legal guidelines, reaffirming the rights of students to form Gay-Straight Alliances and other student groups under the Equal Access Act, noting the important role they can play in promoting safer schools and creating more welcoming learning environments.  In addition, President Obama, Vice President Biden, and other Administration officials recorded “It Gets Better” video messages to address the issue of bullying and suicide among LGBT youth.

Advancing and Protecting the Rights of LGBT Persons around the World: The Obama Administration continues to engage systematically with governments around the world to advance the rights of LGBT persons.  The Administration’s intensive and systematic leadership has included various public statements and resolutions at the UN. President Obama has also issued a presidential memorandum that directs all Federal agencies engaged abroad to ensure that U.S. diplomacy and foreign assistance promote and protect the human rights of LGBT persons.

President Obama has already embraced a series of proposals to advance LGBT causes in his second term, highlighting his evolving views on LGBT rights.  In January, Obama became the first president to mention gay marriage in an inaugural address, citing the “Stonewall” riots in New York City as a major landmark in the fight for civil rights.  Since then, he has offered an immigration proposal that would give the same benefits to heterosexual and same-sex couples, called on the Boy Scouts to open its membership to gays, and seen the Pentagon announce it would offer certain benefits to same-sex couples. 

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton championed a comprehensive human rights agenda that includedd the protection of the human rights of LGBT people.  One of former Secretary Clinton’s greatest LGBT accomplishments was providing global benefits to LGBT employees and diplomats representing the country overseas.  In December 2011, Clinton also gave an unforgettable speech before the United Nations in Geneva against LGBT human rights abuses.

Our new Secretary of State, John Kerry, has been a trailblazer in the fight for LGBT equality, both domestically and internationally.   In fact, he is the first person to support gay marriage while holding the post.  During his tenure as a Senator, Kerry was a supporter of LGBT issues and earned perfect rating of “100″ on the Human Rights Campaign’s most recent congressional scorecard.  His leadership in repealing the HIV travel ban, as well as his steadfast support for employment non-discrimination protections and addressing the needs LGBT homeless youth demonstrate his dedication to equality and to the rights of LGBT people worldwide.  Kerry voted for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal and hate crimes protection legislation.  That support goes back to 1996, when Kerry was among 14 senators to cast a vote against the Defense of Marriage Act.  He’s also been a key voice in encouraging the Obama administration to take additional action to protect bi-national same-sex couples and ending the ban preventing gay and bisexual men from donating blood.  Secretary Kerry will pick up right where former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton left off and continue the work already being done at the State Department against LGBT human rights abuses overseas. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) hosts successful Human Rights Documentation Workshop

On Friday April 12, 2013, representatives from several Guyanese civil society groups which make up the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) gathered at the Moray House Trust for a training workshop on Human Rights Documentation. This workshop was made possible through a partnership between the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the Equal Rights Trust (ERT) with support from the European Union (EU), through the European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights, Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) and the United States Embassy (USE) in Georgetown, Guyana.

SASOD’s Zenita Nicholson, who facilitated the workshop, is also grateful to the Commonwealth Youth Programme – Commonweath Secretariat, Equitas, Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC) and the Jamaican Forum for Lesbians, All-sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) for technical support, training and guidance in aiding her preparation to undertake this role.  

Opening remarks were made by the Country Coordinator of  UNAIDS, Dr. Roberto Brandt Campos, who reiterated that to get to zero stigma and discrimination we need to take care of the vulnerable and key populations who are most susceptible to HIV. In order to address discrimination, human rights abuses must be documented. “It’s a good place to start,” added Mr. Michael Fraser, Political and Economic Affairs Chief from the US Embassy in his remarks, sharing a synopsis on the history of human rights, particularly stressing on their universality. Mr. Fraser also shared findings from the US State Department’s Human Rights Report on Guyana.

Civil society groups spanning all three counties of Guyana, Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice, and who work directly with children, youth, women, sex workers, people living with and affected by HIV, substance abusers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, participated in the workshop: Stella’s Sisterhood of Support and Service (S4) Foundation; Hope Foundation, Bartica; Hope for All, Essequibo Coast; Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC); Network of Guyanese Living with and Affected by HIV and AIDS (G+); Justice Institute Guyana (JIG) Inc.; Youth Challenge Guyana (YCG);  United Bricklayers, Berbice; Def Association Guyana; Linden Care Foundation; Child Link;  Phoenix Recovery Centre; Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow); and SASOD.

Participants discussed the need, as a GEF collective, to promote and protect human rights and equality in Guyana through advocacy; participation in the consultation process of the Special Select Committee on Guyana’s Commitments to the United Nations Human Rights Council with regards to the Abolition of Corporal Punishment in Schools; the Abolition of the Death Penalty and the Decriminalization of Consensual Adult Same Sex Relations and Discrimination against LGBT persons; forging partnerships and building alliances with other organisations and groups.

Partners were enthusiastic, and agreed unanimously on using the Martus software, which was introduced and discussed as a mechanism to protect sensitive data and shield identities of survivors and witnesses who provide testimony on human rights abuses. The Martus software is an open source tool which is used by organisations worldwide to document human rights violations. 

Click for photo album 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Vacancy: Advocacy and Communication Officer

The  Society  Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination(SASOD) is entering into an agreement  with  the   Equal  Rights  Trust   (ERT) to  implement  a project entitled “Combating Discrimination through Advocacy and Strategic Litigation in Guyana.”  The   objectives of this initiative are:

  1. To increase protection from discrimination in Guyana through legal reform and improved enforcement.
  2. To increase the capacity of civil society in Guyana to engage in advocacy and strategic litigation to improve the scope and enforcement of anti-discrimination laws.

The project provides for contracting of the services of an Advocacy and Communication   Officer   to   work   with   SASOD   in   the   achievement   of the stated objectives and related activities.

Activities  include  the  hosting  of  seminars, conference,  workshops,  consultations, training   sessions,  meetings  of  the   Guyana  Equality  Forum,   and lobbying key stakeholders from across Guyana. These activities will be supported by developing public education and other advocacy materials.

At least a diploma from an accredited university in Communication, Public Relations, Media, Journalism, English, Political Science, History, Sociology, Marketing, Management or any other relevant field.

E-mail for Terms of Reference.

How to apply:
Suitable candidates must send a resume, accompanied by a cover letter and a statement of approximately 300 words sharing their personal views on LGBT rights in Guyana to copied to by no later than 15:00 hrs on Friday, April 19, 2013. Applicants who do not follow all instructions will not be considered.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Full House at Moray House Trust for Public Forum on Gender Equality and Sexual Rights

Four leading civil society groups hosted a public forum yesterday, April 4, 2013, on “Gender Equality and Sexual Rights in Guyana” attracting a full house at the Moray House Trust in Georgetown.

Red Thread, Stella’s Sisterhood for Service and Support (S4) Foundation, Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) teamed up to discuss several issues faced by women, sexual and gender minorities in Guyana.

Attorney-at- Law, Ms. Sadie Amin from the Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, presented on “Gender, Sexuality and the Law.” She stated, “There are laws which protect women, but implementation is sorely lacking.” Speaking about possible protections for lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women she added that, “our laws do not offer any specific protection.”

Gender equality has been a topical issue in Guyana. Ms. Imarah Radix, Programme Coordinator of S4 Foundation spoke about workplace issues and other challenges women face living in our patriarchal Guyanese society. In outlining the horrid discrimination and harassment faced by LBT women in the workplace, she called for repeal of the laws which criminalise consensual same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing, and inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories against discrimination in the realm of employment, training and recruitment under the Prevention of Discrimination Act, Chapter 99:09.

“These discriminatory laws are not harmless as they legitimize the harassment and discrimination meted out to LBT women. Access to justice particularly in the cases of sexual harassment and rape are non-existent,” Karen De Souza, National Coordinator of Red Thread, who extensively discussed sexual violence against women and children, continued and emphasized the non-implementation of the Sexual Offences Act. She contended that, “Yes we have fancy laws, but you try to use them. To protect people who are poor, voiceless who have no influence.” She passionately pointed out that “the barbaric practice called the confrontation is still being done by the police even though the 2010 Sexual Offences Act specifically states it must not be done.” In closing she said, “we cannot talk about preventing violence, whether it is domestic, sexual or any other form of violence; we cannot begin to be serious about that if we continue to be vague about whether we as adults have the rights to be cruel to our children. Enforcing physical harm to our children because we are bigger than they are? If we are serious about addressing any of the forms of violence in Guyana, we have to start with corporal punishment.”

Colleen McEwan, Executive Director of the Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow) discussed discrimination against LBT women. She pointed out that, “police harassment meted out to transgender women is real and triple jeopardy.”  She discussed the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Committee’s most recent review on Guyana in July 2012. She reiterated that the CEDAW Committee in its concluding observations urged Guyana “to provide effective protection against violence and discrimination against all groups of women through the enactment of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation that includes the prohibition of all forms of discrimination against them and the decriminalization of consensual adult same sex relations.”

SASOD’s Zenita Nicholson, who moderated the forum, challenged everyone in her closing remarks to play their part in ensuring that we build a Guyanese society where all women are empowered and have equal opportunities to their male counterparts. “Every Guyanese is entitled to the rights and freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and should be protected from discrimination, regardless of our differences,” she concluded.