The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) met with Minister of Social Protection, Hon. Volda Lawrence, M.P. and Ministerial Advisor on Social Protection, Hon. John Adams M.P. in the company of the Minister’s Personal Assistant, EzelynTaton-Williams on Thursday last at the Minister’s office on Lamaha Street, Georgetown.
Managing Director, Joel Simpson; Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick; and Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues; and Secretary of the Board of Directors, Alana Da Silva, of SASOD met the Ministry officials to discuss a human rights approach to social protection issues in Guyana. The organisation simultaneously presented to the Minister its recently published Fact Sheet on Social Protection.
Social Protection and LGBT Rights
Rodrigues informed the Minister Lawrence and Mr. Adams of the community’s dilemma, stating that same-sex intimacy between men is still criminalized under the laws of Guyana. While it has been noted that these laws are generally not prosecuted, the very fact that they exist, inhibit lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people from seeking police protection when they face harassment, assault, intimate-partner violence, homophobic and transphobic violence because of fear of discrimination, re-victimization and threat of possible prosecution.
He recalled in June 2014, the late Dr. Faith Harding, a child specialist and former government Minister stated that “If people are being abused and dying because of such [anti-buggery] laws and we are not doing anything about it, then we are all killing them, for every child that commits suicide because of rejection, we must all take the blame.”
“The absence of specific prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 leaves LGBT persons exposed to discrimination with impunity in the workplace, allows employers to refuse to hire LGBT persons, to harass or otherwise discriminate against them during their employment, or to terminate their employment on these grounds, with essentially no consequences under the law,” Rodrigues expressed.
Simpson noted that many LGBT Guyanese who are open about their sexual orientation or gender identity at work regularly face discrimination. He spoke of a documentary published by SASOD about the working experiences of a transgender woman, who expressed that it was extremely hard for her to obtain work in the formal economy, and when she did, she was grossly underpaid and faced discrimination because she is a transgender woman. Transgender persons may face more discrimination when accessing employment because of their visibility.
Simpson also cited a 2012 Report from the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Law titled, “Collateral Damage: The Social Impact of Laws Affecting LGBT Persons in Guyana,” where Dr. Christopher Carrico reported that both men and women identifying as homosexual or bisexual “reported being denied access to jobs as well as being blocked from career advancement because of their sexual identity.” Consequently, many LGBT Guyanese choose not to disclose their sexual orientation or gender identity at work. This could result in greater anxiety and stress in the workplace, which not only impacts negatively on job performance but also has adverse psychological impacts.
The Minister stated that she is fully aware of her responsibility to bridge the gaps in society to foster better functioning services between the people and the government and in her mandate as Minister of Social Protection, whatever there is she can do to bridge these gaps she would like to do it; “We would like to see more collaboration, we need it if we are to make a change. We must work together.”
She discussed projects and initiatives by her Ministry that would see more cooperation with Civil Society Oraganisations such as SASOD to work with people and other Non-Government Organisations to foster better relationships, communication and advocacy for marginalized groups.
SASOD recommended that the Government of Guyana amend section 4(2) of the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 to include sexual orientation, gender identity and health status as grounds for discrimination; and implement and support comprehensive workplace equality policies and education programmes aimed at curbing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and health status in the workplace, both in the public service and private sector.