The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) with support from Peace Corps Guyana hosted a “Lunch & Launch” Event on June 18 to open their Region Three Sexual Health Training Programme, at the Aracari Resort in Versailles, West Bank Demerara.
The event was chaired by SASOD’s Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick who highlighted that the Region Three targeted outreach and training programme is intended to empower and build capacity of LGBT persons in the West Demerara community, while promoting positive mental and sexual health practices; basic human rights relating to non-discrimination and accessing health services, reducing internal stigma among LGBT persons in the Region and identifying a support network of LGBT persons and allies to establish a sustainable and ongoing linkage of local support after the project has ended.
Delivering the feature address, Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, M.P. reiterated his and the Government’s commitment to fulfilling human rights for all Guyanese. He noted the importance of working towards the advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights. “Sexual health is one of the most transformative elements of the achievement of Sustainable Development in three dimensions; economic, social, and environmental. Accessibility, affordability, and availability of sexual and reproductive health throughout the life cycle without discrimination continue to be a major issue,” Minister Norton said. He added that this transformative process has been held back over the years as a result of misinterpretation of traditional practices, customs and religion, alluding to the policies and legal framework that discriminate and prevent marginalized groups from accessing quality healthcare services.
Minister of Public Health, Dr. George Norton, M.P.
Also speaking at the launch event was Dr. Martin Odiit, Country Director for UNAIDS to Guyana and Suriname. In his remarks, Dr. Odiit called attention to the Zero Discrimination targets, adopted in August 2015 at the Second Latin American and Caribbean Forum on the Continuum of Care held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The targets include ”zero HIV-related discriminatory laws, policies and regulations, where ‘80% of countries that have laws and policies that discriminate against people living with HIV (PLHIV), key and vulnerable populations, or that criminalize the transmission of HIV or non-disclosure of HIV status, have repealed and/or reformed them.” Dr. Odiit said “our efforts need to be put mainly in ensuring that we implement the agenda of eliminating stigma and discrimination”. He further stated that if we are to make progress, we need to be more tactful and mindful of the stumbling blocks we have faced before, so we can move ahead. Dr. Oditt also stressed UNAIDS’ commitment to supporting leadership and advocacy in addressing the most entrenched social, economic, legal and political obstacles to progress, acknowledging the scope of the commitments made, as well as the remaining gaps to be addressed.
Dr. Martin Odiit, Country Director for UNAIDS to Guyana and Suriname.
LGBT persons living in Guyana continue to face barriers in realizing good mental health, and are often unaware or do not understand the importance of positive sexual health. This is largely attributed to societal attitudes of stigma and discrimination towards LGBT persons, which causes internalized homophobia and prevents LGBT persons from living their lives freely.
The Region Three Sexual Health Training Programme was developed through a partnership between SASOD and Peace Corps Guyana. The desired outcomes of the programme are to ensure that LGBT persons in Region Three are aware and able to identify local support networks; that stigma-free and confidential HIV testing provided and that LGBT persons are equipped with sex-positive, safer-sex information to reduce internalized homophobia, risky behaviors and HIV transmission.
Peace Corps Health Volunteer and Project Lead, Chase Gorishek closed the event by reaffirming the agency’s commitment to working with local partners to help bring an end to stigma and discrimination in Guyana. SASOD is grateful to Peace Corps Guyana for the opportunity and resources to work with LGBT communities outside of Georgetown, as there is dire need for strengthening of local support networks at the community level, as well as psycho-social capacity building in sex-positive sexual health education in communities outside of the capital city.