Sunday, June 18, 2017

SASOD Launches New LGBT Human Rights Report to Mark 14th Anniversary

[In the photo] Human Rights Coordinator of SASOD Ms. Ernestine Leonard (left), Managing Director of SASOD Joel Simpson (center), & SASOD's Board Secretary Alana Da Silva

-          Says Guyana needs to improve international record, action commitments
Commemorating its 14th anniversary on June 7, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) launched a new report on “Guyana’s Voting Record and Responses on LGBT Human Rights Issues at International Fora” this past Wednesday at their 203 Duncan Street, Lamaha Gardens’ office in Georgetown. According to SASOD’s Human Rights Coordinator Ms. Ernestine Leonard who delivered introductory remarks, the report was commissioned by SASOD and written by two Law graduates, Bryce Celestan and Samy Dorgham, under the tutelage of Professor Andrea Parra at the American University Washington College of Law. The Human Rights Coordinator also read the Foreword of the report was written by Ulele Burnham, British-Guyanese barrister at Doughty Chambers in London, United Kingdom, who specialises in mental health, mental capacity, human rights and equality law. Leonard quoted Burnham who wrote, “whilst we wait to see whether the current administration will act less as neutral arbiter and more as custodian of citizens’ rights, this report is a startling reminder of just how little leadership, and how much inertia, successive governments have demonstrated in relation to this issue.” More importantly, she pointed out, that the graduates collected invaluable data on Guyana’s voting record on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) issues before international bodies. “Their analysis indicates that many of the international conventions which now require Guyana to take steps to repeal discriminatory laws and confer positive statuary rights to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons were ratified between 20 to 50 years ago.” Adding that, “it is also difficult to see how it is possible to reduce discrimination against LGBT persons where same-sex sexual acts remain criminal offences,” Burnham’s Foreword states.

Background to the report and Guyana’s voting records at international bodies

SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson while presenting an overview of the report, recalled that Guyana voted to retract and defund the United Nations (UN) Independent Expert on Violence and Discrimination based on SOGI in December 2016. Simpson related that this led SASOD to reach out to its international partners to commission this study. “We were put in touch with Professor Andrea Parra who agreed to have two Juris Doctorate candidates at the time, over the last few months, conduct this research and analysis for us. We decided that we would cover 2008 to 2016, and look at both the UN and the Organisation of American States (OAS), wherever LGBT issues are discussed, how Guyana has been voting … or in the case of the UN human rights treaty bodies, how we’ve been responding to specific recommendations and concluding observations of those bodies on LGBT issues,” he said.

Simpson further explained that with respect to the UN, the report looks at the key treaty bodies and which are incorporated into the Guyana Constitution through Article 154.
He noted that Guyana has come up for review at these treaty bodies and over the years, SASOD has participated in several of the review processes by submitting shadow reports, engaging reviewers and presenting at review sessions. According to Simpson, it is hoped that with the publication of this new report, it can provide key stakeholders, particularly the Government and its Foreign Affairs Ministry, an analysis on how Guyana has been voting and responding to LGBT issues at the UN and OAS over the period 2008-2016. “This would provide a baseline for improving our record in these international systems where we action our commitments at home. We made those commitments part of our Constitution in 2003. The Government can’t opt out of some human rights or ignore the human rights of our communities. The state has a duty to respect, protect and fulfil human rights, of all people, including LGBT Guyanese,” Simpson stressed.

Women’s Arm
Meanwhile, Board Secretary Alana Da Silva shared another recent milestone of the rights group. On March 8 this year, SASOD Women’s Arm Guyana (SWAG) was launched to coincide with International Women’s Day. Da Silva explained that it is the women-led, social justice arm of SASOD dedicated to the advancement and empowerment of lesbian, bisexual, transgender (LBT) women and women allies. Da Silva stated that SWAG is committed to promoting gender equality and women’s rights, advancing sexual and reproductive health and rights, women’s empowerment and leadership in the LGBT movement, socially, economically and politically, and propelling the voices of LBT women and women allies.
She further clarified that SWAG creates a safe space for LBT women and women allies as it seeks to further promote and strengthen the advocacy work done by SASOD with a focus on women’s issues, gender equality and increasing women’s participation in the movement

Monday, June 12, 2017

Opening Remarks by Jairo Rodrigues at the 2017 Interfaith Iftar


Opening Remarks by  Jairo J. Rodrigues 
Interfaith Iftar to commemorate SASOD's 14th Anniversary
  Georgetown, Guyana
June 09, 2017

Ladies and gentlemen, Asalamu Alaikum. 

A special welcome to His Excellency, US Ambassador Perry Holloway, our religious leaders, brothers and sisters, good evening all and Ramadan Mubarak. 

My name is Jairo Rodrigues, I am the Social Change coordinator for the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination and I will be your master of ceremony for this evening.

I would like to thank you all for coming tonight, for commemorating SASOD’s 14th anniversary and for showing your support in fostering social cohesion in our society. 

Now a lot of people would ask, why an IFTAR? And what even is an IFTAR? 

You see, an IFTAR is the meal a Muslim would eat when breaking a fast. It comes with a very intimate, a very solemn and personal experience where at the end of the day of fasting a Muslim would quietly speak to God as they conclude a personal commitment to their creator.

Though an IFTAR is very personal, a Muslim will choose to observe it with their Family, their jamaat - that is their community, and those they hold dearly around them. Brothers and Sisters, this is why we are here today.

Now why have an IFTAR with other religions, and with the LGBT community? 

On the news today we will see many aspects in politics and in global affairs of ‘us’ against ‘them’, of division, and xenophobia, but that is not who we are as Guyanese and we should not follow suite. 

We have long recognised that we are a plural society, of many ethnic groups, cultures and religions that we combine into one identity, to be a 'Guyanese'. Our many stories become our one history and what we do as a nation today makes our heritage. 

We are one people, as a nation, working towards something…what is that something? What is our destiny?

Well, as a nation, that is for us to find out together.

Though we may have differences, sometimes conflicting beliefs, we must recognise the need to build bridges, the need to understand each other, the need to respect differences and work towards achieving the common good; the good of our society, the good of our nation, the good of who we are as human beings.  

We are a very conservative society, and many religious folks often forget that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are too, religious. And though they may find comfort in the love of their creator they may find hatred from their own religious communities who would cherry pick lines and use as stones, often times forgetting that they too have glass houses. 

I am a muslim, and I am gay. I was raised in a very religious home so I know the personal battles some of us may go through. I know what it is like for our sexualities to conflict with our religious beliefs and drive us into questioning the nature of our sexuality, drive us into feeling sub-human or degraded and into madness thinking we are demons. 

But we are not. We are creations who are simply different. Some may accept that this is their sin to live with, others would not consider it a sin at all. What we all long for is to feel comforted and accepted by our religions – not segregated. We all have flaws, and I am careful with these words to not call differing sexualities and gender identities as sins or flaws, but if something is just different or misunderstood, it does not mean it is wrong and should be chastised. 

As it relates to how we treat each other and how we live together, we must strive for a common goal of freedom, respect and dignity for all, despite ethnicity, class and background, sexuality, religion, age, gender identity – no exceptions. 

And that is why we have an inter-faith IFTAR and why we all will break bread together, so to speak. Because we understand the need to come together despite differences, to celebrate with each other, to understand, and strive to live together with dignity and respect. 

With this Interfaith Iftar we are proving that as Guyanese, Diversity is truly our strength. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, on behalf of SASOD and our host family, the Khans, welcome to our Inter-faith Iftar.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Remarks by Pandit Deodatt Tillack at Inter-faith Service


Remarks by  Hindu Pandit Deodatt Tillack at Inter-faith Service
Inter-Faith Service to Launch the Inaugural Guyana Pride Festival
Catholic Life Centre - Georgetown, Guyana
May 25, 2017
Pandit Tillack of the Shri Samayapuran Mariammma Temple expressed that that on the eve of our 51st independent anniversary, the Guyanese nation would be deceiving itself with wishful thinking to believe that after 51 years from colonial rule, we continue to piggyback on the laws that were bequeathed to us by the colonials as an independent nation, that those laws would be in the best interest of all Guyanese.

“The law ought to be amended to respect the fundamental human rights of all Guyanese,” the Pandit said. He called for greater unity within the LGBT movement itself and urges all partners to work together for the advancement of human rights of all people in Guyana.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Attorney General Commits to Review of Anti-Discrimination Law to Protect LGBT Persons

[In the photo seated left: Attorney General & Minister of Legal Affairs Hon. Basil Williams S.C, M.P flanked by two of his Ministry's legislative drafters. From extreme right: G.T.U's Communications Officer & Asst. Secretary on SASOD's Board of Directors, Twinkle Bissoon; Human Rights Coordinator of SASOD, Ms. Ernestine Leonard; & Managing Director of SASOD, Joel Simpson]
Representatives of the Society Against Sexual Orientation (SASOD) and Guyana Trans United (GTU) today met with Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs Hon. Basil Williams, S.C, M.P. to discuss the touted referendum on whether Guyana’s colonial-era law which criminalizes same-sex intimacy and violates the human rights of sexual and gender minorities should be repealed. The proposed referendum which sparked media headlines over the past few weeks has been touted by Government during its response to the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) submissions to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) thematic hearing in the 161st Ordinary Period of Sessions, which addressed issues of human rights violations against young persons in Guyana. The proposal of a referendum was also reiterated by the Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs himself at a joint event  hosted by the Delegation of the European Union in Guyana and SASOD to commemorate the International Day Against Homophobia, Biophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) in May. Just two weeks ago SASOD along with other partners; the Justice Institute of Guyana, Red Thread and the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) held a press conference to address the referendum proposal which was once again repeated in an article in the press quoting the Second Vice-President and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hon. Carl Greenidge, M.P. The article which was published in the Guyana Chronicle's May 22 edition stated that "Greenidge believes that the government has made a commitment to hold a referendum on the issue, then it will honour it."
In response, the GEF along with the Guyana LGBT Coalition stated that "all citizens of Guyana deserve basic human rights and the rights of a minority group should not be subject to a popular vote. Holding this divisive referendum will deepen the marginalization and isolation of LGBT persons as right-wing groups will undoubtedly heighten their homophobic rhetoric, as is already happening on social media. Instead of strengthening social cohesion and building national unity, it will further divide our nation, which still suffers from ethno-political conflicts. It will cause further stress and mental health burdens to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese who will be exposed and targeted with homophobic vitriol in the public sphere and on social media, in particular."

In today's meeting with Minister Williams, he pointed out that the referendum is just one option being proposed and that it was not a cabinet decision or the official government position on the isue. He however requested that SASOD submit a draft bill to his office to include sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) under the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997. SASOD also took the time to clarify that the organisation at this time is not advocating for same-sex marriage but rather legislative protection from discrimination for LGBT persons. 
Speaking on behalf of SASOD, Managing Director Joel Simpson fervently expressed that the organisation is totally against the idea of a referendum on any human rights issue and is willing to engage parliamentarians with a constructive plan to provide legislative protection against discrimination and repeal laws which perpetrate discrimination against LGBT persons. GTU's Communications Officer and Assistant Secretary on SASOD's Board of Directors, Twinkle Bissoon, engaged Minister Williams on understanding gender identity and sexual diversity and informed him of some the social and legal issues affecting transgender persons in Guyana which range from the right to work without discrimination and live comfortably presenting as the gender in which they chose to identify themselves.
The meeting was also attended by two of the Ministry's legislative drafters who were tasked to review the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997, brief the Attorney General and draft a bill to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protective categories as recommended by SASOD for the Minister to take to Cabinet for further deliberations. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Catholic Bishop Francis Alleyne's Remarks at Inter-faith Service

Remarks by Bishop Francis Alleyne, Head of the Roman Catholic Diocese in Guyana
Inter-Faith Service to Launch the Inaugural Guyana Pride Festival
Catholic Life Centre - Georgetown, Guyana
May 25, 2017
 Bishop Francis Alleyne of the Roman Catholic Diocese 

Bishop Francis Alleyne, who co-hosted the service with the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) read from the Gospel of St. John (14:1-7) from which he identified an important Christian teaching about accommodating, and creating space for every child of God noting that Jesus was speaking in a context of Roman rule and Jewish law in which Christianity was a minority group at the time. “Jesus’ way was always to welcome, reconnect, reintegrate and open hearts of people to share in life,” Bishop Alleyne stated. 

He made reference to Acts 10 where St. Peter breaks through his own prejudices to new insight that “God does not have favourites, but anyone who fears God and does what is pleasing to him is acceptable to him.”

The Roman Catholic Bishop expressed that while the issue of LGBT rights is a sensitive one, a referendum on the matter would not be the right path for repealing discriminatory laws. “This topic is a volatile one.  There is still a lot of fear and insufficient listening to expect an objective response from people,” Bishop Alleyne. 

He closed his remarks by praying from Psalm 139 which recalls the dignity and uniqueness of each person and the charge to be honest and transparent with one’s self and others calling on God’s guidance to do always what is right and appropriate.