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law which criminalizes same-sex intimacy and violates the human rights of sexual and gender minorities should be repealed.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.