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Guyana’s gay rights organisation preparing for parliamentary select committee

Left to Right: Guyanese singer Nhojj, Co-Chairs of SASOD, Namela Baynes and Joel Simpson

Guyana’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is preparing their submissions for a parliamentary select committee for the repeal of sodomy and other laws they say discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Co-Chair of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson said the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), a coalition of like-minded civil society organisations,” is being geared to make submissions to the bipartisan committee.

Partly in keeping with a recommendation by the United Nations Universal Period Review on Human Rights, the committee would by year-end or early 2014 begin receiving submissions on scrapping the colonial laws against buggery and cross-dressing.

The GEF includes Red Thread, Justice Institute Guyana. Also interfacing with SASOD is the SASOD is the fath-based organisation, Guyana Faith and HIV Coalition.

Simpson also announced SASOD’s plans to establish a secretariat for two years to press parliament to take action after the select committee completes its work and submits its report to the 65-seat House. “…that the special select committee doesn’t just prepare a report which looks great to Geneva when we come up for UPR (Universal Periodic Review) in 2014 and then that report languishes some where.

“That report should be brought to the House for further consideration and debate and then action in terms of repealing bad laws and amendments to make existing laws better and stronger and extend protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity so that LGBT Guyanese can be included,” he said.

Guyana’s Chief Justice Ian Chang is expected to deliver judgment later this year on whether laws against buggery and cross-dressing are unconstitutional after four of seven male cross-dressers who were charged in 2009.

Since its establishment 10 years ago, SASOD has so far unsuccessfully pushed for Guyana’s constitution to be amended to guarantee non-discrimination of persons on the basis of their sexual orientation. That provision was defeated in a conscious vote in 2003.

Measuring the level of homophobia in Guyana now compared to a decade ago, the SASOD co-chair said more heterosexuals are supporting his organisation’s work in the performing arts. “That just demonstrates in a very, very vivid way in my mind the shift that we are seeing that stigma associated with supporting LGBT issues is not as strong as it was back then and people are willing to be associated with gay rights organisation,” he said.

Unlike the past when the discourse appeared to have been focussed only on religious perspectives, Simpson believed the discourse has evolved into one that addresses human rights and public policy. “Subjective religious beliefs are not the basis for decision-making when it comes to these issues. It’s the basis for your own personal moral engagement about how you determine your own behaviour,” he said.

SASO boasts what it says is a “strict child protection policy.”