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Education Bill doesn’t protect gay, lesbian students- SASOD’s Simpson

FLASH BACK: Two children at a SASOD-organised event on the steps of the St.George’s Cathedral

A gay rights group on Sunday expressed alarm that Guyana’s modern Education Bill tabled in the House last week does not make sexual orientation discrimination a crime.

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) says government has so far squandered a good opportunity to help outlaw bullying on the basis of sexual orientation. “The government is missing a golden opportunity to address issues which are plaguing many Guyanese children and limiting their abilities to access education. Homophobia and transphobia in schools are real and are not being addressed,” SASOD’s co-chair, Joel Simpson told Demerara Waves Online News.

Under the Education Bill if a person or body refuses admission or expels any eligible student based on discriminatory grounds relating to the student or parent, the penalty on summary conviction is GUY$50,000. The law spells out discriminatory ground to mean race, religion, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, status or physical disability.

A group of civil society organizations under the umbrella of the Guyana Equality Forum plans to meet later this week to map out a strategy to zip the gap left in the draft law that was introduced to the 65-member National Assembly last Thursday by Education Minister, Priya Manickchand.

Simpson says SASOD and other groups have long complained that there is evidence to prove that there is homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools by students and teachers alike.

Simpson recalled SASOD raising those issues when Guyana was reviewed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in January, 2013. In October, 2013 SASOD engineered a thematic hearing on violence, sexuality and gender issues affecting children in Guyana.

In lobbying against the omission in the Education Bill 2014, SASOD and its civil society allies plan to refer to recommendations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Inter American Commission on Human Rights that Guyana should address discrimination against children on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Lawmakers in 2001 were divided during a conscience vote to amend Guyana’s constitution to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. When it was returned to the House in 2003 and won a unanimous vote, then President Bharrat Jagdeo refused to sign it into law due to stiff lobbying by the religious community in the run-up to elections later than same year.