Presidential Advisor on Governance Gail Teixeira says there is no fast track to gay rights in Guyana.
She made the comment on Monday at a reception hosted by Canadian High Commissioner in Georgetown Dr. Nicole Giles to mark the end of Pride Month which celebrates the LGBT community annually and advocates for relevant changes.
Teixeira prefaced her remarks with a winding history of human rights, from the abolition of slavery to desegregation, women’s rights and then to indigenous rights at home to illustrate that they all took time.
“The women’s rights movement began outside of government in all countries and took almost two centuries to become even recognised with only a small number of countries today against the tide of change.
So too will any new rights, whether it is sexual orientation, whether it is the right to privacy and protection of citizens from being spied on, protection from social media from, defamation, libel and threats et cetera,” she said.
According to the advisor, it will require hard work to persuade people and allay their fears and preconceptions.
“In my mind therefore there is no fast track; the word of mouth, the convincing, the talking are absolutely critical to winning people, to see change and to support new rights.”
Teixeira added that the government will continue to utilise the model developed over the last 20 years to bring controversial issues to the National Assembly, namely public consultations.
Local efforts to do away with 19th century legislation discriminating against homosexual relations were thwarted in 2001 when the religious community protested against a legislative change to stop discrimination based on sexual orientation. Then president Bharrat Jagdeo bowed to the pressure and did not assent to the legislation.
The decriminalisation of same sex relations is currently before a parliamentary Select Committee along with the abolition of corporal punishment and the death penalty. But Teixeira noted that those for and against the issue appeared evenly split.
Meanwhile, the Canadian envoy noted that laws which criminalise the private, same-sex relationships between consenting adults perpetuates a slew of discriminatory practices and dangerous trends of violence against LGBT people.
“These are manifested by acts of discrimination against them in hospitals, in schools, in the job market, in public spaces and being disowned by their families. They are often victims of physical and verbal attacks. Many of these persons do not disclose acts of aggression or discrimination for fear of consequences that might follow from disclosure,” Dr. Giles said.
She added that there was the potential for change in Guyana and that the government was to be commended for setting up the select committee to review the recommendations coming out of the 2010 Universal Periodic Review process.
“We look forward to the outcomes from this Committee after the consultations have been completed,” Dr. Giles said.
Attendees at Monday’s reception included politicians, members of the LGBT communty, NGOs, the private sector and the media.