OPINION: Guyana Together: Leaving no one behind

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 May 2024, 19:43 by Writer

by Kerensa Gravesande-Bart

Kerensa Gravesande-Bart

Kerensa Gravesande-Bart is a first-generation, Guyanese woman entrepreneur and devoted mother. Alongside her husband, Lloyd Bart, she has co-created two thriving companies that have left an indelible mark on the oil and gas industry in Guyana. She is also a Co-founder and Former President of the Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry Guyana (WCCIG). She has won accolades like the inaugural “Women in Business Award” from the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI) in 2018 and later served as a Councillor of GCCI and Chair of the Membership and Diversity Committee, organising collaborative activities like the Women in Law Enforcement Summit, and championing diversity initiatives, like the first Pride Month Mixer hosted by GCCI in June 2023 to help foster a more inclusive business community in Guyana.

As the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia (IDAHOBIT) is being celebrated under the theme “No One Left Behind: Equality, Freedom and Justice for All,” I reflect on my journey to help bring Guyana Together.

As a business woman in our nation, it is important to stand for the policies that protect our workers, build our communities and ensure our economy thrives. 

Five years ago this November, I helped found the first Women’s Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Guyana and the Caribbean because I wanted to be an advocate for women in business and champion empowerment of  women entrepreneurs. 

Today I share my support for Guyana Together – the grassroots campaign to increase support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Guyanese. I’m proud to be part of a campaign that is sparking a national conversation about how each of us can help to ensure that Guyana is a place where everyone feels included and welcomed. 

As a business leader, it makes sense to be part of this initiative. Guyana is strongest when we include everyone in our workforce – and when our businesses have the talent and skills they need to move our economy forward. That’s why so many businesses across Guyana have endorsed this campaign. The Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Black Entrepreneurs Association are among the founding members of Guyana Together and we are grateful to have their support. 

The Guyanese economy is at a turning point. Estimates show that our economy will grow exponentially in the coming years, and Guyana is opening our doors to foreign investment like never before. As the eyes of the global economy shift to Guyana, we have an opportunity to show the world that our country is a welcoming and beautiful place for all to live, travel, and do business.

For too long, Guyana’s laws have been out-of-sync with the values of our people. Laws criminalising intimacy between men are outdated and harmful to the many companies across Guyana who are seeking to recruit and retain foreign investment and top talent. 

Guyana must now join a majority of CARICOM countries that have overturned these outdated laws. It is time to modernise our laws to send a signal that we are a country where all workers are treated with respect, and no one is treated differently simply because of who they are.  Modernising our laws will strengthen the national economy and foster innovation that will keep Guyana competitive in the global marketplace.

Eliminating laws that discriminate against gay people will also ensure that Guyana has the workforce we will need for our businesses to thrive in the future. Too many of our young people leave Guyana to live abroad. And our discriminatory laws undoubtedly contribute to Guyana’s “brain drain” – in which as many as 86% of university graduates leave Guyana for employment overseas, depleting our workforce of top talent and cripples our economy. Qualified workers – both gay and straight – and particularly millennials, want to work in a country where everyone is treated with respect, where people of all backgrounds and identities can live together, harmoniously.

Worldwide, the trend is clear: successful companies and competitive economies are inclusive – not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s simply good business.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people are our neighbours, friends, family members and coworkers – they are a part of our communities and care for their families, similar to anyone else. For our economy and nation to thrive our gay, bisexual and trans colleagues should be free to work and prosper in their daily lives like everyone else. Guyana is ready to overturn the outdated and discriminatory laws that criminalise same-sex intimacy. We are proud that a majority of Guyanese people already support overturning this harmful law – and we know that as the Guyana Together campaign elevates the stories of real people, families, businesses and communities across our country, more will truly understand that in Guyana, we go further when we go together.