The Guyana Chronicle of October 23 reported that Minister Carolyn Rodrigues-Birkett presented the Universal Periodic Review reports and assorted documents to the National Assembly. One of the issues, as reported in the Guyana Chronicle is that of “decriminalizing sexual activity between consenting adults of the same sex by protecting lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transsexual persons (commonly known as LGBT) from discrimination.”
SASOD in its submission on the UPR had reported on the July 2003 discussion in the National Assembly about the issue of rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Guyanese.
The September 24, 2010 edition of Stabroek News reported on the presentation to the Human Rights Council by the Presidential Advisor on Governance Ms Gail Teixeira. It was horrifying to read in that article that Ms Texeira had rebutted the response of SASOD to the government’s report as saying that the representative was “badly misinformed” about what went on in July 2003 in the National Assembly. It was reported in the Stabroek News that Ms Teixeira said that “there was a vote of conscience on both sides and the phrase ‘sexual orientation’ did not win the support of Parliament.”
Ms Teixeira must have forgotten or was herself badly misinformed. A look at the Hansard of Thursday, July 24, 2003 (available from the parliamentary library) would reveal the bizarre proceedings which took place in the National Assembly. These proceedings started with the government introducing a bill which it had no intention of supporting, and then a lengthy debate over how the National Assembly was supposed to deal with this anomaly and whether it was proper or improper to do so. The bill was not voted on, and there was discussion about sending the bill to a Constitutional Review Commission.
The Speaker, however, said he could not find any way to send the bill to the Constitutional Review Committee and told the members of the National Assembly that he would allow them not to continue with the bill on the day and advised them that if they wanted to do so in future, they could send the bill to a Constitutional Review Committee (which did and still does not exist). There was never a vote of conscience on the issue of sexual orientation. Some MPs had indicated in the media that their own position should they have been asked to vote individually rather than as a party. Ms Teixeira might have confused this issue with the vote on the Termination of Pregnancy Act which she oversaw as Minister of Health.
It is probably the only time, or one of the few times that the members of the National Assembly voted based on their conscience, and the Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act was passed. It was also reported in that Stabroek News article, that Ms Teixeira said, “We were surrounded by picketers and protesters as well as every religious leader of the country, Christian, Hindu and Muslim.”
Actually, there were sections of the Christian and Muslim communities who were picketing and lobbying the government and the public.
Other religious groups did not participate in any public picketing, and the Hindu groups were absent from the strident rhetoric (some Hindus actually refused to participate in the lobbying activity) while other religious groups were concerned about the dishonesty of the rhetoric which was being used.
Many said that they did not support sexual activity outside of marriage between a man and woman. Those loud few might have sounded to Ms Teixeira as though “every religious leader” was there. Ms Teixeira again might have been confused by the strident religious opposition and public abhorrence of the Casino Bill.
There were representatives from almost all of the religious groups expressing horror at the Casino Gambling Bill.
The PPP overcame the concern about ‘culture’ and religion in that instance, and other Hansards would record Minister Rohee and the late Minister Desrey Fox’s presentations to the National Assembly on why the PPP was rejecting religious considerations at that time.
If the Stabroek News article has reported Ms Teixeira’s comments correctly, then the National Assembly should discuss the need to correct these comments at the level of the Human Rights Council.