The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) welcomes the commitment of the Guyana government to host consultations on issues related to matters of law reform on sexual orientation and gender identity, as part of its obligations to report back to the United Nations Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process on these and other recommendations by September 2012. However, we are disappointed that the Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, misled the Guyanese public that the focus of these consultations is on “decriminalization of same-sex unions,” as reported by Demerara Waves. The Cabinet Secretary, as well as the Presidential Advisor on Governance and the cabinet sub-committee on governance, should fully well know that same-sex unions, or “gay marriage” as one newspaper headline has already indicated, are not the subject of the state’s obligations which are presently being considered under Guyana’s UPR.
We are disappointed that such a high-ranking government official would misuse, whether deliberately or unwittingly, the critical politics of language to whip up public hysteria with such snide references to fearful notions of ‘gay marriage.’ Having identified itself as the facilitators of this process, the government’s actions raise questions as to whether its intentions to consult are genuine, and whether it can be trusted to lead this process. We therefore recommend a more inclusive framework which includes the parliamentary opposition and can also minimize partisan positions when these reforms reach the National Assembly.
Also troubling are Dr. Luncheon’s statements that, quoting Demerara Waves,
“we have the remaining months of this year to conclude the consultations, summarise what comes from these consultations and to present those findings as they are grouped and formulated as the State’s policy on these three matters.” SASOD would like to make its position unequivocally clear, that consultation does not mean referendum, and reiterate our stated position that the Guyana constitution is the ultimate guide on matters of citizen participation in decision-making. As Article 13 states, “the principal objective of the political system is to establish an inclusionary democracy by providing increasing opportunities for the participation of citizens and their organizations in the management and decision – making processes of the State with particular emphasis on those areas of decision – making that directly affect their well-being.“ The key stakeholders of this consultative process are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese citizens as these discriminatory laws affect our everyday lives and lived experiences. Our communities and organisations must therefore be able to manage and take centre stage in this process as these decisions affect our identities and citizenship and our views must be heavily weighted.
Guyana formally started its UPR process at the United Nations (UN) in 2010. The UN Human Rights Council recommended that the state repeal all laws which discriminate against persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. These include sections 351, 352 and 353 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Chapter 8:01 which penalize consensual forms of intimacy between adult men in private with prison sentences ranging from two years to life imprisonment, and section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which criminalises cross-dressing. After a targeted police crackdown in February 2009 where seven persons who were born biologically male were arrested for wearing female attire, four of those persons and SASOD filed a suit against the state challenging the constitutional validity of these discriminatory laws. The case is presently before the court where the Attorney General is representing the government in defence of these laws on which it now seeks to consult to determine its position.
On behalf of SASOD