Stigma and discrimination seen as key hindrances to curbing intimate partner violence in LGBT community

Panelists at a ‘Lunch Talk’ hosted by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the USAID – Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Guyana Project noted that stigma and discrimination are among the obstacles lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people face when accessing services for intimate partner violence (IPV).

According to a release from SASOD, Assistant Secretary on the Board of Directors of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) Attorney-at-Law Ayana McCalman informed attendees that the real challenge for LGBT persons when accessing legal, social or health services, is stigma. “There is the stigma of saying that your partner abuses you and then there is also the stigma of being LGBT in Guyana,” she said. “Stigma hinders access to services, protection from violence and other forms of discrimination,” the release quoted her as saying.

The release said McCalman, one of three panelists, noted that there are two key pieces of legislation that deal with issues related to IPV in Guyana: the Domestic Violence Act 1996 and the Sexual Offences Act 2010. She said it was critical to note that neither law is about the prevention of violence, but rather, protection from violence; the legislation comes into effect after the act of violence has occurred. She stated that the threshold for the reporting of violence is very low, although there was been increased awareness and educational campaigns. She noted that there is a lack of data on IPV in LGBT relationships. She stated that this is also part of the problem because dealing with the issue begins with being aware of the extent of the problem. The release said she added that while SASOD and its partners might be most aware of IPV in LGBT relationships, the general public is severely unaware of this issue because it is not being recorded by government agencies.

 Panel and Moderator (l-r) Vanda Radzik, Commissioner on the Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC); Attorney-at-Law Ayana McCalman; Joel Simpson, SASOD’s Managing Director and SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence. (Photo by Theresa Campbell, APC)
Panel and Moderator (l-r) Vanda Radzik, Commissioner on the Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC); Attorney-at-Law Ayana McCalman; Joel Simpson, SASOD’s Managing Director and SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence. (Photo by Theresa Campbell, APC)

According to the release, McCalman said, “I have been researching the topic of law as a healing profession. How do we create a society with the relevant laws and rules that do the least harm or no harm at all? The conversations on healing are important, in doing so we can address issues of compassion, tolerance and respect. In turn we will begin to have a conversation about both ends of the spectrum of violence: prevention and protection.”

SASOD’s Managing Director Joel Simpson, who was also on the panel, spoke of what he termed a “schizophrenic legal framework,” the release stated. On the one hand there is a gender-neutral Domestic Violence Act, but on the other there are laws that criminalize same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing, in effect, he was quoted as saying, “These laws further propel the stigma and discrimination which lead to targeted violence and hate crimes. Abusive persons in LGBT relationships are emboldened by the fact that their partners will not go to the police to report the violence because there are laws which criminalize the very nature of their intimate relations.

“In terms of protection, the state recognizes that the laws need to serve persons of all genders, but at the same time, we have these archaic laws… the laws around same-sex intimacy are indirectly enforced and the laws on cross-dressing are directly enforced, and therefore LGBT persons are reluctant to go to the police to seek any sort of recourse.”

The release said he pointed to the need for sensitivity training for police officers and healthcare providers and social workers, in a sustainable way. He said the resources are available to deal with these problems, but leaders lack the political will to address them.

The third panelist, Com-missioner on the Women and Gender Equality Commission (WGEC) Vanda Radzik, the release said, stated, “Violence affecting LGBT persons is particularly horrendous because there is no legislation that specifically protects LGBT persons from the onslaught of discrimination, verbal abuse and targeted violence that in some cases leads to death.” She noted that though the Domestic Violence Act is intended to be gender neutral, she was unsure of how it was being applied in practice in LGBT settings and also urged faith leaders to be progressive in their teachings, the release said.

It stated that in the discussions following, with representatives from civil society, government ministries, international agencies, media and the police, several recommendations were floated. Among them were the need for more data and research on LGBT persons’ experiences with IPV, greater collaboration with key government agencies, for the media to play a more pivotal role in educating the public on mechanisms to prevent and protect themselves from interpersonal violence, for comprehensive sex education in schools and to work with faith-based communities to cultivate a culture of compassion, respect and equality for all. The release said a call was also made for the introduction of gender-based budgeting with resources for planning and sustainability of the response to gender-based violence in Guyana.

The ‘Lunch Talk,’ held at the APC office in Oleander Avenue, Bel Air Park formed part of SASOD’s observances of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, which began on November 25 – International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women – and ends on Human Rights Day, December 10. The release said SASOD is holding daily activities.

The focus of Monday’s session was ‘Barriers Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) People Face in Accessing Services for Intimate Partner Violence’ and the discussion was moderated by SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence.

The release said SASOD and APC recognize that dialogue pertaining to gender-based violence often neglects LGBT people, particularly transgender persons. These conversations are however critical, particularly in ensuring that barriers to attaining the highest standards of physical, sexual and mental health of all Guyanese are removed. It is also important to note that the likelihood of contracting HIV or a sexually-transmitted infection is amplified for persons who are in abusive, violent relationships.

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