Gov’t admits more has to be done to prohibit discrimination on basis of sexual orientation, gender ID

-in submission to Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Although government says it is committed to the protection of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) community, it has informed the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) that “much more” has to be done on an approach towards prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as repealing laws that criminalize homosexuality.

As a result, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) says the APNU+AFC administration has failed to deliver on its two-year-old manifesto promise to put measures in place, including those that do not require amendments of the laws, in order to protect those marginalized because of their sexual orientation.

“I am glad the government remembers and they should be reminded that they haven’t delivered two years later,” SASOD Managing Director Joel Simpson told Stabroek News yesterday in a reaction to the government’s response to a petition submitted to the IACHR on human rights violations against young persons in Guyana.

The response was submitted in reply to the presentations made at a hearing on March 22 at the IACHR 161st ordinary session in Washington, D.C, by SASOD, the Guyana National Youth Council, and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Associations’ Youth Advocacy Movement. It, however, only addressed some of the LGBTI issues raised at the forum.

In the government’s response, dated March 23, 2017, it was noted that the administration has one position on “the cross-cutting principles” of discrimination towards members of the LGBTI community. “…We believe “the principle of universality admits no exception. Human rights truly are the birthrights of all human beings.” As such, we are committed to implementing the rule of law,” it said.

It added that the ruling APNU+AFC coalition is committed to eliminating gender bias and gender violence in every form and had indicated in its manifesto that it was committed to putting in place “measures which will ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including women, children, persons with disabilities, rural and Indigenous women, youth, the elderly and the sick and pregnant and those marginalized because of sexual orientation are protected and are not discriminated against.”

However, it was also noted that as it relates to the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity, and the repealing of laws to criminalize homosexuality, “while there may be mixed views, much more has to be done regarding a collective and consensual approach and the implementation to fulfill such rights.”

The government’s response also inaccurately indicated to the IACHR that it had been “deemed unfit” for the National Assembly to decide on repealing the laws and that it had been recommended that the issue be decided by a referendum.

It was not stated who drafted the government’s response.

The government added that with President David Granger signaling his support for the reformation of the laws with respect to the LGBTI community, efforts will be made “to advance the cause and strengthen the implementation, enforcement and the system of the protection of every Guyanese citizen, including the LGBTI community. That being said, as it relates to conducting business transactions, it is expected that all existing statures [sic], especially, the Criminal offences Act (Subsections 352-355) [sic], be revered.”

Sections 352 to 355 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, among other things, criminalize same sex relations between men.

‘Missed the mark’

Simpson told Stabroek News that while SASOD was glad that there was a quick response to some of the issues that were raised by the groups, it was unfortunate that “it totally missed the mark” and included inaccurate reporting on some of the issues.

“The official response is evasive and the government has not clearly stated its position on issues raised,” he said, while also noting that the submissions made by the petitioning groups to the IACHR included recommended interventions that do not require legislative changes.

Simpson mentioned the issue of homophobic and transphobic bullying of and discrimination in schools and pointed out that there is need for an updated code of conduct for teachers on forms of discrimination that they should not perpetuate.

He explained that the targeting of LGBTI students can lead to underperformance and dropping out, especially by transgender students. He said that addressing the situation would require a policy change by the Education Ministry and not a legislative change but there was no response to the issue from government.

Simpson also pointed to the call for sexual orientation and gender identity to be included among the prohibited grounds for discrimination in the Prevention of Discrimination Act. Without this addition, he explained, employers, including the state, can discriminate without the consequence of legal sanctions. He said it is envisaged that updating would serve to hold employers accountable and create a deterrent for would be offenders.

In its response, the government had noted that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of either sexual orientation or gender identity since everyone has a right to work, as provided for in Article 149A of the constitution. It further pointed out that under the constitution, members of the LGBTI community benefit from protections, including from discrimination on the grounds of race, sex and gender, among other things.

Simpson called the reply disingenuous, while noting that the previous attempt to include sexual orientation among the grounds for protection from discrimination under Article 149 was not successful. He said that while members of the LGBTI community are supposed to benefit from the rights “in theory,” they face discrimination in accessing the rights if sexual orientation and gender identity are not specifically stated in the law.

Simpson argued that updating the law has the “least political risk” as there would be no real opposition to it.

He also highlighted the need for improved access to health services by members of the LGBTI community, particularly in the area of mental health. He said there is a direct correlation between poor mental health and poor sexual health, which is linked to the higher incidence of HIV in the community. He pointed as well to depression also being prevalent in the LGBTI community and noted that it can contribute to suicide and suicidal ideation.

Simpson added that SASOD was also disappointed that the government did not see it fit to have a government minister present to respond at last month’s hearing, while noting that there had been such a presence previously.

Following the hearing last month, SASOD and other members of the Guyana Equality Forum had noted that First Secretary of Guyana’s Mission to the Organization of American States John Chester-Inniss spoke of Guyana’s commitment to the international agreements made and the obligation the state has to honouring these agreements. He said the government has taken note of the petition and intended to respond with the view of addressing each issue raised.

Simpson noted that the other youth issues that were raised were of equal importance and he hoped that further responses would be forthcoming from the government.

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