Harmon skirts around gov’t’s position on LGBT rights

Joseph Harmon

While steering clear of declaring the government’s position on the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered (LGBT) persons, Minister of State Joseph Harmon yesterday stressed the administration’s responsibility to ensure that the rights of all citizens are protected in keeping with the constitution.

“I cannot say right now what is the specific issue, [or what] the specific policy [is]. What I can say to you is that there are certain rights of Guyanese. Guyanese have rights guaranteed under the constitution. Article 147(1) in particular guarantees a right to association, the right to demonstrate and as a government it is our duty to protect these rights…you have a right to associate with persons of similar interest. It is all guaranteed under Article 147 of the constitution so I would not want to venture to say or to declare what is the policy,” he said during a post-Cabinet press briefing.

In its manifesto for the 2015 general elections, the APNU+AFC coalition had 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 the pregnant and those marginalised because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against.”

Last week, on the eve of the pride parade organised by the LGBT community, the Georgetown Ministers’ Fellowship (GMF), a fraction of the Christian community, called on government to make its policy on “homosexuality” known.

Valerie Leung, the lone female on the GMF’s panel of five representatives who addressed the media, specifically requested that government “expressly and explicitly tell the people of Guyana in writing, truthfully what is their position on homosexuality.”

When asked yesterday for a response, Harmon made it clear that he was not in a position to, while noting that this issue is yet to engage the attention of Cabinet.

Harmon reiterated that “government’s position is that we have a duty under the constitution to protect the right of assembly, the right of demonstration of every citizen of this country and, therefore, I would not wish to say what is the government’s view on this or the government’s view on that. We are dealing with a constitutional matter here and constitutional rights and if we were to violate that… we put ourselves at risk…”

He did not definitively say whether the matter will be discussed at the level of the Cabinet any time soon. “It is not on the agenda right now, but it is a matter that is generating some heat in the media and certainly we take note of these things when they are debated and at the appropriate time we will debate it and have a position made known in the public,” he said.

“Do they (government) consider it a normal lifestyle to be approved of, supported and advanced? Or, do they consider it abnormal? What is its position on buggery… should it be decriminalised?” Leung had asked.

GMF representatives had declared that as representatives of the Christian community, which comprises more than 60 percent of the Guyanese population, it was concerned about local and international efforts to pressure government to legalise buggery in Guyana. The group had given a commitment to pray for those caught within such a lifestyle and lobbying government against the decriminalisation of homosexual acts.

Minister of the Gospel Marlon Hestick proclaimed that a gay parade is an expression of a sexuality, which is currently prohibited by Guyanese law.

“Our constitution has given guidelines regarding matters of sexual expression…The law does not allow for crossdressing, the law does not allow for activities normal at a gay pride parade,” Hestick had declared. He did not specify what constituted these activities, but had stressed that while government has committed to possibly reviewing the buggery law, it has not been repealed it and therefore, the parade should not have been approved.

The parade was held without incident 24 hours later.

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