Monday, November 24, 2014

SASOD engages Diplomatic Community on LGBT Issues

On Thursday, 13 November 2014, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in collaboration with the United States Embassy engaged members of the diplomatic community at roundtable discussion of SASOD’ report titled “On Devil’s Island: A UPR Submission on LGBT Human Rights in Guyana.” The 11-page report was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council on June 15 this year ahead of Guyana’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in early 2015.
Bryan Hunt, Charge d' Affaires, US Embassy
Hosted by the Charge’ d’ Affaires of the US Embassy, Bryan Hunt, the diplomatic roundtable was organised to facilitate this engagement ahead of Guyana’s UPR pre-session on December 4, 2014, in Geneva. In his opening remarks, Mr Hunt welcomed the representatives of the diplomatic community and emphasized that this gathering is to enable them to submit accurate, updated information on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights ahead of Guyana’s UPR.
Robert Adelson, Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy
The roundtable was chaired by US Embassy Public Affairs Officer, Robert Adelson. Presenting the report on behalf of SASOD were Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick, Managing Director, Joel Simpson and Social Change Coordinator, Chelauna Providence.
Schemel Patrick, Advocacy and Communications Officer, SASOD
In her introduction, Schemel Patrick gave an overview of UPR and its significance. She outlined that the “Universal Period Review is of paramount importance because it provides an opportunity for countries to declare what actions they have taken to improve human rights situations and to overcome challenges to the enjoyment of human rights. The UPR assesses the human rights records of UN member states in an effort to address human rights violations wherever they occur.”
Joel Simpson, Managing Director, SASOD
Mr Simpson presented on the legal framework highlighting especially the punitive laws which perpetuate targeted violence and wanton discrimination against LGBT people as they are socially and sporadically enforced by police and magistrates. Simpson also addressed in detail the violations of civil and political rights of LGBT people in Guyana, specifically focusing on the rights to life, liberty and personal security; right to equality; right to privacy; freedom of expression and restrictions against hate speech; as well as SASOD’s recommendations to address these issues. He reiterated SASOD’s call for the removal of Government Minister and Member of Parliament Juan Edghill who the report cites as “flagrantly inciting hatred and intolerance in the public sphere in direct contravention of the Guyana Constitution.” Edghill made headlines when he appeared on the local radio programme “Hard Talk” on June 15, 2014, spewing hate-filled remarks against LGBT people.
Chelauna Providence, Social Change Coordinator, SASOD
SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator Chelauna Providence presented on homophobic and transphobic discrimination affects LGBT Guyanese in their enjoyment of social and economic rights. She focused on basic rights such as the rights to work and housing, the right to health and the right to education. Providence addressed the recent Education Bill which was brought to Parliament in June this year and its draft non-discrimination clause which did not include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds. She stated that “Government has so far squandered what would have been a good opportunity to outlaw homophobic and transphobic bullying in schools. The missed a golden opportunity to address issues which are plaguing many Guyanese children and inhibiting their abilities to access education. Anti-LGBT bulling is happening in schools and it’s not being addressed.”

In closing, Providence urged the diplomatic representatives to familiarize themselves with the mechanisms that exist to promote and protect fundamental Human Rights in Guyana by engaging Civil Society organizations, government and the populace.  She highlighted the abuses of the rights and freedoms, particularly of women, children and LGBT people throughout the country, resulting in some of the highest rates and earliest reports of child sexual abuse, skyrocketing suicide rates and continued gaps in access health services, particularly for key affected populations, especially LGBT persons. Lastly, they were encouraged to share the information as they engaged in dialogue, among their institutions and other colleagues whose countries sit on the UN Human Rights Council. “We especially encourage you to share with your capitals the human rights situation in Guyana as it relates to LGBT persons,” she stressed.

After the presentations, there was an interactive discussion. Many diplomatic representatives commended SASOD on its work, keeping these issues prominent on the national agenda, and reiterated their commitment to continuing their support of the work to address LGBT issues. Some issues raised included the need for an independent Human Rights Commission in Guyana; one which is free from political interference, and the need to invest in claiming legal rights for LGBT Guyanese.
James Bjorkman, Political and Economic Affairs Chief, US Embassy
In his closing remarks, the US Embassy’s Political and Economic Affairs Chief, James Bjorkman, thanked SASOD for their comprehensive report and presentations and encouraged his colleagues in the room to have meaningful discussions with their headquarters and other missions about LGBT issues in Guyana as its review comes up in early 2015 before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.