Friday, April 25, 2014

Access to Justice a Sore Issue in Sex Crimes – People tell Public Forum

Speakers at Sunday’s Public Forum on the Use of Sexual Violence in Gross Human Rights Violations, all reiterated the need for our justice system to be strengthened when it comes to enforcing the laws against sexual offences.
Speakers included Danuta Radzik of Help and Shelter, Wintress White of Red Thread, and Zenita Nicholson of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), who also moderated the event. This forum was organized in commemoration of International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, observed annually on March 24. The aims were done to raise awareness to the scourge of sexual violence affecting our society, to acknowledge that victims of this type of crime rarely receive justice and to develop a plan of action on how this issue can be addressed collectively within our communities.  Participants were placed into small working groups and given an opportunity to discuss key issues in addressing sexual violence in our communities, in institutional settings and the justice system.
In her presentation, Radzik spoke extensively on the rape culture in Guyana which she reiterated is fuelled and sustained by rape myths, stereotypical, traditional and fixed beliefs of gender and gender roles, homophobia and false notions of masculinity and sexism. She also gave a very comprehensive overview of the Sexual Offences Act 2010 which is known to be one to the most progressive laws on sexual offences in the Caribbean. Her presentation also pointed out, however, that the implementation of this law proves to be a challenge. Additionally, Guyanese are not fully aware of this law and as a result, prosecution under this Act remains very low. Particularly challenging as well is recognizing that men are also  raped. While the laws clearly recognizes this, as a society, male victims of sexual violence are too often dehumanized, and further victimized if they report being raped. Rape is also used as a form of torture against men, as is the case in the Colwyn Harding incident.
Danuta Radzik presenting at the forum
Presenters Wintress White and Zenita Nicholson both reiterated that survivors of rape often suffer a systemic violation of their rights as often times the authorities fail to act or are slow to act when rape is reported by specific vulnerable groups in our population. White exemplified her point  by sharing the experience of a sex worker who attempted to report that she was raped to the police and they in turn chased her away chastising that ‘sex workers do not get raped.’ These rape myths, White noted, need to be debunked; anyone can be raped regardless of their profession. She further pointed out that police officers need to be properly trained on the Sexual Offences Act and that it is their duty to respond to every report of sexual abuse made to them.
Wintress White (standing) facilitating a working group discussion
In addressing the manner in which reports of rapes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons are handled by the police, Zenita Nicholson remarked that “this is where we see the most overt violations of human rights occurring.” She stated that oftentimes LGBT persons do not report sexual abuse to the authorities because they are further victimized by the police and healthcare providers. She pointed out that a vast majority of sexual abuse incidents go unreported by LGBT persons as the victims feel they have no real form of redress for the everyday acts of discrimination they endure in society.
After the presentations, participants were placed into three discussion groups: one group dealt with sexual violence in institutional settings, another dealt with sexual violence and the community and the third group dealt with sexual violence and the justice system. Some key issues arising from these discussions included the need to address the development of rape culture in Guyana where victims are blamed and the incident trivalised.  Participants noted that citizens are not educated on the laws and as a result they do not know how to seek justice. They also pointed out that service providers and police officers need to be educated on the laws regarding sexual offences and that they need sensitivity training on how to respond to survivors of sex crimes. Of concern too was the fact that the Sexual Offences Act does not adequately cover sexual harassment in the workplace and that this leaves many victims of sexual assault in the workplace or in institutional settings without recourse if they fall prey to sexual predators. Other issues arising are the normalizing of violent sexual acts by promoting sexually explicit musical lyrics and videos. The recommendations made to address these issues were documented by the host groups.
Participants discussing recommendations in a working group
After the forum, a donation was collected to support the efforts of the Colwyn Harding Support Group to seek justice and proper medical care for Harding.
This forum was organized by the Colwyn Harding Support Group, Help and Shelter, Red Thread and SASOD.
View photos from this event here

International Women of Courage Award: Acceptance Speech





International Women of Courage Award
Acceptance Speech
Zenita Nicholson
March 2014



Honourable Ministers and Members of Parliament; Ambassador of the United States to Guyana, Mr. Brent Hartl Charge d’ Affaires, Mr. Bryan Hunt;  Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Special Invitees; Colleagues; Family and Friends, good evening to you all.
I am indeed humbled and greatly honoured to receive this award. I would like to offer my sincerest gratitude to the Embassy of the United States of America, Georgetown, for this honour.
 “Nicholson receives the award from Chargé d’ Affaires Bryan Hunt” (Stabroek News)
I did not make the journey here alone. Numerous people have supported me along the way. Early in my life, I learned the importance of courage. I thank first my mother for instilling values of respect, honour and honesty in me. I grew up in a “traditional family” where I often encountered inequality. And I always demanded equal treatment with my younger brother.
I am blessed with an amazing and supportive family; Daria, my daughter, and Dimitri, my son, who have endured my long work days without complaining; Aunty B, who helps to care for my children during these hours. Needless to say, I have had and continue to have a lot of support from various friends, or in my definition, the family I have chosen for myself: my mentor, Mr. Dereck Springer, who I met during a very difficult period in my life and whose counsel reverberated so distinctly it gave me new life - to this day his words echo within me, “Never let anyone tell you, you can’t do something, ever!” - he said, and I believed him. SASOD Founder and Co-Chair, Mr. Joel Simpson, who has been and continues to be a rock of support to me as a friend and comrade in our work for equality; SASOD Co-Chair, Ms. Ulelli Verbeke for being my activist sounding board and finest friend; and Mr. Adrianus Vlugman for his guidance.
 “SASOD’s Zenita Nicholson with her family, friends and colleagues after receiving the 2014 Secretary of State’s International Woman of Courage Award” (Guyana Times)
I've also had wonderful support and encouragement from the contractors, members and volunteers of SASOD – Arlene, Schemel, Tiffany, Carl, Quincy, Collis, Allan, Ewan, Alana, Pere, Leon, John, Keimo, Khemraj, Shane, Natasha, Sherlina, Navina, David, Anton, Randy, Deborah, Subraj, Alex, Nastassia, Priscila; and others - as well as my employers, the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC). I could not stand here with you today without all of the support from Dr. Ingrid Cox, Dr. John Waters, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Mr. Ian McKnight and the rest of CVC family. 
“Posing with her prestigious accolade” (Kaieteur News)
Today, I am being honored for my courage. But the truth is, I have no courage; not compared to those who inspire me to advocate for equality, human rights and dignity.
 I am inspired by: the courage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people living in Guyana - a country where adult same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing is criminalised and highly stigmatised.
I am inspired by ordinary Guyanese who dare to express their sexual orientation and gender identity: by those whose daily lives are filled with violence, rejection, abuse and discrimination, those who are being denied their rights to work, health, education and freedom of expression, and other basic rights that many of us take for granted.
I know their struggles, and I am very proud to be part of the human rights movement in Guyana, calling for the repeal of discriminatory laws and enactment of laws which protect people from discrimination, based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. I am proud to be a leader of SASOD - the national organization and movement that is striving to make equality and justice a reality for every Guyanese citizen, especially our LGBT brothers and sisters.
Once again, thanks for this acknowledgement of our work - especially knowing that I work every day with people who are equally deserving. However, I am even more grateful for the opportunity to be a human rights advocate and activist. I dedicate this award to the LGBT Guyanese who fight daily struggles for their very existence, without recognition, reward or recompense. To the girls of the Guyana Trans United – Pearl, Peaches, Falatama, Isabella, Priyanka, Angel, Twinkle, Tyra, Lazana and the others – you are really the women of courage! You are all beautifully fierce and fearless trans-women and I salute you with this award! To the late Charcoe, Tiffany, Darshanie, and others, whose lives were snuffed out due to hate and stigma, I humbly accept this award in your memories.   
Again, I thank you.
 International Women of Courage Award

Friday, April 04, 2014

"Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition at National Library until Saturday



On Monday, March 31, 2014, Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) launched their “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition in celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility at the National Library’s Conference Room. 


Observed globally on March 31, International Transgender Day of Visibility is a day to visibly celebrate being transgender. It’s a day to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by transgender individuals and to highlight accomplishments. It is also an important day for allies and stakeholders to show their support for transgender people. GTU and SASOD joined these global celebrations in an effort to raise awareness of the issues and showcase Guyanese transgender people through this photo-exhibition.


The “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition is the first photographic exhibition of transgender people in Guyana. Giving a brief overview of the photo-exhibition, photographer and curator, Ulleli Verbeke, SASOD’s Co-Chair, shared that, “each photo portrays a trans-woman and is annotated with a brief quote on their lives and accomplishments. She expressed that, “the women featured in this exhibition are fearless and I am honoured to have had the opportunity to work with each of them on this project.” She thanked them for participating and for allowing her to share their stories. 



Photographer and curator of the photo-exhibition, SASOD’s Co-Chair, Ulelli Verbeke, giving an overview of the photo-exhibition


Openly sharing about her life as a trans-woman, and highlighting some of the many acts of discrimination and human rights abuses meted out to her and many other transgender people, was trans activist and GTU member, Twinkle. She chronicled her life from the time she discovered that she was “a woman trapped in man’s body” and the discrimination she experienced from family and peers. She spoke about the many acts of stigma and discrimination experienced by other transgender Guyanese from their families, employers, healthcare workers and the general population. 




Trans activist and member of the Guyana Trans United, Twinkle giving the keynote speech


Also speaking at the photo-exhbition was Mr. Derek Lambe, in his capacity as Chargé d' Affaires for the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and for the Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories. He noted that, “For the European Union, human rights and fundamental freedoms are the "silver thread" running through our actions both at home and in our external relations. The EU's position is that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are protected under existing international human rights law and that transgender, and LGBI, persons have the same rights as all other individuals — no new human rights are created for them; but neither should any be denied to them. These rights include: equality before the law, right to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, right to work and the right to health. The EU, similarly to the United Nations, is committed to the principle of the universality of human rights and reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values do not justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against transgender and LGBTI persons.” The European Union also encourages the Government of Guyana to repeal the laws criminalising same sex intimacy and cross-dressing, Mr. Lambe stated. “We fully support SASOD and Guyana Trans United in their efforts in this area. The EU demonstrates its support for LGBTI issues in relations with the Government, in public statements, in international fora, and also in providing funding to assist civil society organisations. The European Union Delegation in Guyana is proud to have been able to provide funding to the Equal Rights Trust and SASOD to support them in their efforts to combat discrimination and to advocate for legal reform and to address societal prejudice,” he added. He concluded that “one of the reasons for the international Transgender Day of Visibility is also to focus on all the good things in the trans community. This has been done beautifully in this excellent photographic exhibition, which gives a face to transgender Guyanese persons, both literally and symbolically. I congratulate Guyana Trans United and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).”




(l-r) Mr. Derek Lambe, in the capacity of Chargé d' Affaires for the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and for the Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories; Trans activist and GTU member, Twinkle; Dr. Shanti Singh, Programme Manager, NAPS; Quincy McEwan, Director of Guyana Trans United & Schemel Patrick, Advocacy and Communications Officer, SASOD


The participation of transgender Guyanese in this photo-exhibition is particularly courageous in the local context where the laws criminalise cross-dressing and there have been police crackdowns against working-class transgender women. In a September 2013 decision, Chief Justice (ag.) Ian Chang ruled that cross-dressing in public is only a crime if it is done for “improper purpose.” The learned judge did not clarify what the term “improper purpose” means nor did he indicate what improper purposes gave rise to the February 2009 police crackdown against cross-dressing. SASOD and the four trans litigants are appealing this and other aspects of Chang’s decision. The notice of appeal was prepared within the 6 week deadline of the judgment and filed. The next step is now up to the Court of appeal. The court will fix what essentially a case-management date is, after which a date will be set for arguments.


At the launch cutting the ribbon declaring the “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo – Exhibition officially opened was Dr. Shanti Singh, Programme Manager at National AIDS Programme Secretariat of the Ministry of Health. Also in attendance were Canadian High Commissioner to Guyana, Dr Nicole Giles; Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, Mr. Bryan Hunt; Diplomatic Attaché of the Mexican Embassy, Alejandro Martinez; Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy, Tabatha Fairclough; Chief of Party for the USAID/International Republican Institute LEAD project, Glenn Bradbury; PAHO/WHO Family and Community Advisor Dr. Rosalinda Hernandez; civil society partners and other supporters. 




Dr. Shanti Singh unveils the exhibition as Quincy McEwan, Director of Guyana Trans United looks on

Schemel Patrick, SASOD’s Advocacy and communications Officer, in her remarks noted that, “Guyana Trans United and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination aim to utilize this photo-exhibition to continue to empower transgender Guyanese to “stand against transphobia” by ‘visibilizing’ them in their own images and words.  For us, visibility is key to empowerment.”


The “Stand against Transphobia” photo-exhibition is being hosted with financial support from the Equal Rights Trust (ERT), the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana (EU) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).


The “Stand Against Transphobia” photo-exhibition will be housed in the lobby of the National Library, Conference Room all week until Saturday, April 5. The National Library is opened from 9:00 to 17:00 hrs. during week days, and 9:00 to 13:00 hrs. on Saturday.



A section of the participants viewing the photo-exhibition



Related Web-Links:


Twinkle’s Keynote Address: http://sasod.blogspot.com/2014/04/international-transgender-day-of.html


Derek Lambe’s Closing Remarks:http://sasod.blogspot.com/2014/04/international-transgender-day-of_4.html


International Transgender Day of Visiblity Closing Remarks



GTU/SASOD Photo-Exhibition Launch


Closing Remarks
by Mr. Derek Lambe, Chargé d' Affaires for the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and for the Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories


31 March 2014



Dr Shanti Singh, Ms Twinkle, Ms Ulelli Verbeke, members of SASOD and Guyana Trans United, colleagues from the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen.



It is a pleasure to be here on International Transgender Day of Visibility for the launch of the week-long "Stand Against Transphobia" Photo-Exhibition.



International Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated all over the world every year, and celebrates the lives of transgender persons. The day is also used to raise awareness of issues of discrimination that they often encounter.



For the European Union, human rights and fundamental freedoms are the "silver thread" running through our actions both at home and in our external relations. The EU's position is that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are protected under existing international human rights law, and that transgender, and LGBI, persons have the same rights as all other individuals — no new human rights are created for them; but neither should any be denied to them.



The EU, similarly to the United Nations, is committed to the principle of the universality of human rights and reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values do not justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against transgender and LGBI persons.



To be more specific: when speaking about the rights of transgender or LGBTI persons, we’ve always made it clear that it is not about introducing new or different rights for one group of people. It is about the same human rights being applied to every person everywhere without discrimination.



These rights include: equality before the law, right to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, right to work and the right to health.



The European Union therefore encourages the Government of Guyana to repeal the laws criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing. We fully support SASOD and Guyana Trans United in their efforts in this area.



The EU demonstrates its support for LGBTI issues in relations with the Government, in public statements, in international fora, and also in providing funding to assist civil society organisations. The European Union Delegation in Guyana is proud to have been able to provide funding to the Equal Rights Trust and SASOD to support them in their efforts to combat discrimination and to advocate for legal reform and to address societal prejudice.



As well as raising awareness of the problems transgender persons face, one of the reasons for the Trans Day of Visibility is also to focus on all the good things in the trans community. This has been done beautifully in this excellent photographic exhibition, which gives a face to transgender Guyanese persons, both literally and symbolically. I congratulate Guyana Trans United and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).



Thank you.