says lack of relevant laws stymieing anti- discrimination efforts
The lack of laws to protect homosexuals here proves a deterrent in the fight against discrimination, according to co-founder of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Vidyaratha Kissoon.
He told Guyana Times that while his organisation continues to work to eradicate discrimination against homosexuals, it is becoming increasingly difficult despite efforts to educate the populace.
Vidyaratha Kissoon holds a picket during a demonstration outside the Office of the President
He noted that “the police response to homophobic violence is an issue of concern.” Kissoon said earlier this year a man was attacked and his face slashed badly, but the police failed to arrest the perpetrator who was made known to them. He added that the man was victimised when he sought treatment at the hospital. The injured man was told he deserved what he got. “There are other cases of homophobic violence which are not reported because of fear of the police. There is discrimination in the workplace – and many LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender] people are not being employed due to discrimination from employers,” he stated.
Asked about his organisation’s work in fighting discrimination and the impact it has made over the years, Kissoon noted that SASOD has come a long way in its fight for equal rights and access, but the lack of legislation to protect homosexuals dampens the efforts. He stated that the human rights of all citizens must be respected, despite their sexual orientation or preference. He alleged government’s housing policy discriminates against LGBT people who do not have children or cannot have children.
Kissoon said, “Young LGBT people are often in need of housing because they are kicked out of their family homes. There is discrimination.” However, the SASOD’s co-founder added that the culture of the country has shifted somewhat since the start of the organisation, noting that persons are a bit more educated and open about issues of sexuality. He, however, noted that his organisation is not solely focused on sexual orientation rights, but on other issues and seeks to reach out to all citizens.
SASOD operates, he said, in an atmosphere where there is homophobia, “but where there are persons from different backgrounds who are not homophobic and who would like Guyana to be a society which celebrates its diversity. It is important to be accountable as well in the work which is done and there are various donors with whom SASOD”.
The organisation is committed to eradicating discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and supports strongly the view of equal rights for all persons. Over the years, SASOD has been lobbying the government to implement legal reform to incorporate rights for homosexuals so that there can be less discrimination with the view to obtaining equal rights and access for all.
When asked whether any of the calls made to the government and other agencies to embrace sexual orientation were heeded, Kissoon said: “The latest call has been through the Universal Periodic Review process where Guyana has been asked to implement the necessary legal reform. We have also seen that while there are some statements which are made by senior officials, there is very limited implementation of polices needed to ensure that LGBT people are treated without discrimination.”
He added that the executive of the organisation has not met with the government recently, but would like to see a “general commitment to inclusive governance practices not only at the national level, but also at the local government level.”
He added that SASOD would also like to ensure that local government elections are conducted in the near future. “The next Guyana review is scheduled for 2015 and we expect that the National Assembly will be dealing with the necessary legislative reform to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and discrimination.”
Struggle for recognition
Kissoon noted also that SASOD has had to fight to gain recognition, saying that when it was formed in 2003, Parliament was considering constitutional amendments to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. “The organisation started as a group of students, who after they graduated, linked with other individuals to deal with the issues around sexual orientation and gender identity.”
SASOD was formed in July 2003, and registered via a Trust Deed in September 2006. In October 2005, the members of SASOD agreed to organise and host a series of films which contributed to raising awareness on the dynamics of homosexual persons.
This was deemed a huge achievement for the organisation as there are penalties for consensual same-sex relations and discriminatory laws against cross-dressing as a form of gender expression. Subsequently other film festivals followed from 2006 to 2011.The festivals have screened films from all over the world which feature stories about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. The festivals have included documentaries, shorts and feature films.
The group used the media, and also was able to be visible and consistent in its advocacy. SASOD also used the film festival as a place for discussion and debate. In 2008, SASOD implemented a project through the Health Ministry which resulted in the creation of website at http://www.sasod.org.gy.
There is another organisation, GuyBow which also works on advocacy and services for LGBT people. Most recently we have been accredited with the OAS,” said the SASOD co-founder.
The membership of the organisation is drawn from a wide cross-section of society and many embrace varying religious beliefs. “Some persons disclose their sexual orientation and gender identity selectively – as they feel safe and comfortable to do so.”
Kissoon has noted that the film festival initiative has invoked some criticism from some religious organisations, but said the festival is not only open to homosexuals but to all persons with the aim of continuing the education process. He said, “Different people seek different ways of reconciling their faith with their sexuality and SASOD has people who are in different stages of doing that.”
Kissoon added that SASOD represents a group of people who are committed to promoting the human rights and dignity of all citizens regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
By Ariana Gordon
Source – Guyana Times