Public policy must include gender identity – Kissoon

The Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is urging a comprehensive review of a broad range of policy statements and is calling for the development of clear guidelines of policies in the public sector.

Social rights activist, Vidyaratha Kissoon, who spoke on behalf of the society, said the education policy has shown signs of discriminatory practices against persons with contemporary sexual tendencies. Kissoon pointed out that since most teachers are very religious-minded, they unknowingly perpetuate prejudice against students perceived to be lesbians, gays, bisexual or transvestites (LGBT).

“It’s a confusing time for most young people and many LGBT people dropout of school, so it’s a matter of the importance of ensuring that these young people remain in schools,” Kissoon said.
There is a high dropout rate of lesbian, gay and bisexual students who are not supported by the school system, Kissoon said, noting that this lack of skills could lead to further poverty and risky behaviour.

Quoting Guyana’s Universal Periodic Review, Kissoon said there should be no discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.Kissoon applauded policies that were issued by the last administration, especially in the area of health. He noted that while the society appreciates these efforts, it is concerned about inconsistent policies and double standards exhibited by public and private officials, despite government’s stance.

Kissoon disclosed that in the absence of law, there are some other policies that must be established, clearly stated and closely monitored. As it relates to security, Kissoon lamented the response of the police to reports of attacks on gay people, and explained that this is another area which exhibits inconsistency with the relevant legislation.

He noted that some policemen are even known for laughing at persons filing such reports or resort to turning them away from the police station. “We have seen that the Guyana Police Force has to undergo further reform in its understanding of human rights. LGBT people have had various responses from police, but mostly negative. One person who was slashed on his face has given up on getting the police to charge the perpetrator. Others do not want to report issues because the police have laughed at them or taken complaints and not followed up. Sometimes, the police are helpful and sometimes they are not.”

He said many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transvestite people are concerned about access to low-income housing, which only focuses on persons with families and children. Kissoon noted that this amounts to discrimination against single people and those who may chose not to have children, but may still require low-income housing. With regards to access to livelihoods, Kissoon believes that government and Parliament should be clear in ensuring that there is no workplace discrimination.

“The private sector agencies with whom the government works should be clear about non discrimination. Some of the LGBT persons had registered with the Central Manpower and Recruitment Agency (CRMA) and have not been able to find work.” Kissoon said that poverty remains a burning issue of contention for many lesbians, gays, bisexual and transvestite people and explained that many homosexuals find it difficult to access even part-time jobs.

“It’s not me, my customers might not like how you walk, or how you talk,” Kissoon quoted some employers as saying. Those people who have been affected by discrimination on their sexual orientation and gender identity have now renewed their calls for inclusive democracy. According to SASOD, the new parliament in its legislative agenda should look at the commitments and recommendations from the Human Rights Council on the Universal Periodic Review.

Those recommendations include a repeal of the cross-dressing laws, the sodomy laws as well as the enforcement of the sexual offence laws which forms the basis for punishing perpetrators of all forms of sexual violence. Kissoon said the organisation is urging government agencies to recognise same-sex common law relationships as it relates to access to state resources and adoption.
“Some LGBT people are caring for children, and would like their partners to be adoptive parents as well,” Kissoon related.

The organisation maintains that government should not allow religious views to dictate human rights principles since most local laws are part of Guyana’s complex colonial legacy. “When the government and Parliament talk about participation and consultation on issues of rights of LGBT citizens, we expect that the views of LGBT citizens are taken into account.”

SASOD has acknowledged the recent shift in Guyana’s democracy and said the new policymakers should ensure that all are included in the decision making process, regardless of their social standing or status. The society is urging citizens to continue to be vigilant and to ensure the democratic norms are practiced and travesty of justice are dealt with by the appropriate institutions.

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Source – Guyana Times