2. The legal structures of Guyana are inherited from the British Legal system, Guyana is signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other Rights Conventions established by the United Nations.
3. Section 351, 352 and 353 of the Criminal Law Offences Act (8:01) states that
351. "Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, by any male person, of any act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour's and liable to imprisonment for two years.4. These laws have not been used to incriminate consensual acts recently, but only used when there is a form of sexual assault, especially against minors.
352. Everyone who: (a) attempts to commit buggery:; or
(b) assaults any person with intent to commit buggery; or (c) being a male, indecently assaults any other male person, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for ten years.
353. Everyone who commits buggery, with a human being or with any other living creature, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life".
“If any laws were broken, the police would charge ...”5. Homophobia in Guyana is grounded around these laws and the advocacy of some religious groups who cite religious teachings to oppose rights to sexual orientation and gender identity. This homophobia has also transferred into popular culture with the influence of some Jamaican based dancehall artistes.
“Commissioner of Police, press conference, 2004 responding to reporters' questions after a police officer and a civil servant were 'found' in a hotel room.
The first attempt to address the legal basis of homophobia is in 2000 during the Constitutional Reform process. The Constitutional Reform committee used the South African model as the basis for a new inclusive society in which human rights are guaranteed for all persons.
3. In January 2001, the Parliament of Guyana voted for a constitutional amendment that would amongst other things, include 'sexual orientation' as one of the characteristics for non-discrimination. President Jagdeo refused to assent to the Amendment after pressure from members of the Evangelical Christian and Muslim clergy. The Parliament was dissolved for General Elections. The issue was raised again in May 2003, when the Constitutional Amendment bills were passed to establish the various rights commissions.
4. The public debate was led largely by the Christian and Muslim community which lobbied at all levels to remove that discrimination.
5. SASOD (Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) is an informal network of people who are opposed to discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. This group formed as a response to the prevailing homophobic conditions and to present the case in support of the rights of gay and lesbian people.
6. The Amendment Bill floundered in Parliament, with no vote being taken. This was because the Government introduced a bill which it had no intention of supporting, creating unprecedented history in the Parliament.
7. In November of 2004, the Minister of Health acknowledged that the sodomy laws in the Caribbean would have to be repealed to effectively deal with HIV/AIDS . His views were opposed by members of the Evangelical Christian Community, who also protested against the idea that the Ministry of Health would offer condoms to male prisoners. The Cabinet Secretary subsequently indicated that the Government had no intention of changing their position on the Sexual Orientation;
Dr Ramsammy said existing laws that make prostitution and homosexuality offences are not being enforced and if they are enforced, commercial sex workers and gays will go underground because of fear of discrimination.Dr. Luncheon refutes speculations that Government’s position conflicts with that of the Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy..
"We know them, and we have stopped criminalising them. We aren't going to take them to court. But our legal books say it’s wrong," he said.
"It's better that you take the thing (laws) off the books than to have them and be hypocritical about it and do nothing about it (HIV). For me it's not a moral issue, the fact is that these things stigmatise people."
“This may seem to be so, but there is no conflict…there might have been arguments made in the public, maybe even suggestions about courses of interventions from the health perspective; but when it comes to the Government’s positions on sexual orientation, I can assure you that the Government’s position is the Government’s position,” he said.8. SASOD has asserted the following :-
* The right to equal protection of the law without any discrimination (Article 7) is denied by omitting sexual orientation from our constitution and anti-discrimination laws.
* The right to privacy (Article 10) is denied by the existence of ‘sodomy laws’ under s. 352 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act Cap. 8: 01 which seek to criminalize sexual activity between consenting male adults.
* The right to work (Article 23) is the most affected among the economic rights as many lesbians, gays and bisexuals in Guyana are being fired or discriminated against in employment policies and practices because of their perceived sexual orientation and are too scared to raise these issues in the public domain for fear of further victimisation
* The right to a standard of living adequate for health and well-being including medical care and necessary social services (Article 25) is at conflict with discriminatory policies and practices, some physicians’ homophobia, the lack of adequate training for health care personnel regarding sexual orientation issues or the general assumption that patients are heterosexual.
* Some lesbian, gay and bisexual students in Guyana do not enjoy the right to education (Article 26) because of an unsafe climate created by peers and educators in schools.
9. SASOD has engaged in several public activities to promote awareness around the issues on gay and lesbian rights, while participating in different actions. SASOD has been successful in hosting several events such as a film festival, a leaflet distribution campaign, and some other forums. However, persons have been concerned about the publicity of these events since it is felt that people would be targeted for attending them.
Many gay and lesbian Guyanese hide their sexual orientation since the sodomy laws could be invoked. As a result, some people have accused for example SASOD members of making up stories since there is no evidence to back the stories. The environment of secrecy discourages full evidence led actions in some instances – for example in challenging employment related discrimination.
Combating homophobia in popular Culture.
10. In December, 2005, SASOD members wrote to the Ethnic Relations Commission, a public body mandated to,amongst other things ““encourage and create respect for religious, cultural and other forms of diversity in a plural society” (Article 212d(f), Constitution of Guyana) requesting sanctions against the musicians and their promoters who attacked gay and lesbian people in their lyrics. The Ethnic Relations Commission has so far not responded to this request and this is a serious indictment of the role of a State body.
11. SASOD recognises that in Guyana and the English speaking Caribbean, the sodomy laws can be enforced selectively depending on the judicial system. SASOD recognises that other countries, including the United Kingdom have repealed the sodomy laws, and have also enforced stronger legislation to combat sexual assault perpetrated on male victims. The English Speaking Caribbean territories must also overcome the historical injustices which were imposed on people who are not heterosexual.
12. SASOD believes that the homophobic rhetoric emanating from fundamentalist religious bodies in North America and elsewhere will impact on the ability of local activists in the Caribbean to combat discriminatory practices.
13. SASOD notes that different Caribbean Governments, and Government officials have taken different stances on the rights of gay and lesbian peoples. SASOD believes that the Caribbean Governments which are signatory to International Conventions must rise above the pressure exerted in the name of religion to ensure that all citizens can be assured of their right to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination – SASOD