As the world observes Zero Discrimination Day, the Social Protection Ministry has promised to address discriminatory issues that were raised by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).
SASOD Advocacy and Communications Officer Schemel Patrick during a recent meeting with Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence and the Ministerial Advisor John Adams related that although Guyana’s labour policies support the elimination of discrimination in employment, training, recruitment, and membership of professional bodies, there are gaps that need to be addressed in the Laws of Guyana.
Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence (3rd from left) flanked by Social Protection Ministry adviser and Member of Parliament John Adams (2nd left); SASOD Managing Director Joel Simpson (3rd right); Advocacy and Communications Officer Schemel Patrick; SASOD Board Secretary Alana Da Silva and Social Change Coordinator Jairo Rodrigues at the meeting
According to the organisation the absence of a ‘specific’ prohibition on sexual orientation, gender identity and health status within the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997, leaves persons within the Lesbian Gay Bi-sexual and Transgender (LGBT) community and persons with stigmatised health conditions vulnerable to discrimination with impunity in the workplace.
Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence after listening to the concerns raised by the group agreed there should be no discrimination in employment, education and health as she expressed her responsibility to protect all Guyanese and noted her position that everyone is entitled to their rights.
“We can’t have one group benefitting while another is suffering. We (Ministry) do not share the view that the rights of citizens are good for one but not the others,” the minister said.
However, the organisation reiterated the lack of protection in law and policy for persons when it comes to sexual orientation, gender identity and health status. SASOD called for more action by the coalition government as it built its campaign on social cohesion, equal rights, inclusion and cooperation amongst all people.
Meanwhile, SASOD Managing Director Joel Simpson reminded that Guyana has made voluntary commitments to international agreements and has a legal obligation under international human rights law to honour its commitments.
He noted that observation while referring to recommendations from the United Nations Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Review in 2015 to consider de-criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing, and enact laws which protect LGBT people from discrimination.
In addition, he outlined a ‘schizophrenic situation’ regarding Guyana’s laws stating, “How can someone who is transgender go to the police station to report intimate partner violence and other crimes against them when they themselves are persecuted for something as simple as being who they are by cross-dressing?”
This, he explained has a great deal of positive impact in accessing other socio-economic rights for all, and serves as a push for Parliament to consider and amend other gaps in legislation that discriminates against certain groups of Guyanese citizens.
Moreover, the community also recommended that the government implement and support comprehensive workplace equality policies and educational programmes aimed at curbing discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and health status in the workplace, both in the public service and private sector.