Social Protection Minister Volda Lawrence on Tuesday called for the inclusion and recognition of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in keeping with the aim of gender equality.
Lawrence was at the time addressing those gathered at a Women’s Empowerment Cocktail and Reception to celebrate marginalised women which was held in commemoration of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2016. The event was hosted by the British High Commission in collaboration with Red Thread; Guyanese Women Roundtable (GWR); Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), on Tuesday, March 8, at the British High Commissioner’s Residence in Georgetown.
In her address, the Minister stated that gender inequality was evident in Guyana and was not affecting only one gender. “In Guyana, gender inequality rears its ugly head in different forms; we have women who are discriminated against in terms of accessing employment and equal remuneration; we have groups such as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people which are stigmatised and ostracised, because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, whose rights to acceptance in work environments and accessing educational pursuits are denied,” she stated. “We witness the high incidence of abuse and domestic violence of our women and young girls, trafficking in persons, not to mention the alarming trend of suicide that is rampant among our young women as well as our young men.”
She emphasised that in this day and age, it was important that society moved forward from the norm of discrimination against the LGBT community in order to achieve gender equality and complete respect for human rights. “In this era of global progress, we can ill-afford to remain caught in the traps of traditional mindsets, shunning and deeming LGBT persons as outcasts in our society. We have to wake up to the realisation that these are human beings whose human, political and social rights are being violated when we deny them access to the opportunities that we enjoy, when we categorically say no to every initiative of theirs to be involved or we pressure them in the work environment when we learn that their sexual orientation or gender identity is different from ours. Admittedly, we would have failed as a society, as a nation if we do not take the necessary steps and make the shift towards acceptance of these individuals,” she urged.
Lawrence reiterated that it was critical that we find sustainable solutions to the social issues that plague society, saying “I wish to reiterate that we have to commit to changing the perception of these individuals. Yes, if we intend to promote gender equality, we cannot pretend that this group is non-existent. In our workplaces, in our institutions, we have to embrace these individuals and use their potential and skills for the benefit of economic, social and political progress. We must accord them the same process of inclusion, recognition and upward mobility irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity. We, therefore, have to spread awareness in our working environments. From the top of the organisational chart right through to the auxiliary staff, we have to rally for a change in attitude. We must spread the message of tolerance, and remove the gender bias with respect to this group.”
The Minister further highlighted the importance of transforming thoughts and words into positive actions, reiterating her Ministry’s commitment to prioritising gender equality and women’s empowerment, and supporting all organisations that are involved in the struggle for gender parity.
Acting British High Commissioner Ron Rimmer shared Lawrence’s sentiments, adding that while International Women’s Day was a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, it also marked a call to action for accelerating gender parity.