Jul 20, 2013 News
By Latoya Giles
The much anticipated launch of the survey report “Attitudes toward Homosexuals in Guyana” was held yesterday at the Moray House, where several panelists including Peter Wickham, the Director of CADRES made presentations.
Senior lecturer in the Department of Social Studies, of the University of Guyana, Dr. Mellissa Ifill, was one of the presenters. Her presentation was dubbed evaluating the Situation of LBGTI Individuals in Guyana.
According to Dr. Ifill, the survey and consequential report “Attitudes towards Homosexuals in Guyana 2013” fills an important vacuum in the examination of the situation of the Lesbian, Bisexual, and Gay, Transgender and Intersex (LBGTI) individuals in Guyana. She said that it exposes the attitudes, beliefs and perceptions that justify and excuse discrimination and maltreatment of citizens with differing sexual orientations and in fact, reinforces many of findings of the more focused, less extensive qualitative studies conducted in Guyana.
She explained that prior to this survey which was done by CADRES/SASOD, the studies conducted to date have several limitations, including small sample size. Ifill told the gathering that they are largely qualitative in scope and have been concentrated on men who have sex with men (MSM) and male/transgender sex workers within the donor driven context of HIV/AIDS research.
As a result, Dr. Ifill said that analyses which address other groups with the LBGTI continuum and those that examine societal attitudes to LBGTI individuals are missing. She said that the report therefore fills an important gap in the literature and will be useful for activists and policy makers as they attempt to enhance the security of LBGTI individuals in Guyana.
Although limited, and not of a statistical/quantitative nature, Ifill said that there is sufficient available evidence to broadly assert that there are LBGTI individuals who experience discrimination, marginalization and abuse because of their sexual orientation and gender identity in Guyana.
She noted that LGBTI persons have very little state protection and acknowledgement of rights, which renders this group particularly vulnerable to abuse.
She said that it was the UNDP’s 2011 Human Development Report on Citizen Security in the Caribbean which identified the LGBTI community as one of the vulnerable groups to discrimination, crime and violence in the Caribbean (along with woman and children).
The report also sought to ascertain why they are targeted, where and why there is social approval for certain forms of violence and why certain communities are relatively unprotected.
The report noted that while violence against vulnerable groups in Guyana is not a recent phenomenon, it appears to be intensifying as the society overall seems to have become more violent in the wake of the emergence and growth of a market economy and a changed social structure that was accompanied by growing crime.
One pressing dilemma, she said, is for policymakers. Civil society has been slow to prevent discrimination, violence and crime. It has also been slow to legally protect vulnerable groups and, foster harmony and peace overall within the society.
According to Dr Ifill, the dilemma becomes greater when resistance to protection of these groups is premised on deep religious and cultural bases.
Dr Ifill opined that the study further disclosed that levels of tolerance were connected to a number of factors including geography, area size and wealth/social class with urban and wealthy residents displaying more social tolerance, while smaller sized communities are less tolerant of LBGTI individuals and their lifestyles.
The lecturer explained that a 2010 UNDP sponsored study on sexual and gender minorities supports the notion that there are different levels of tolerance to LGBTI individuals in Guyana although according to this study from an ethnic and cultural standpoint.
She noted that in focus group discussions, MSM reported low levels of tolerance in predominantly Afro Guyanese communities where they are physically attacked and taunted while there are some perceptibly higher levels of tolerance in Indo Guyanese communities. Consequently MSM reported feeling more comfortable living in the latter neighbourhoods.
Discrimination and lack of social tolerance of gender and sexual identity minorities in Guyana are premised upon cultural tradition, religious opposition and the law, Ifill said. The most vociferous opposition to extending full rights constitutionally and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation emanates from the religious community in Guyana, and especially from sections of the Christian and Muslim faiths.
She said that the fact, sustained protest from the latter two groups was believed to be largely responsible for the President’s not assenting to the Constitutional Amendment No. 5 Bill No. 18, 2000 which parliament passed by a vote of 55-0 and submitted for his assent. Ifill said that these religious groups fought to have sexual orientation bases taken out of the fundamental rights section of the constitution, and argued that while they supported banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, they were not in agreement that the ban should be enshrined as a constitutional right (Stabroek News January 26, 2001 “Sexual Orientation Bill Going back to Parliament”.)
Ultimately the Government dropped the constitutional amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (Wills 2010).
Consequently in Guyana, there are still serious legal consequences for male homosexuality by law while female homosexuality continues to be largely ignored. Although there have been no recorded convictions of individuals involved in private, consensual male homosexual acts, legally and constitutionally, there is no accommodation of MSM.
Also illegal under the laws of Guyana is cross-dressing. She noted that while the law banning homosexual intercourse is specifically directed towards men and ignores homosexual contact between women, the laws against cross dressing apply equally to men and women although, women wearing male garb have not been prosecuted while men wearing female garb have been placed before the courts and subjected to ridicule, intolerance or abuse from members of the public and even members of the judiciary.
Although male sexual intercourse is legally prohibited, abuse against LBGTI individuals is not tolerated at several legal levels. Any individual, who is violated or abused physically, including members of sexual and gender minorities, has recourse to the law and the perpetrator is liable to be punished.
LBGTI rights advocates argue that there is some incompatibility between international conventions and laws and Guyana’s domestic laws. These rights advocates note that Guyana is a signatory to the UN Declaration of Human Rights that guarantee and protect human rights of every individual, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, age or wealth and therefore it is obligated to ensure that the constitution and domestic laws explicitly offer protection to all citizens rather than criminalizing them.
They have therefore insisted that there be a repeal of the laws outlawing homosexuality and cross dressing.
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