The acceptance of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT) in Guyana has always been an issue of contention, but advocates for the rights of those people are taking their fight internationally and turning their heads and voices to countries with pro-LGBT legislation.
In a report published by the Huffington Post (Huffpost gay voices) earlier this week, Guyana has been singled out as the only South American country bearing strong anti-gay legislation; which makes same-sex sexual acts illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
The international news website highlighted on a map by the International LGBT Association which shows where countries stand in relation to gay rights, that Guyana stands out as a red spot for having what was described as “harsh anti-gay” legislation.
The article highlighted Guyana as being unsafe, not in terms of high rates of violence, but high levels of discrimination, anti-gay legislation and lack of protection for persons in the gay realm.
The report on Guyana even spoke of the September 2013, ruling of Chief Justice Ian Chang, which allowed cross dressing, but not for any “improper purposes.”
The gay advocates have described the ruling as minor progress towards gay rights in the country, but highlighted however that the decision is “unclear” and still, persons are unsure of the meaning of the decision.
Nhojj, an out singer/songwriter from Guyana has been most vocal on the issue, even writing a gay rights reality piece on Guyana for the international news agency last summer.
The songwriter who also has a song on the matter, indicated that there have been minor legislative triumphs, but same-sex sexual acts are still very much illegal and punishable by imprisonment.
In an interview with HuffPost Live’s Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, Nhojj said that the Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), an LGBT human rights organization in Guyana, is now working on appealing the law to make it more transparent.
He related that at the end of last year, the CJ ruled that cross-dressing is now legal for men so long as it is not for any “improper purpose”; “However, the court failed to clarify what an “improper purpose” entails,” Nhojj stated.
“I don’t think anyone really understands what those terms mean,” Nhojj told the newscast. He pointed out however that there are strong social and cultural pressures to act straight.
“I have (lesbian friends) who live in Guyana, and they say walking down the street, people taunt them,” Nhojj explained.
Even when he is walking with friends, persons hurl slurs at them. Nhojj did tell the newscast that there are things LGBT people can be thankful for.
“I think the one thing I am kind of thankful for and grateful for is that it’s not to the point that people are being killed. There’s a lot of pressure, social pressure, some physical harm, and of course we want to get to a point where everyone is really safe and everyone can really celebrate their sexuality. But we’re not there yet.
But I think there’s something to celebrate where we’ve gotten to the point where we can be on the radio talking and there are other organizations that support SASOD in their mission of equality.”
In a survey “Attitudes toward Homosexuals in Guyana”, which was launched in July last year, Guyanese were demonstrated as being largely either tolerant or accepting of homosexuals, while 25 per cent of the population could genuinely be described as “homophobic”.
The survey showed that 58 per cent of the people were tolerant or accepting of homosexuals, while 17 per cent were undecided.
It also showed that a large number of the survey’s participants believed that discrimination against the lifestyle is incorrect.
Recently, Zenita Nicholson, a local human rights advocate and Society against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) member was honoured with the United States Embassy’s ‘International Woman of Courage’ Award for the work she has been doing here on gay rights.
For her role as a civil society activist, Nicholson was selected for the award since she “embodies the principles of women’s leadership on issues of global importance,” Chargé d’Affaires, Bryan Hunt had disclosed.
While on the flip side, recently, two cross dressers who operate as commercial sex workers had to seek medical attention after they were attacked by someone with a paint ball gun.
While one person was shot on the leg the other received several hits to the body and was rendered unconscious.
They had complained that the police had not taken their complaint of the matter seriously and they did not render the necessary assistance.
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