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Guyana Minister asked to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination

Guyana Minister asked to protect LGBT people from workplace discrimination

The Parliament building, Georgetown, Guyana

A human rights organization in Guyana is lobbying the government to extend workplace discrimination protections to include ‘gender identity’, ‘sexual orientation’ and ‘health status’ – despite the fact that same-sex sexual activity remains illegal in the country.

Guyana is the only country in South America where gay sex remains illegal – despite being recommended to do so by the United Nations Human Rights Commission and a number of UN leaders.

The Guyana Government set up a special select committee in 2014 to explore the possibility of decriminalizing same-sex sexual activity, and a public consultation was announced. However, the National Assembly was suspended in February 2015 ahead of fresh elections and the select committee was discontinued.

Since the National Assembly reconvened last June, no legislation proposals have yet been announced and it is not believed to be a priority for the current Government.

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is calling on the Government to amend the 1997 Prevention of Discrimination Act.

‘The simple amendment would not take more than the inclusion of six words in the 1997 piece of legislation, “Gender Identity”, “Sexual Orientation”, and “Health Status”,’ it said in a statement.

In a historic first, representatives from SASOD met with Guyana Minister of Social Protection, Hon. Volda Lawrence, MP, and Ministerial Advisor on Social Protection, Hon. John Adams MP, last Thursday to raise the issue and to again press from the decriminalization of gay sex.

L-R: Alana DaSilva (SASOD); John Adams, MP, Minister Volda Lawrence, MP; and SASOD’s Joel Simpson; Schemel Patrick and Jairo Rodrigues. (© Aubrey Odle, Ministry of Social Protection)
L-R: Alana DaSilva (SASOD); John Adams, MP, Minister Volda Lawrence, MP; and SASOD’s Joel Simpson; Schemel Patrick and Jairo Rodrigues. (© Aubrey Odle, Ministry of Social Protection)

‘The absence of specific prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 leaves LGBT persons exposed to discrimination with impunity in the workplace, allows employers to refuse to hire LGBT persons, to harass or otherwise discriminate against them during their employment, or to terminate their employment on these grounds, with essentially no consequences under the law,’ said SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator Jairo Rodrigues.

Besides amending the 1997 Prevention of Discrimination Act, SOSAD suggested the government implement workplace equality policies and education programs aimed at curbing discrimination.

Minister Lawrence was receptive to SASOD’s comments and expressed the wish to work more closely with SASOD on the issues: ‘We would like to see more collaboration, we need it if we are to make a change. We must work together.’

According to Demerara Waves, the Minister agreed that there should be no discrimination in employment, education and health, saying, ‘We can’t have one group benefitting while another is suffering. We [The Ministry] do not share the view that the rights of citizens are good for one but not the others.’

Speaking to Gay Star Business, SASOD’s Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick, said that the meeting had been a first for the human rights organization and the Ministry and was a promising start to working together.

‘The meeting went well and we’re hopeful that the discussions that we had will take foot. The meeting was a first for future engagement between SASOD and the Ministry of Social Protection. We will continue to engage with ministers and other Parliamentarians.’