GEF condemns Govt’s move to hold referendum on repealing same-sex intimacy

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The Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) says it strongly condemns the declarations of the APNU/AFC Coalition Government to hold a referendum on whether Guyana’s colonial-era law which criminalizes same-sex intimacy should be repealed.

Government had said that it believes that no person should be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and subsequently announced that the populace would decide via a referendum whether homosexuality should remain a criminal offence.

According to the Forum however, “holding this divisive referendum will deepen the marginalization and isolation of LGBT persons as right-wing groups will undoubtedly heighten their homophobic rhetoric, as is already happening on social media. Instead of strengthening social cohesion and building national unity, it will further divide our nation, which still suffers from ethno-political conflicts. It will cause further stress and mental health burdens to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese who will be exposed and targeted with homophobic vitriol in the public sphere and on social media, in particular.”

See their full statement below:

The Guyana Equality Forum strongly condemns the declarations of the APNU+AFC Coalition Government to hold a referendum on whether Guyana’s colonial-era law which criminalizes same-sex intimacy and violates the human rights of sexual and gender minorities should be repealed.

All citizens of Guyana deserve basic human rights and the rights of a minority group should not be subject to a popular vote. Holding this divisive referendum will deepen the marginalization and isolation of LGBT persons as right-wing groups will undoubtedly heighten their homophobic rhetoric, as is already happening on social media. Instead of strengthening social cohesion and building national unity, it will further divide our nation, which still suffers from ethno-political conflicts. It will cause further stress and mental health burdens to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese who will be exposed and targeted with homophobic vitriol in the public sphere and on social media, in particular.

The GEF notes with concern that social leaders who are expected to engage in reasoned debates are already using social media in this very harmful manner. Social Worker Nicole Cole, who sits on both the Rights of the Child Commission and the Women and Gender Equality Commission, has posted multiple homophobic statements on Facebook over the last few days. The GEF calls on these two constitutional commissions on which Ms. Cole sits, to hold her to account for her public utterances which do not correspond with the mission and values of these rights-based bodies, which are set up to work for all Guyanese.

LGBT Guyanese, like all citizens, have the rights to life, to love and live freely without abuse, persecution and discrimination. They have the rights to access justice, live in a society without fear of hate crimes, have their voices heard, represent and be represented at every level of decision-making in this country; socialize freely, be included and cooperate in the development of Guyana, according to our motto, as “One People, One Nation, One Destiny.”

These rights are often denied to LGBT persons living in Guyana. They face constant torment and abuse, isolation and discrimination in all forms. Although our flawed, incomplete Constitution is being touted as offering protection to every citizen by the APNU+AFC administration, which has failed to deliver promised reforms to date, LGBT persons are the only group who are criminalized for simply being who they are by punitive laws against cross-dressing and same-sex intimacy.

The Coalition Government, through Ministers of Social Protection, Legal Affairs, Public Health, Education, Social Cohesion, and even His Excellency President Granger himself, have repeatedly committed their support for education programmes, law review, and social change which fulfil human rights for LGBT people. The APNU+AFC coalition 2015 manifesto explicitly commits to “putting measures in place to ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including… those marginalised because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against.”

Holding a referendum on whether same-sex intimacy should remain a criminal offence does not fulfil that commitment. In fact, it does the opposite. Homophobia will increase as misguided, emotional arguments are made on a topic which the majority of the population is not educated to engage on rationally. Fear of the unknown exists and religion and personal biases will be misused to attempt to justify the laws of a secular, democratic state, which we are striving to build.

The same resources the Government intends to squander on holding this referendum can instead be properly used to education programmes on human rights, gender and sexual diversity. That would be a more productive step towards fulfilling its commitment to ‘put measures in place to ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society are protected and not discriminated against.’

Human rights exist to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority. As SASOD has stated recently, the Government cannot say that human rights are universal, and no one should suffer discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (referring to the remarks by Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Hon. Basil Williams, SC, M.P. on May 15, 2017), but then call a referendum to determine whether discriminatory laws against a minority group should be kept or scraped through a popular vote for the bigoted majority to decide.

This referendum will not be supported by the Guyana LGBT Coalition [Guyana Trans United (GTU), Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow) and SASOD which are the three LGBT-led Guyanese groups.] The GEF will also not support this move to decide on any rights issue by popular vote.

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