By Lakhram Bhagirat
In Guyana, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer (LGBTQ+) community is heavily marginalised when it comes to not only society but also in the eyes of the law. While there has been some progress in the legal arena, there is still a long way to go.
Like in heterosexual relationships, there are also instances of violence in homosexual relationships. Another common thing is that many of those cases remain unreported for a number of reasons but for the LGBTQ+ community, it is mainly stigma.
The LGBTQ+ community is facing the stigma of being part of that community and then when they are victims of intimate partner violence, they are also stigmatised when it comes to reporting. It is especially hard for gay men to report instances of intimate partner violence since in the eyes of the law, them being together is an act of illegality.
To get an understanding of the struggles faced by the community, the Sunday Times sat down with the Head of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson, who related that reporting violence in same-sex relationships are most of the time, a struggle.
“We are in a context where the law criminalises intimacy between these men so how do you go to the people who are supposed to enforce the laws, whether the laws are good or bad, and tell them that you’ve been the victim of violence in the context where you are in an in an intimate relationship and that intimacy that you are engaged in is criminalised,” he said.
The institutional stigma and discrimination coupled with the socio-cultural stigma and discrimination attached to intimate partner violence are more pronounced when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community. It heightens the fear of lack of justice and forces victims underground resulting in the true picture not being painted.
The community does not report the violence they face at the hands of their partners to law enforcement nor do they engage the relevant organisations that could provide critical assistance. However, this is not only applicable to the LGBTQ+ community but also the hetero-sphere as well.
Women, who are mostly victims in hetero relationships, are quite often too dependent on their partners and as such find it harder to leave abusive situations. In some cases, they are conditioned to believe that the abuse they are experiencing stems from a place of love.
There are early signs that one may have an abusive partner and, in the LGBTQ+ community, those signs include, but are not limited to your partners convincing you that you cannot access help mainly because of your sexuality or gender. It also includes them telling you that by going to the authorities, you are effectively outing yourself which would result in you being shunned. They would, many times, try to justify their behaviour and make you feel inferior.
At SASOD, while their services for gender-based violence victims are heavily targeted, it is extended to hetero victims as well.
“They don’t report the violence they face to organisations. They don’t report it to the Police. So, there is a great deal of under-reporting and gender-based violence is largely under-reported and I think significantly it is under-reported in LGBTQ relationships.
Even if people don’t want to go to the Police, at SASOD we encourage them to come to us. We have a variety of services we provide in relation to gender-based violence victims and not just to LGBTQ persons but to everybody suffering gender-based violence or intimate partner violence across the board. So, our services are inclusive as much as they are targeted,” Simpson related.
Those services include counselling which is essential since violence comes with trauma.
SASOD also documents the reports so when victims are more comfortable with sharing their stories with law enforcement, it is documented as proof of them confiding in someone. Some persons also reach out to SASOD for help in following up on their reports of the matter with the Police because many times it seems as though it is going nowhere.
Quite often, SASOD would encounter instances of no progress in Police investigations of domestic violence reports mainly because the perpetrator would have “connections.” In those cases, they would have to contact senior officers, mostly Divisional Commanders, to relate their findings and it is only after that would they see some progress in the investigation.
That serves as a major deterrent for the LGBTQ+ community when reporting intimate partner violence.
Prior to COVID-19, officials from SASOD would escort victims to the Police Stations to make reports but since the pandemic, they have stopped. However, their support did not. They facilitate appointments with officers they work with so that victims can, in a safe space, make their reports and have their matters tended to.
“We provide legal services because some people are not just ready to report to the Police, they are also ready to file for custody of their children, get a divorce or if it is LGBTQ persons that are not in any heterosexual type of marriage, they might have a joint property with somebody, they might have entered in a contract, joint bank account and they need legal services to resolve those kinds of issues. So if they can’t afford a private attorney we have pro bono lawyers who can assist with these kinds of things,” he related.
Over the years, SASOD has seen a fluctuation in the number of reported cases of intimate partner violence. In 2018 they received 14 such reports, in 2019 it was 38 and 2020 they had 10.
They have been taking steps to ensure that all instances of intimate partner violence, particularly in the LGBTQ+ community, are reported and dealt with. Through their Homophobias Education Programme, they are working to address all of the challenges.
“To tackle gender-based violence we have to change the culture and the norms around gender and we’ve just started a project under the spotlight initiative to eliminate violence against women and girls… The Guyana Football Federation is one of the organisations that is working with us. We are helping them to develop a diversity and inclusion programme so that from the leadership/organisational level there are guidelines that say sexism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, racism, xenophobic all of these prejudices would not be tolerated in the football sector and if anybody says anything homophobic, sexist, or misogynist or so on this is the action that the Football Federation would take. This is important because we see in the international sporting arena that Caribbean athletes are having a tough time because every now and again, they are putting their foot in their mouths,” Simpson said.
SASOD is encouraging members of the LGBTQ+ community who are in abusive relationships to come forward and seek help.