The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Guyana has observed that the political will to address issues affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community in Guyana remains largely unchanged.
SASOD Guyana hosted a discussion forum in observance of its 13th anniversary on June 7, where LGBT human rights advocates and organisations reflected on the struggles and progress made in reducing the discrimination against those vulnerable groups in society.
The discussions were moderated by SASOD Managing Director Joel Simpson and the panel included Lecturer in the Department of Sociology at the University of Guyana, Dr Jewel Thomas, transgender advocate Antonio Paul, and University of West Indies student of Sociology and Gender and Development Studies Derwayne Wills.
According to the panelists, the LGBT movement in Guyana is bound to make little progress unless the country’s political leaders demonstrate genuine willingness to reduce instances of discrimination and violence against LGBT persons.
Wills posited that the movement needs to start with politicians and that the lack of political will to make the necessary changes and the fear of losing constituencies have contributed significantly to why homophobia persists in the Guyanese society.
“They are afraid to speak out in defence of the weak and poor because they might lose a few voters,” Wills remarked.
It was also observed that extreme homophobia and punitive laws are still being enforced by the State, creating a difficult society as discrimination and prejudice with extreme homophobia supported by the State stifles and chokes many vulnerable communities, especially in rural areas. She said though this is a terrible social ill, it can lead to stronger inter-personal relationships and people who feel weak or voiceless can come together to find community support – much like what is seen in the LGBT community with SASOD and the Guyana Trans United (GTU).
“Homophobia robs people of the right to speak and participate in societies. What we see is that LGBT people will then have to navigate in their own space and are effectively being made refugees in their own countries. It really is a difficult society when homophobia is left to foster, much less endorsed by the State,” Dr Thomas lamented.
Calls were also made for the media to play a more integral role in the fight against LGBT discrimination and violence.
“The role of the media, particularly the State media,” Wills, also a member of the media fraternity, expressed.
He continued, “The media should really be giving voice to minority groups, marginalised communities, and really legitimising the existence of these vulnerable groups in our society.”