Activists to Guyana: Don't put human rights to a vote

Press conference opposed plans for a referendum on LGBTI rights. (Photo courtesy of News Source Guyana)
Participants in May 24 press conference opposed plans for a referendum about LGBT rights. (Photo courtesy of News Source Guyana)

Human rights bodies and LGBT advocacy groups in Guyana are speaking out against the government’s proposal to hold a referendum to determine whether same-sex sexual activity should be decriminalized, the  LGBulleTIn reports.

“Rights groups believe referendum on anti-gay laws will only fuel more homophobia” was the headline about the issue in News Source Guyana.

Activist groups vowed to boycott the referendum if it is held.  A press conference on May 24 announced that position, which is held by the Guyana Equality Forum, Guyana Trans United, Guyana Rainbow Foundation, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Red Thread, and Justice Institute Guyana.

News Source Guyana reported:

Joel Simpson, managing director of SASOD (Photo courtesy of the Guyana News Network)
Joel Simpson, managing director of SASOD (Photo courtesy of the Guyana News Network)

SASOD’s Managing Director Joel Simpson believes that holding the referendum will deepen the marginalization and isolation of LGBT persons as right-wing groups will heighten their homophobic rhetoric. …

“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,” Simpson added.

To support the assertion that LGBT Guyanese will be exposed and targeted with  homophobic vitriol, Simpson pointed to multiple homophobic statements posted on social media over the past few days as debate on the issue started.

“LGBT Guyanese, like all citizens, have the rights to life, to love and live freely without abuse, persecution or 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,” he noted. …

[Guyana’s governing coalition, APNU+AFC] in its 2015 manifesto committed to “putting measures in place to ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including … those marginalized because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against.”

Guyana's location in South America
Guyana’s location in South America

Guyana Equality Forum believes that a referendum on whether same-sex intimacy should remain a criminal offence does not fulfill that commitment but does the opposite. …

[Melinda Janki, executive director of the Justice Institute Guyana, said that criminalization] of homosexuality is a feature of British colonial rule.

“Had we been colonized by anybody other than the British we would not today have on statute books a law that is so oppressive and undermining of human dignity,” she added as she sternly called for a repeal of the colonial law.

Janki also pointed out that the United Kingdom has decriminalized homosexual behavior since 1967 and now questions why Guyana still keeps it as it approaches its 51st year of independence.

“Are our minds so hurt by colonialism that we cannot break this colonial shackle of intolerance and backwardness?” she asked. …

The government has stated that its decision to entertain a referendum is based on previous advice given to the parliament that the issue should not be dealt with by legislators only.

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Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, Erasing 76 Crimes. Contact him at info@76crimes.com.

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