Wednesday, February 11, 2015

SASOD receives Red Ribbon Award Cheque and Debriefs on Melbourne AIDS Conference

On Thursday, January 22, 2015, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in collaboration with the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS (UNAIDS) hosted a debriefing session on the 20th International AIDS Conference and received the cheque for winning the Red Ribbon Award in the category of Human Rights and Advocacy at Moray House in Georgetown.

The session, chaired by SASOD’s Social Change Coordinator Chelauna Providence, provided a platform for representatives from the national delegation who attended the conference to present and share how they are implementing the lessons learnt from the conference, discuss their progress with other key stakeholders, including the media, and allow an opportunity for questions and feedback from stakeholders.

The panel discussion was moderated by SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, and featured four panelists who formed part of the national delegation attending the conference in Melbourne, Australia last July: Royston Savory, Prevention Officer at Family Awareness Consciousness Togetherness (FACT) in Corriverton, Berbice; Antonio Paul, Transgender Community Advocate from Region 3; Dr. Ruth Ramos, Director of the National Care and Treatment Centre, Ministry of Health; and Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, Programme Manager of the National AIDS Programme Secretariat, Ministry of Health.

 Panelists (l-r) - Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, Dr. Ruth Ramos, Antonio Paul and Royston Savory 
Antonio Paul shared that the Conference gave him a broader perspective on the challenges facing transgender communities. Even in countries where laws protect transgender individuals they are still faced with a plethora of issues. He reiterated the importance of advocacy to put a spotlight on these often-forgotten groups. “It is essential that minority groups have a voice, one that is heard and in a positive way; a voice that consistently demands rights,” Paul stated to nods from other stakeholders in attendance.

Dr. Singh-Anthony in her presentation shared that the International AIDS Conference renews hope and optimism that an end to AIDS is possible. “It provides an opportunity for learning about key developments and for sharing important progress,” she said. Dr. Singh-Anthony found the conference insightful as it made her aware that more often than not in our care and treatment programmes, children and young people are being left behind. “Greater emphasis is being placed in the pediatric and adolescent programmes to include and ensure the adequate and appropriate management of children who are eligible for anti-retroviral treatment. The National AIDSProgramme Secretariat (NAPS) also intends to factor in the dynamics of working with adolescents to ensure better services and better quality of life,” she explained. Dr. Singh-Anthony noted that NAPS will continue to think of innovative ways of reaching key populations.She expressed particular gratitude for the information that is coming forward about transgender persons as this will help NAPS to understand and better serve this long-neglected and stigmatized minority group.

Dr. Ramos shared that the ultimate goal of the National Care and Treatment Centre is to target and test everyone. She noted that they are also working assiduously on not just decreasing, but eliminating, mother- to-child transmission. Dr. Ramos highlighted one of the greatest challenges that the Centre faces is adherence to medication and keeping patients on care. As we move forward, Dr. Ramos encouraged everyone to be more aggressive, more enthusiastic and to place more emphasis on tackling the issue daily.

The panel discussion was followed by questions from the gathering. Dr. Yoran Grant – Greene, Country Director of the US Centre for Disease Control in Guyana asked the panelists to pinpoint, if any, any peer-to-peer strategies or methods for working and reaching key populations discussed at the conference. SASOD’s Simpson mentioned the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) as a platform for interventions to reach key populations with HIV prevention information. He also called on the donor community to support more of these kinds of innovative initiatives that would enable community groups to use ICT in their work. FACT’s Savory also noted the use of social networking in the Berbice area.

UNAIDS Country Director, Dr. Roberto Brant Campos, delivered special remarks and presented SASOD with a cheque of US$ 10,000 for winning the Red Ribbon Award.  Dr. Campos, noted that “in a world where, as we all know, LGBT communities are castigated as third-class citizens, having their humanity and dignity frequently denied, and their rights not respected, is an honor to present this prize given to SASOD. It is more than recognition of its excellent work; it is a symbolic prize to all LGBT communities, not only in Guyana but in the whole Caribbean region and a stimulus to them to pursue in their quest for a better world for all; and, specifically, for a world without AIDS.” On behalf of the Red Ribbon Award programme and UNAIDS, he thanked and congratulated SASOD for its exemplary work. He also exerted all LGBT communities to keep the fire burning and be inspired towards a world free of the HIV epidemic.

Mr. Joel Simpson receiving the Red Ribbon Award Prize Money for Dr. Roberto Brant Campos, UNAIDS Country Director

The prize money from the Red Ribbon Award will go towards SASOD’s LGBT Community Centre Fund. The multi-purpose LGBT Community Centre will serve as the secretariat for SASOD, provide office space for other LGBT groups and provide temporary housing for LGBT youths facing homelessness and other services LGBT Guyanese. The public was encouraged to donate to SASOD’s LGBT Community Centre Fund either at its Charlotte Street office or directly through Scotiabank Account Number 10024548.

To see photos from this event click here

Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Red Ribbon Awards Acceptance Speech: Advocacy and Human Rights

His Excellency the President of Fiji, Ratu Epeli Nailatikau, Minister of Health of Indonesia, Dr. Nafsiah Mboi, Vice-Minister of Health Surveillance of Brazil, Dr. Jarbas Barbosa, Former Member of Parliament of Paupa New Guinea, Dame Carol Kidu, UNAIDS Deputy Director, Jan Beagle, GNP + Executive Director, Dame Suzette Moses-Burton, PANCAP Director, Dereck Springer, National AIDS Programme Scretariat Programme Manager, Dr. Shanti Singh-Anthony, international media, fellow awardees, human rights and AIDS researchers, activists, students, service providers, distinguished delegates; good afternoon to you all. And thank you for joining us at this special session  for the presentation of the 2014 Red Ribbon Awards at the 20th International AIDS Conference, AIDS 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. I am Joel Simpson, speaking on behalf of the two award-winning community-based ogranisations from Indonesia and Guyana.
While we are happy to be here to accept this excellence award for our work, we  remember and pay tribute to our peers and colleagues who lost their lives traveling here on Flight MH 17. May their souls rest in peace, and their work not be in vain.
On behalf of the Indonesian Drug Users Network (PKNI) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), we extend our heartfelt gratitude to the Red Ribbon Awards committee, programme and funders for honouring our work with this excellence award in HIV advocacy and human rights. In Indonesia and Guyana, PKNI and SASOD, represent and work with marginalised groups who are treated like outcasts because they use drugs, sell sex and have diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. Our communities are castigated as third-class citizens; their humanity and dignity is denied, and their rights are not respected. It is often difficult in this sector which is obsessed with data, numbers, monitoring and evaluation, and return on investment to make the business case for investing in human rights and advocacy programmes for key populations. But this Red Ribbon Award category for advocacy and human rights recognizes that we are “stepping up the pace” by putting pressure on state and non-state actors alike to end criminalization, prohibition and discrimination which create barriers to access for our communities. If we are to achieve universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support, then we must protect the rights of the most vulnerable in our societies. We know 'getting to zero' is only possible if there is zero discrimination, zero new infections and zero AIDS-related deaths. But we cannot 'get to zero' if donors do not invest in community-based organisations who represent and work with key populations to advocate and improve human rights protections for these disadvantaged groups. Human rights is prevention. Human rights  is treatment. Human rights is care and support. Invest in human rights now!
And today as we celebrate our work with this most prestigious Red Ribbon Award, we are reminded that the struggles for human rights, dignity, equality and justice are far from over. Yesterday Sunday, July 20, two transgender youth, Jada and Tyra, were brutally murdered in Guyana's capital city, Georgetown. Both Chelauna and I know Jada and Tyra personally as vibrant and talented young advocates in the Guyanese lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender  (LGBT) movement. Our work is not complete until every human being in our countries – every drug user, every sex worker, every LGBT person – can live their lives freely and openly without fear, hatred or stigma. We dedicate SASOD's Red Ribbon Award  to the loving memories of Jada, Tyra and countless other LGBT Guyanese whose lives have been snuffed out, due to bigotry and prejudice in our beautiful country.
Jada and Tyra, may your souls rest in peace. Your bravery will not be in vain.
Thank you.
Joel Earl Simpson
SASOD – Guyana
Red Ribbon Awards Special Session
XX International AIDS Conference
Melbourne, Australia
July 21, 2014


The Caribbean Film Academy (CaFA) and its partners - Groundation Grenada, Audiovisual Society of Dominica, ChantiMedia and SASOD Guyana – is set to launch Caribbean Film Project, an initiative which aims to showcase the talent of unknown and emerging writers in the Caribbean and Diaspora.
Through Caribbean Film Project, CaFA and its partners will not only tackle storytelling in films coming out of the Caribbean, but will provide an opportunity for Diaspora filmmakers to have their work included in a Caribbean film compilation. The initiative will focus on assisting in the production of films in countries which have mostly been absent from the current Caribbean filmmaking renaissance – Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, and St. Kitts & Nevis, as well as Caribbean filmmakers in the Diaspora.
Caribbean Film Project will be run as a script competition open for entries from January – February 2015.  The winner from each country will be paired with a coach who will work with the writer to make their script production-ready.  With the help of each producing partner, the films will then be produced. CaFA plans to raise the funds needed for the project through sponsorship, fundraisers and crowd-funding.
This focus on writing is long overdue, according to CaFA’s Co-Founder, Romola Lucas, who has led the effort to organize this new project.  She says, “Spurred by the availability and increasing affordability of filmmaking equipment, the Caribbean is currently experiencing a surge in filmmaking.  More and more people, who may never have considered filmmaking an option are making films encouraged by new opportunities to have their work screened at the growing number of Caribbean film festivals.  Many of the films are excellent – well-written, professionally produced, and visually appealing.  However, there are many others which suffer from technical issues and incomplete storytelling.”
“From our perspective, well-written stories underpin every sustainable film movement, and in order for Caribbean storytellers to be counted among the best in the world, specific focus and attention must be given to the development of great writers,” Lucas continues. 
The Film Project competition is open to writers/filmmakers who are residents/nationals of Dominica, Guyana, Grenada, St. Kitts and Nevis, and to those of Caribbean descent/heritage living in the Diaspora and writing Caribbean stories.  Submissions open on Friday, January 2, 2015 and close Friday, February, 28, 2015.  To learn more about the Project and submit a script, or email us at

 For further information, please contact:

Chantal Miller – ChantiMedia

Jessica Canham – Audiovisual Association of Dominica

Joel Simpson – SASOD Guyana

Malaika Brooks – Groundation Grenada

Romola Lucas – CaFA

About CaFA
Established in 2012 in Brooklyn, NY, The Caribbean Film Academy (CaFA), is a non-profit organization dedicated to the promotion and support of Caribbean filmmaking and filmmakers, in the Region and the Diaspora.  CaFA’s work is focused on promoting and sharing the art of storytelling through film from the unique perspective of the Caribbean.
ChantiMedia was born out of a passion for the Caribbean’s unparalleled and vibrant creative expression. Founded in 2012 by Chantal Miller (presenter and voice over artist) as a primarily digital platform to share and promote the artistic diversity of the region, ChantiMedia has now evolved into a multi-faceted creative hub. Based between the beautiful island of Nevis and the cultural melting pot of London (UK) the company now focuses on production (film and television), the curating of exhibitions and film festivals, the facilitating of creative workshops and fostering creative collaborations throughout the Diaspora.
Groundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Its mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. The organization pursues its mission online, through its website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change.
SASOD is dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in Guyana and throughout the Caribbean. The organization has worked tirelessly to repeal discriminatory Guyanese laws, change local attitudes about the LGBT community, and end discrimination in the government, workplace, and community.  The organization has been hosting, for the past 10 years, the only LGBT film festival in the Caribbean – bringing many Caribbean LGBT films to home audiences.
AAD’s mission is to promote and support the growth of professionals and businesses in Dominica’s audiovisual sector.  Membership in the Association is open to both individuals and to businesses. Being a member of the Audiovisual Association of Dominica enables individual producers and companies to benefit from activities and initiatives designed to improve the business climate for audiovisual professionals, and to support professional development.  The Association provides training in production, and scriptwriting, it maintains a data base of industry professionals, provides networking opportunities for members, creates local and regional partnerships and advocates for a regulatory environment to promote and support the growth of the sector.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Local Civil Society Groups Plug Equality at Youth Rally

A number of youth organisations and groups took part in the Human Rights Day Youth Rally on Wednesday, December 10 to demonstrate that “Youth Voices Matter.” The Youth Rally was held in  observance  of World  Human  Rights  Day  and the goal of  the  event  was  to  educate,  engage  and  empower  young people  about basic human rights. The idea was to highlight that human rights belong to everyone, everywhere and that youth voices matter; and  most importantly, that youth should be involved – educated, engaged and empowered - to address rights issues affecting their communities.
Individuals painting their Human Rights Day Messages at the Mural
Even with some rainfall the event was able to engage patrons through cultural presentations, which saw a number of talented youth addressing human rights through song, dance, poetry, and musical renditions. Local artistes who performed included Chelsie France, Francis Bailey, Katina Benn, Anesa Slater, Elsie Harry, Music Unlimited and the Deaf Association of Guyana’s drumming group. 
Representatives from the Deaf Association of Guyana preforming at the cultural concert
There was mural painting which provided an engaging platform for persons of all ages and walks of life to express their thoughts and feelings about human rights through art. The information station served to provide youth-focused and rights-based organisations with an opportunity to share information about their organization, the work they do and how other young people can become involved. It also served to educate visitors about the services that exist and how they can become involved in addressing various rights issues.
The photo booth provided an opportunity for persons to support various visual advocacy campaigns. The Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM), which is the youth arm of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), ran a photo-framing and message-painting campaign to promote young people’s expression and advocacy for their sexual and reproductive rights, while SASOD launched its Instagram page coinciding with World Human Rights Day to promote equality for all Guyanese every day, adopting the United Nations’ hashtag for the global campaign, #rights365. Human  Rights  Day,  observed  globally  on  December  10,  provides the opportunity  to  celebrate human rights, highlight challenges, and advocate for the full enjoyment of all human rights, for everyone, everywhere. Human Rights Day is aimed at bringing awareness to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Through this event, focus was also placed on the Convention on the Rights of a Child to encourage young people to promote the rights of children in Guyana as well, as abuses against children are far too common in our society. 
Participants at Human Rights Day Express Yourself Photo Booth
The Human Rights Day Youth Rally was hosted by the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF), a network of civil society organisations working for equal rights and justice for all Guyanese. GEF members who participated in the event include the Guyana Trans United (GTU), Guyanese Organisation of Indigenous People (GOIP), S4 Foundation, Blue CAPS, Help and Shelter, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) – Youth Advocacy Movement (YAM) and the Deaf Association of Guyana (DAG). Other partners also included are the Volunteerism Support Platform, Caribbean Youth Environmental Network,   Global Sharpers – Georgetown Hub, REDbandaid Foundation, Guyana National Youth Council and the Guyana Business Coalition on HIV and AIDS (GBCHA). The GEF thanks everyone who took part in the Youth Rally or supported the event.

Friday, December 19, 2014

SASOD raises LGBT Mental Health at Cuso Volunteer Forum

On December 4, 2014, SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, gave a presentation on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights issues to SASOD partner organization Cuso International, an Ottawa-based international development NGO, at the Grand Coastal Hotel on the East Coast of Demerara.  He was followed by sociologist, Dr. Ryan Higgitt, providing Cuso with an overview on his research on LGBT mental health in Guyana. Dr. Higgitt is a Cuso Volunteer currently attached to SASOD as Mental Health Researcher.  Simpson drew attention to the discrimination faced by LGBT Guyanese and how it leads to mental health issues, while Higgitt underscored how recent statistics offered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO) illustrate the way suicide mortality tends to take on specific socio-historical patterns that call into question fundamental tenets of a modern medical model which reduce mental illness to an ‘individual’ problem.