Monday, July 21, 2014

Former Police Commissioner Winston Felix Facilitates Successful “Know Your Rights” Workshop with LGBT Guyanese and Supporters

On Wednesday, July 16, 2014, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted a Human Rights Workshop titled “Know Your Rights: Citizens Rights vis-a-viz Police Powers”at Moray House in Georgetown.  The workshop was facilitated by Former Commissioner of Police, Winston Felix, M.P. The aim of the workshop was to educate LGBT Guyanese, sex workers, other marginalized groups who frequently interact with police and civil society practitioners who work with these vulnerable groups, on the rights afforded to them as Guyanese citizens vis-a-viz police powers as stipulated under the Police Act and the Guyana Constitution.
Former Police Commissioner, Mr. Winston Felix, M.P., holding up a copy of the Guyana Constitution during his presentation.
SASOD embarked on this workshop as a means of empowering these groups as they frequently come into contact with law enforcement officials and many of them are unaware of their rights and the powers of the police. Mr. Felix enlightened participants about the laws as it relates to being questioned, searched and arrested by the police. He informed them of the powers, responsibilities and limitations of the police and also about their rights and protections guaranteed to them under the Guyana constitution. He also went through the standard operating procedures that officers should follow if they are questioning, searching or arresting an individual. 
Former Police Commissioner Mr. Winston Felix and Participants of the Know Your Rights workshop.
The interactive workshop allowed participants to frankly share their experiences with the retired Commissioner in their previous interactions with police officers. Many of them noted instances where their rights were violated by officers who do not afford them equal treatment under the law because of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Mr. Felix in his discussions with the participants noted that constant sensitivity training is required for police officers both in training and as refresher courses in order for them to become more familiar with the issues affecting LGBT Guyanese and other vulnerable groups, and how to interact with them on a daily basis.

Attending the workshop were 30 participants from a number of civil society organisations, including, Artistes In Direct Support (A.I.D.S.), Diverse Youth Movement (DIYOME), Guyana Trans United (GTU), Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC), Guyana Youth Coalition, Hope For All Foundation from the Essequibo Coast, Family Awareness Consciousness Together (FACT) from Corriverton, United Bricklayers from New Amsterdam, and members and associates of SASOD.
Participants at the “Know Your Rights” workshop
The workshop was supported by the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice and conducted under SASOD’s Human Rights programme to promote social change by empowering LGBT Guyanese to understand their rights as citizens of Guyana and to sensitize the public on the LGBT issues.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

SASOD Reports Homophobic Government Minister to the United Nations

On Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at a press conference held in the Burbon Room at the Sidewall Café, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) launched a damning 11-page report on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) human rights in Guyana.
(l-r) Mr. Joel Simpson, Managing Director, SASOD; Ms. Tiffany Barry, Social Change Consultant, SASOD and Ms. Schemel Patrick, Advocacy and Communications Officer, SASOD.
SASOD, submitting the report along with the Sexual Rights Initiative (SRI), reported homophobic Government Minister Juan Edghill to the United Nations’ Human Rights Council for hate speech, as a violation of the Guyana Constitution and international human rights law, and called for his removal. SASOD also presented a 15-point list of recommendations to the Government of Guyana.

Ms. Tiffany Barry, Social Change Consultant, SASOD giving a brief synopsis of the UPR report
In giving a synopsis of the report, SASOD’s Social Change Consultant, Ms. Tiffany Barry outlined the 15 recommendations posited by SASOD. The recommendations include educating members of the uniformed forces and evaluating their performances based on their obligations in terms of non-discriminatory treatment towards marginalized groups; repeal sections 351 to 353 of the Criminal Law Offences Act Chapter 8:01 and 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which criminalise same-sex/gender intimacy between consenting adult men in private and cross-dressing, respectively; amend section 4 of the Prevention of Discrimination Act, Chapter 99:09, to include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for discrimination in employment, training and recruitment; among others.
The report titled “On Devil’s Island: A UPR Submission on LGBT Human Rights in Guyana” was submitted a month ago on June 15, the same day that Minister within the Ministry of Finance Juan Edghill made hate-inciting comments on Hard Talk – a local radio programme on iRadio - describing homosexuality as “destructive, unwholesome and unhealthy” saying it should not be tolerated in the Guyanese society.

Mr. Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD, answering questions from the media.
In his remarks, Managing Director of SASOD, Mr. Joel Simpson said that “Edghill’s inflammatory edict amounts to hate speech as described by Article 146 (3) of the Guyana constitution as “speeches or other expressions, in whatever form, capable of exciting hostility or ill-will against any person or class of persons.” He further went on to say, “We are therefore calling for his removal as a Government Minister and Member of Parliament as this is a blatant violation of the fundamental rights and freedoms under the Guyana constitution.”
Others government representatives who have made  comments on LGBT issues over the past month were PPP/C’s Member of Parliament Manzoor Nadir stating that the outcry to scrap anti–LGBT laws is a “storm in a teacup” issue; and Presidential Adviser on Governance, Gail Teixeira’s recent remarks that “there is no fast track… to see change and support new rights.” Simpson questioned “which rock Nadir is living under” citing monthly media reports of violence, discrimination and injustice against LGBT Guyanese and multiple reports from the University of the West Indies’ Faculty of Law, SASOD and other groups. Simpson also responded to Teixeira declaring “yes, there is a fast track way. It’s political leadership and our government sorely lacks this when it comes to human rights issues.” He reiterated the call for better protection of existing human rights for LGBT people, rebuffing Teixeira’s salvo that these are “new rights.”
The full report can be found here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

‘Spectrum 10’ Ends with “Paris Is Burning”

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) will close the curtains on its tenth annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) film festival, Painting the Spectrum 10, with the 1990, classic American documentary, Paris Is Burning.
Filmed in the mid-to-late 1980s and directed by Jennie Livingston, it chronicles the ball culture of New York City and the African-American, Latino, gay, and transgender communities involved in it. Many members of the ball culture community consider Paris Is Burning to be an invaluable documentary of the end of the "Golden Age" of New York City drag balls, as well as a thoughtful exploration of race, class, gender, and sexuality in America. The film explores the elaborately-structured ball competitions in which contestants, adhering to a very specific category or theme, must "walk" (much like a fashion model's runway) and subsequently be judged on criteria including the "realness" of their drag, the beauty of their clothing and their dancing ability. 
After screening the film, there will be a few, special, guest performances to celebrate the milestone of Painting the Spectrum – the only LGBT film festival in the English-speaking Caribbean – ending its tenth annual run. And as customary, the festival ends with the traditional ‘painting the spectrum’ where attendees are invited to paint a huge, cloth banner with their personal messages and signs showing love, support and solidarity for LGBT Guyanese.
The festival culminates this Sunday, June 29, 2014, at the Dutch Bottle Café located at 10 North Road, Bourda, in Georgetown at 18:00 hrs. There is no charge for admission, but the event is intended for mature audiences. Persons must be 18 years and over in order to attend.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Psychologist, Swami and Reverend Plead for Societal Acceptance of LGBT Persons; Dr. Harding calls for repeal anti-LGBT laws to save lives

On Tuesday, June 17, psychologist Dr. Faith Harding; Director of AYUPSA: National Centre for Suicide Prevention, Swami Aksharananda, and Executive Director of the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA), Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, formed a very insightful panel discussing religious, societal and cultural influences on the mental health outcomes of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Guyanese. 

Panelists (L to R): Rev. Patricia Sheerattan-Bisnauth, Swami Aksharananda and Dr. Faith Harding participating in the panel discussion. 

The expert panel was the special event of the tenth annual LGBT Film Festival hosted by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), dubbed Painting the Spectrum 10. The discussion followed the feature film for the evening titled “And the Unclaimed,” a documentary which chronicles the events surrounding the suicide of two young girls in West Bengal, India. The story reveals their love affair and non-acceptance by the village community and families, which perhaps pushed them towards the end of the road – committing suicide.
Though set in India, numerous facets of the film relate to Guyanese society, it ignited a very stimulating and interactive discussion between the panel and the audience. Much of the discussion focused on the impact of religion on the expression of sexuality orientation and gender identity; the possible push factors to suicide in LGBT Guyanese, with a particular focus on family and societal rejection or non-acceptance and the differences between Christian and Hindu theology as it relates to homosexuality and transgenderism.
Dr. Harding spoke about her experiences as a professional psycho-therapist, as she encounters many LGBT Guyanese in her clinical practice, some of who have attempted or contemplated suicide. A large percentage of her LGBT clients have struggled with depression often leading them to contemplate suicide, she noted. “It is painful to see how torn and broken members of the LGBT community are” said Dr. Harding.
She noted that like in the film, numerous LGBT Guyanese deal with personal turmoil, rejection, fear, anxiety and depression on a daily basis. Daily, LGBT Guyanese struggle with self-acceptance and the right to just live equally and co-exist peacefully in society. 
Dr. Harding was asked, if she were the President of Guyana, whether she would assent to a bill decriminalising LGBT activities. Dr. Harding responded confidently that she would assent, “because it is a basic human right and I cannot deny basic human rights. It would be irresponsible of me as a leader to not do something about an issue that claims so many young lives,” Dr. Harding pleaded.  

Dr. Faith Harding speaking at the panel on mental health issues affecting LGBT Guyanese.

Swami Aksharananda shared that in Hindu mythology that are already exposed to all these extremes and differences. “Images and concepts exist and are accepted without taboo and question. From that background the issues do not present too much of a challenge or questioning for the Hindu community,” he stated.
Although there isn’t much resistance towards homosexuality in the Hindu religion, Swami Aksharananda still believes that there is a need for much more conversations about LGBT issues, their daily struggles and mental health issues that can arise from societal exclusion.
While a prominent pastor feels LGBT people should be on an island by themselves, there are others like Reverend Sheerattan-Bisnauth who are more progressive in their faith and theology, reading the scriptures with a lens for liberation and justice. 
Reverend Sheerattan-Bisnauth noted that many of the religious leaders who are opposed to homosexuality are of the mistaken belief that sexual difference causes a breakdown in families, without understanding the numerous types of family structure that exist. “Many of them are caught up with hetero-normative views of families,” the Presbyterian cleric noted.
She noted that there needs to be a space for more healthy discussions about mental health issues affecting LGBT Guyanese and that GRPA is committed to continuing the discourse in collaboration with SASOD and other stakeholders in the country.

Caribbean Films Dominate Spectrum 10 Next Week: Films from Guyana and Jamaica to Screen

Painting the Spectrum 10: SASOD's 10th annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) film festival continues next week with films focusing on homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination, and resilience and resistance of LGBT people in the Caribbean.

On Tuesday, June 24, two films will be shown. “Sade’s Story,” a SASOD-produced documentary short, chronicles the experiences of transgender Guyanese fashion designer, Sade Richardson, in her own words. She shares her story about her daily struggles with transphobic violence and discrimination in Guyana. She was denied many jobs because of who she is, a proud transgender woman. She was verbally and physically abused for expressing herself. Sade’s Story is one about rising above oppression and authentically living your dreams to the fullest. 

Painting the Spectrum 10 then takes you from Guyana to Jamaica with the “Abominable Crime.” The Abominable Crime is a documentary that explores the culture of homophobia in Jamaica through the eyes of gay Jamaicans who are forced to choose between their homeland and their lives after their sexual orientations are exposed. This is a story about a mother's love for her child and an activist's love for his country - and the stakes are life and death.
The festival continues on Thursday, June 26, which is Spectrum Night. The Night opens with another documentary short produced by SASOD, Jessica’s Journey.  The film highlights experiences of discrimination, violence and the struggle for acceptance by a Guyanese trans-woman who
eventually left for the United Kingdom because she did not feel safe in Guyana.
Spectrum 10 then screens its feature film and hosts its world premiere. “Antiman” tells the story of a young boy must prove his masculinity to his father while he pines for a young man in the homophobic Guyanese countryside. Antiman is a film about self-discovery and masculinity. Anil, an introverted young boy is pressured by his abusive father, Max; to become a skillful cricket player the way he himself was years before.  Although skilled in the game, Anil refuses to play and takes refuge is his love for Dano, an older boy in the village.  In order to attend the local masquerade and see the boy he pines for, Anil must win the Cricket tournament.
The Spectrum Night opens its stage for singing, dancing, music and poetry. Everyone is encouraged to come out and showcase their talents to celebrate sexual and gender diversity.
The film festival continues every Tuesday and Thursday in June and closes Sunday, June 29, at the Dutch Bottle Café, 10 North Road (between Light and Cummings Streets), Bourda, in Georgetown. Show time is 6 pm each night.
There is no charge for admission to attend the film festival. All firms are intended for mature audiences. Person must be 18 years and over to attend.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Suicide and Violence Headline Spectrum 10 Next Week: Films from India, Guyana and Jamaica to Screen

SASOD's 10th annual lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) film festival, Painting the Spectrum 10 continues next week with films focusing on mental health, homophobic violence and transphobic abuse from Guyana, Jamaica and India.
On Tuesday, June 17, “And the Unclaimed” will be screened. “And the Unclaimed” chronicles the events surrounding the suicide of two young girls in Nandigram, one of the interior villages in West Bengal, India. As the story unfolds the story of their love affair, and non-acceptance of the village community, as well as their families, became evident. To deal with such ‘abnormality’, one of the girls was married off in a hurry, which perhaps pushed them towards the end of the road – committing suicide. But their death did not end societal non-acceptance, even after death their dead bodies lay unclaimed in the police morgue for several days. The last letter by one of the girls tells the story of love and loathing; it also asked that their parents cremate them together, which did not happen. Their unclaimed bodies were disposed of by the police, unattained, uncared for.
The screening of “And the Unclaimed” will be followed by a panel discussion of Guyanese experts on mental health and suicide prevention discussing these issues in the context of homophobia and transphobia in Guyana, and this affects LGBT people’s mental health.
And then on Thursday, June 19, a documentary short produced by SASOD, titled “Selina’s Voice,” and a documentary set in Jamaica called “Taboo Yardies” will be screened.
In “Selina’s Voice,” this Guyanese trans-woman recounts suffering a violent attack at a bar on the East Coast of Demerara, Guyana. Selina survived multiple stab wounds, and lives to share her story with the world. She is now publicly advocates for the human rights of LGBT people.
“Taboo Yardies” is a feature-length documentary that captures the violence against LGBT people in Jamaica and the many violations of their human rights; as well as the socio-economics, socio-political, mental health and the intergenerational trans-Atlantic transmission of homophobia. “Taboo Yardies” provides a unique visual experience of how violence is generated on one side of the Atlantic, and is perpetrated, preserved and re-enacted on the other (in the US).
The film festival continues every Tuesday and Thursday in June and closes Sunday, June 29, at the Dutch Bottle Café, 10 North Road (between Light and Cummings Streets), Bourda, in Georgetown. Show time is 6pm each night.
There is no charge for admission to attend the film festival. All firms are intended for mature audiences. Person must be 18 years and over to attend.