By Ravin Singh
In what could be considered an encouragement for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, President David Granger has said that he is prepared to respect the rights of any adult to indulge in any practice which is not harmful to others.This revelation was made on Thursday last when the President engaged reporters following his weekly televised show “The Public Interest” which is aired on the state-owned National Communications Network (NCN). It comes against the backdrop of countless calls for the reexamination of laws which discriminate against persons comprising the LGBT community.
According to the Head of State, the issue has been one which has existed throughout human history and given the fact that this period is considered a “modern age,” he is of the conviction that human rights should prevail. “I am prepared to respect the rights of any adult to indulge in any practice which is not harmful to others” he said.
He continued that, “I would like to feel that there should be some element, first, of respecting the human rights of individuals, and second, at the Governmental level, free choice; that persons should be able to express their views freely without necessarily sticking to a party line.”
However, noting that this is not an issue which has been ventilated at the level of Cabinet, President Granger maintained that human rights are paramount, over party opinions. Presently, Guyana is the only country in South America where homosexual acts are still illegal. Under the laws of Guyana, homosexual acts carry a possible punishment of life imprisonment.
According to the Criminal Law (Offences) Act of Guyana: Section 352: Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person, of any act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.
Section 353 states: Everyone who (a) attempts to commit buggery; or (b) assaults any person with intent to commit buggery; or (c) being a male, indecently assaults any other male person, shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for 10 years. Section 354 and 355 further states that: Everyone who commits buggery… shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life.
Everyone who (a) does any indecent act in any place to which the public have or are permitted to have access; or (b) does any indecent act in any place, intending thereby to insult or offend any person, shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years. But the law does not specifically define “buggery”, “gross indecency”, or “indecent”.
However, while the Head of State did not divulge on when the review of these laws can be expected, LGBT rights activist, Vidyaratha Kissoon has commended the President’s efforts which seems to encourage acceptance of Guyana’s LGBT citizens. He further highlighted the fact that Guyana is a signatory to human rights obligations which aims to repeal the sodomy laws, cross dressing laws and to amend the Prevention of Discrimination Act to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.
“The lives of LGBT citizens cannot be determined by any citizen whose religious views encourage discrimination. The President seems cautious in his leadership in trying to be cohesive. However, human rights are not the gifts of religious groups to any other group of the society” Kissoon said. And referencing the fact that all political parties had committed to, in their manifestoes, addressing discrimination against the LGBT community, the activist charged the National Assembly to address its human rights obligations towards LGBTI Guyanese. The process, he said, must be steered by the President. A Parliamentary Special Select Committee (PSSC) set up to hold consultations on the recommendations to decriminalise adult same sex relations here was divided when it was convened. Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD, has said in the past that the APNU+AFC coalition Government had campaigned on platforms of national unity, social cohesion, equal rights and gender equality. He also noted that their manifesto states “We commit to putting in place measures which will ensure that all vulnerable groups in our society, including women, children, persons with disabilities, rural and Indigenous women, youth, the elderly and the sick and pregnant, and those marginalised because of sexual orientation are protected and not discriminated against.” On that note, Simpson stated that they expect the new Government to bring action to their rhetoric and take legal and policy measures to prohibit discrimination by including sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited categories in the Prevention of Discrimination Act 1997 and the Guyana Constitution, repeal laws criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing and end the discriminatory policy against gays and lesbians donating blood at the National Blood Transfusion Service.