Legalising homosexuality no straightforward matter, says Greenidge

Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carl Greenidge

WITH Guyana recently indicating that it will move to a referendum to determine the legality of homosexuality, Minister of Foreign Affairs Carl Greenidge believes that the situation is a sensitive one and requires careful attention.

Guyana had voted against funding for an independent investigator appointed to assist with protecting the rights of gays, and transgender people, at the United Nations and Greenidge in an interview with the Guyana Chronicle recently, said government is not against the funding, but rather is against certain provisions contained in a particular resolution rather than against the entire agenda.

He maintained that Guyana has not changed its position on the matter, while noting that the same resolutions are put to the table years at a time, but oftentimes return with changes.

“But it is also the case where a resolution comes and it has been changed and you may find that the way the resolution is changed means that we can’t agree with the resolution, although the issue itself is an issue that we would have discussed before.”

The Foreign Affairs Minister noted that many of the Organisations for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries have undergone social and political changes, which have resulted in their populations growing accustomed to or accepting “certain types of behavior.”

“… but this is Guyana and in these countries you have a different mix of not only ethnic groupings, but you have religious groupings,” he stated, while adding that in giving consideration to the particular issue, there is need for the government to listen to the views of its constituents.

Guyana is the only country in South America where homosexual acts remain illegal.

“Whilst the government may feel itself advanced compared to these persons, these are their constituents and you can’t impose upon them a belief, especially because that is the belief that is in the north… since the U.S., or UK behaves this way, we demand that you do the same.”

He opined that some of these issues are reactionary and it would take time trying to improve the country’s standing and bring citizens to a point where they can have dialogue about the matter objectively.

“The laws themselves provide certain protection for groups, I think by and large that is reasonable, but the people that implement the laws can be unhelpful or downright ignorant, if not malicious and you can’t always account for that,” said Greenidge.

He made it clear that his administration respects the rights of all persons, but must take into consideration certain implications before signing on to resolutions. That is not to say the government is against the LGBT community.

Last January, President David Granger said he is prepared to respect the rights of adults who indulge in practices that are not harmful to others. The President’s position on the matter was made known following calls for there to be a re-examination of the country’s anti-LGBT laws.

On his television programme ‘The Public Interest’, the President said: “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.”

Here, homosexual acts carry a possible punishment of life imprisonment. Section 352 of the Criminal Law Offences Act, 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 misdemeanor 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.

Meanwhile, last month, it was announced that Guyanese will have a chance to vote on whether they believe homosexuality should remain a criminal act, or if those laws which criminalise it should be struck down via a referendum.

The government made this announcement in a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) following the 161st Ordinary Period of Sessions, which addressed issues of human rights violations against young persons in Guyana.

According to the Government in its letter, there are mixed views on the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and sexual identity and repealing of the laws to decriminalise homosexuality.

The Executive added that with these existing circumstances, more needs to be done regarding a collective and consensual approach and the implementation to fulfil such rights.
The government pointed out that the issue of repeal was brought to the attention of the National Assembly on several occasions, but it was deemed unfit for that arm of government to make a decision on the matter.

As such, the government noted that “… it was recommended, that the matter be taken to a vote, where the people of Guyana will decide by a referendum on these matters.” It is unclear when the referendum will be held.

Over the years, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has been lobbying support to get the government to decriminalise homosexuality and laws which discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and identity.

Greenidge believes that the government has made a commitment to hold a referendum on the issue, then it will honour it.