MEMBERS of the local transgender community have reiterated their call for an end to discrimination in the workplace and for amendment of the 1997 Prevention of Discrimination Act (PDA) to be brought into focus as soon as possible.
Recently, Executive Director of the Guyana Trans United (GTU), Quincy McEwan, shared wit the Guyana Chronicle some of the challenges the ‘trans’ community face in their everyday life. One major challenge was discrimination at the workplace.
“We have received and documented many complaints of persons in the trans community who were interviewed, deemed qualified and started working at the job, but from the time they expressed their gender expression, they were actually terminated,” McEwan said.
One young transgender person, Raphael (not real name) said he was aptly qualified in accountancy, but because of his gender expression, he was not given the job he had applied for.
Gender expression is defined as a person’s behaviour, mannerisms, interests, and appearance that are associated with gender, and in Raphael’s case, this was perceived to be more feminine.
“There’s homophobia and those things, they look at you like if you have sh*t on you,” Raphael said, adding: “They would collect your application and have you wasting your time to call and check in when they already know that they won’t give you the job.”
The young man also related that even if lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) persons are suitably qualified and have some degree of experience, it would not matter to many employers. It is for this reason that members of the community believe that amending the PDA is important.
“Amending the Prevention of Discrimination Act is a stepping stone to hold persons accountable, because you can say this is what is included in the Constitution,” the GTU executive director said.
In early 2018, Managing-Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) and the LGBT community at large have been lobbying for an amendment to the 1997 Act to protect vulnerable persons within the LGBT community. The inclusion of “sexual orientation” will legally protect persons identified as lesbians, gays and bisexuals, while “gender identity” will offer protection to transgender persons.
The current PDA prohibits discrimination in the workplace based only on “race, sex, religion, colour, ethnic origin, indigenous population, national extraction, social origin, economic status, political opinion, disability, family responsibilities, pregnancy, marital status or age.”
Another member of the LGBT community, Natasha Yhap, stressed that all human beings ought to be entitled to the same rights. She said it is a civil right of persons to be able to work so that they can ensure their survival.
“If they can’t get a job, then they can’t provide for themselves and the only thing left is the sex work — which is a dangerous job,” Yhap said.
However, she explained that if employers expect to see a male attend a job interview, but instead they see a man dressed like or expressing himself using mannerisms that have been normalised as female expressions, then a problem will arise. More often than not, this destroys the person’s chances of getting that job.
For her, legislative change is definitely a critical part in reducing the discrimination LGBT persons face in the workplace. Yhap opined that legislation and policy can influence or even shape the way the populace thinks, and as such, amending the PDA would help the community.
McEwan noted however than policy change is not the only necessary component.
“Policy [change] is good, but I also believe that we need to change hearts and minds,” the GTU Executive-Director said, noting: “Only then could you see real change.”