SASOD Guyana celebrates 17th Anniversary
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SASOD Guyana Managing-Director Joel Simpson
SASOD Guyana Managing-Director Joel Simpson

THE LGBTQ+ human rights advocacy group SASOD (The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination) is celebrating its 17th anniversary today (June 7), after years of working to provide an inclusive and hospitable environment for members of the LGBTQ+ community.

The Pepperpot Magazine spoke with founder and Managing-Director of SASOD Guyana, Joel Simpson, who gave a bit of history on the formation of the group. He explained that it was formed in 2003 to advocate for the inclusion of sexual orientation as grounds for discrimination in the Guyana Constitution and seeks to have repealed, discriminatory laws which criminalise Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and other (LGBTQ+) people.
He said that one of the pillars the organisation stands on is Human Rights, and promoting the rights of all people in the LGBTQ+ community, especially those facing discrimination.

Achievements

Members of SWAG at their launch event for International Women’s Day in March 2017

One of the notable achievements of SASOD Guyana includes the formation of the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) in May 2011. GEF is a cohesive network of local civil society groups working collectively for human rights and equality of all Guyanese, including LGBTQ+ people. The GEF is the longest-running, self-sustaining, rights-based civil society network in Guyana.

Another Notable achievement of SASOD took place on June 2, 2018, when Guyana held its first-ever LGBTQ+ Pride Parade. Not only was it a first for Guyana, but it was also the first LGBTQ+ Pride Parade in the English-speaking Caribbean. The Guyana Pride Parade set the tone for other sister CARICOM nations.

Simpson said that he, as well as the founding members who were mostly students of the University of Guyana when starting the group never had in mind that it would have grown this much as a mechanism for inclusivity and safety within the LGBTQ+ community. He explained that at the time the group came together it was seeking to have repealed discriminatory laws which criminalise LGBTQ+ people while advocating for state and non-state actors to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of these groups.

Simpson stated that he is proud of the progress that SASOD has made since its establishment in 2003, not just for being a voice for the community, but for being one of the first such organisations in Guyana to give members of the community a place to be able to come together and feel included and heard.
Challenges
He explained that although the organisation is going strong, it had its challenges in the beginning, stating that since it was the first of its kind to give LGBTQ+ persons the platform to come together and not have to hide in the dark of night, persons were a bit skeptical about coming forward and joining. He said after persons were confident enough to join, building trust in the group and its members was the other challenge many persons faced.

New opportunities
Simpson said he recalled watching trust in the group grow and the group with it, stating that the sessions that were hosted at the Help and Shelter building on Homestretch Avenue sparked much-needed discussions and solutions to the social and societal issues that affect the daily lives of LGBTQ+ persons.

He said that although the group was established in 2003, it wasn’t until 2006 that the group was officially registered with the help of the Ministry of Health, which donated some US$7,500 to help the organisation to register and take all of the necessary legal actions, in addition to building a website. He explained that the website served as a medium of exchange for the group, and a platform of empowerment, stating that persons were able to share necessary pieces of information on not only protection, but also in solidarity with one another.

Simpson told the Pepperpot Magazine that one of the most important things the group has accomplished is having a database documenting some of the injustices that are faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community, explaining that lack of proof sometimes was used to discredit the experiences of persons in the community.

Further, Simpson stated that SASOD Guyana continues to be both proactive and responsive in supporting LGBTQ+ people by providing and linking these groups to critical services. The group according to Simpson has three programmes which it delivers to achieve its goals. The programmes are described as the “three ‘H’ agenda”: Human Rights, Homophobia(s) Education and Human Services programmes.

Speaking on Homophobia Education, he said that he believes it plays an extremely large role in enabling persons in the LGBTQ+ community to live and be comfortable in their own skins and their truth.

“It’s possible to win people over through access to accurate information. We believe most people in Guyana are sitting on the fence because of cultural and religious beliefs that they would have grown up with, but we also believe that with access to information on life as a LGBTQ+ person, it would enable persons to see that we aren’t that different, that we’re all humans that deserve the same things and we believe that this would lead to a more inclusive society.”

Simpson told the Pepperpot Magazine that although the organisation cannot celebrate its 17th anniversary in the way it would have wished due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown, it will be hosting several events beginning on June 17 that will see several virtual pride events, including their annual “Painting the Spectrum” Film Festival. He noted that SASOD’s “Painting the Spectrum” is the only annual LGBT film festival in the English-speaking Caribbean and celebrated its 15th year in August of last year after being initiated in 2005.

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