News Report: Government Abdicating Responsibilities in Protecting Rights of Gay Citizens

Posted By Stabroek staff On November 4, 2012

GDF sanctioning of two female soldiers

Head of the Presidential Secretariat Dr Roger Luncheon’s suggestion that the sanctioning of two female soldiers presents an opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons to press their case for decriminalisation is an abdication of the government’s responsibility to protect all of its citizens from discrimination, according to rights group SASOD.

“What this incident does demonstrate is that there is inadequate legal and constitutional protection and means of redress for discrimination based on sexual orientation in Guyana,” Secretary of the Board of Trustees of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) Zenita Nicholson told Stabroek News.

Early last month, two female soldiers were reportedly sanctioned by the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) after a recording of them leaked to the public and went viral locally.
Luncheon said he was unable to provide a comment on behalf of the government because the issue has not been raised before the Defence Board, of which he is the Chairman.

Questioned on government’s stance on gays serving in the military, Luncheon told his last post-cabinet press briefing last week that he could not provide one, since the issue was not raised at the level of the Defence Board.

Said Luncheon, “We haven’t had this is at the level of the Defence Board; we haven’t had a specific solicitation from the Guyana Defence Force where this matter is concerned about gays serving in the military.”

However, he added that the recent case of the two women provided an opportunity for gay rights to be brought to the forefront and decisions made on a national level. “It is our contention this consultation that arose after our UPR (Universal Periodic Review) presentation in Geneva in 2010 and the foray to the parliamentary select committee would maybe I should say should provide… opportunities for this matter to be gotten into,” he said.

“Even if it didn’t… the gay community is not without a certain amount of resources, both domestic and international, to put over their viewpoint and I’m certain that the opportunity that these events provide would more than allow them, the community, to introduce aspects of the military and its position on gay soldiers and a national position on homosexuality,” he also said.

“I am happy, in a kind of a convoluted way, the event has contributed to fostering this appetite to deal with this issue,” Luncheon added.

Numerous efforts to contact GDF Chief-of-Staff Commodore Gary Best for comment proved futile.

SASOD feels that Luncheon’s nexus between the issue of the women in the army and the criminalizing of sex between males is a ruse to justify sanctions against the female soldiers. “Sex between women is not criminalised in Guyana, so it is unclear why Dr Luncheon makes this linkage between an apparent case of employment discrimination by the state, resulting in an unjust dismissal of two women and the decriminalisation of male-male sex and cross-dressing,” Nicholson said.

SASOD charged the GDF to uphold the constitution, which guarantees each and every citizen, including LGBT Guyanese, the right to equality. “While Dr Luncheon himself points out that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is commonplace in Guyana and cites examples of teachers being dismissed, of which SASOD is also aware, he provides no solutions to avert these pervasive problems which attest to the government’s failure to meet its human rights obligations to all its citizens. The Guyana government itself is violating the rights of LGBT Guyanese,” the SASOD Secretary added.

Luncheon had indicated government was investigating the claim by at least five teachers who were disciplined or threatened with dismissal and who had appealed to the Teaching Service Commission (TSC) following the threats. He said that the TSC was investigating whether the teachers were engaging in pornography, since explicit sexual material of them had emerged in public.

Gay teachers in public schools are not new to the education system. When questioned, many who work in city schools said that they had been employed for almost two-and-a-half decades.

In commenting on the current case involving the soldiers, former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran has criticised homophobia in the disciplined forces as well as the government’s evasive approach on the issue of same-sex relations.

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