Guyana will not hold a referendum to decriminalise homosexuality, despite widespread reports

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Guyana, the only South American country which still bans same-sex sexual activity, will not hold a referendum to give voters the choice to decriminalise homosexuality – despite media organisations claiming the opposite.

The news published by several Guyanese local media organisations was a result of a misunderstanding of the government’s official position on the matter.

The government had responded to a submission made by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), its managing director Joe Simpson told PinkNews.

SASOD called for government action on youth LGBT discrimination with special regard to the fields of education, bullying, employment sexual and mental health.

Lesbians at Pride

It put forward its petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) following the 161st Ordinary Period of Session addressing young people’s rights.

The government’s response stated: “The issue of repeal was brought to the attention of the legislative arm of government on several occasions and it was deemed unfit for the legislature to decide on the matter.

“As such, it was recommended that the matter be taken to a vote, where the people of Guyana will decide by a referendum on these matters.”

SASOD sent this statement to several local media organisations who reported that the government would run a referendum in which the public would have had the chance to decide to decriminalise homosexuality.

However, no actual plans for a referendum have been confirmed. No Guyanese media organisation has since published a correction of the initial reports.

The High Commission of Guyana in London told PinkNews it has not heard anything about any plans for a referendum.

Currently, Guyana’s laws consider homosexuality illegal, do not recognise same-sex marriage and do not offer protection from discrimination.

The government’s response to the petition stated that Guyana’s President David Granger supports the change in the laws.

Granger has previously shown his support towards the Guyanese LGBT community.

Transgender umbrella

In 2016, Granger said: “I am prepared to respect the rights of any adult to indulge in any practice which is not harmful to others.”

However, his government has been criticised by the SASOD for not having implemented any changes.

Joel Simpson, SASOD managing director told Stabroek News: “I am glad the government remembers and they should be reminded that they haven’t delivered [their promises] two years later.”

In 2012, Guyana’s parliament set up a special select committee to hold consultations on a number of human rights issues.

However, the committee’s life was cut short before it could examine the country’s anti-gay laws when then President Ramotar prorogued parliament in December 2014 and held early elections in May 2015.

More recently Guyanese transgender activists started pushing for a change in the country’s archaic LGBT laws.