Guyana’s leading gay rights activist group has renewed its calls for the Teachers’ Code of Conduct to be updated to include protection of students who are a part of the LGBT community.
The call was initially made by Joel Simpson, the Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) earlier in the year during a presentation at the University of Guyana’s Turkeyen and Tain Talks.
During a recent meeting with the Minister of Education Nicolette Henry, SASOD along with the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA) stressed the need for this to be done so that students can feel more comfortable in classrooms.
SASOD and GRPA asked the Minister to amend the non-discrimination clause of the Code under Section B on Commitment to Colleagues, to expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, belief or culture, nor interfere with the free participation of colleagues in the affairs of their association(s), a statement from SASOD said.
The groups also proposed that the non-discrimination clause under Section D on Commitment to Students be similarly updated.
It was recommended that place of “origin, birth status, political opinion, age, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, language, birth, social class, pregnancy, religion, conscience, and belief or culture” be included with the four grounds currently stated: “ability, race, colour and creed”.
Simpson explained that the Ministry needed an updated and comprehensive policy that is in line with the Guyana Constitution, the newly-crafted National Policy on the Reintegration of Adolescent Mothers into the Formal School System and a document that supports the goals and vision of the Ministry.
He recalled that the Minister expressed in the previous year at the Spirit Day reception – an event hosted by SASOD and the British High Commission to commit to working against bullying of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students – that bullying in no way will be tolerated in schools since it hinders children’s rights to live their lives free from abuse, violence and discrimination, and their right to education.
Anil Persaud, SASOD’s Homophobia Coordinator, explained that it has recorded cases of students being bullied based on their perceived sexualities, particularly effeminate boys. The non-discrimination provisions would fulfill an obligation to students to protect them against homophobic and transphobic bullying. He added that although the stigmatizing nature of anti-LGBT bullying precludes robust data collection on the problem, minority students also need the Ministry’s full protection at all levels.
SASOD said the Minister responded with a commitment to updating the Code of Conduct.
“…she will be guided by the professional advice of the Ministry’s Legal Officer, Ms. Kellyann Payne-Hercules, who was also present at the meeting, but indicated that she does not see these amendments to be problematic or damaging since they are in line with her vision and the Ministry’s strategic plan to ensure a safe and comfortable environment where all students can play, learn and work together for the advancement of the nation,” the statement noted.
SASOD also disclosed that Minister Henry was open to partnership on a National Anti-Bullying Campaign proposed by GRPA and SASOD, organized in collaboration with other key stakeholders for Education Month in September. SASOD said through this campaign, secondary school students will be sensitized on the various forms of violence, and made aware of social support services and redress mechanisms if they are being bullied. The campaign will include a nation-wide essay competition for Grades 7 to 9 students on bullying and discrimination based on gender in schools.
The campaign will run into Bullying Prevention Month in October and culminate on Spirit Day, which is commemorated on the third Thursday of the month – October 18 this year.