Guyana’s national policy is not tailored to support young people but that could soon change. After years of consultation and reluctance, the government of Guyana is designing and tabling legislation to introduce a National Youth Policy. This policy will aim to ensure there are strategic and comprehensive approaches to the challenges faced by the nation’s youth.
Whilst this move is welcomed, the draft policy in its current form does not ensure mechanisms to deal specifically with issues that are unique to or affect the LGBT community. Whilst archaic colonial laws continue to be used to discriminate against people on grounds of their sexuality, it is vital that this modernising youth policy spells out measures to protect people of minority sexual orientation and gender identity. They must be absolute in order for our social welfare system to be held accountable.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youths face unique challenges. From being abandoned and condemned by their families and communities, to being mercilessly driven into the sex industry (increasing their risks of HIV infection); from suffering from mental health issues to becoming targets for local law enforcement.
Youths who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender face mounting threats of violence in their homes and often become the victims of vicious hate crimes in a society where homophobic violence is a growing epidemic. This and the fact that LGBT youths have an added layer of vulnerability- their sexuality - in addition to their lack of financial resources, means they face a struggle to secure steady, well paying jobs driving them to a life of poverty.
Our generation understands sexuality and sexual orientation early on in life, thus resulting in young individuals identifying as LGBT from a young age. Embracing one’s true identity is nothing short of admirable, but what is the downfall for the LGBT youths in Guyana? They are ultimately forced to interact with an intolerant unsympathetic society.
They come out to parents who are not emotionally equipped to handle their child’s sexuality and are unable to turn to any social welfare service for support, since the system is unwilling to deal with these issues. I say this not only as an activist but as someone who has lived the experience; the social welfare system is either incapable or unwilling to challenge these issues.
We cannot stand idly by and allow an entire community of vulnerable youths continue to be ignored. A National Youth Policy that includes specific mechanisms to ensure that social welfare, health and other government services are equipped to address the unique needs of LGBT youths would be a great leap forward.
The government must take up this responsibility and ensure that their National Youth Policy provides for all of our nation’s youth, especially those who are most defenseless. It is time for someone to take a stand and remind these young people that they have not been forgotten, they have not been unheard.