President David Granger
The people of Guyana are set to decide in a referendum whether homosexuality should remain a criminal offence.
The South American country, which is also considered to be part of the Caribbean, is the only nation on the continent in which same-sex sexual acts remain illegal.
According to local reports, the government revealed the referendum plan in a letter to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).
It also confirmed that the decriminalisation of homosexuality was supported by President David Granger, who would campaign in its favour.
“With this Executive support, efforts will be made to advance the cause and strengthen the implementation, enforcement and the system of the protection of every Guyanese citizen, including the LGBTI community,” the government said in the letter.
“The Government of Guyana has one position on the cross-cutting principles of discrimination towards members of the LGBTI community. Whereas, we believe ‘the principle of universality admits no exception. Human rights truly are the birthrights of all human beings.’ As such, we are committed to implementing the rule of law” the government told the human rights commission,” it told the IACHR.
The government further insisted that “no person should be discriminated against on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, since everyone has a right to work, pension and gratuity”.
Despite this, it still believes that “the matter [must] be taken to a vote, where the people of Guyana will decide by a referendum on these matters”. No date, however, has been set for the poll.
Under various sections of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, homosexuality (defined as gross indecency or buggery) is punishable with life imprisonment.
While Guyana’s anti-gay laws have not been enforced in recent years, the LGBT community is often subjected to discrimination and stigma.
A 2013 study found that 53% of Guyanese support the continued criminalisation of homosexual acts while only 14% support legalising same-sex marriage.