Politicians discuss sex education, bullying in schools

Political parties vying for a chance to govern the country for the next five years recently shared their positions on a number of issues relating to rights of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer+ (LGBTQ+) community.
Among the issues that took centre stage on Monday were legislative reforms and faults in the education system.

Public Telecommunications Minister Cathy Hughes

The town hall-style meeting was organised by Guyana’s premier gay rights organisation – the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) — and the Guyana Press Association (GPA) and saw the participation of almost all the political parties contesting the upcoming polls.

Sex education
One of the questions asked concerned the introduction of a sex education programme in schools to which the representative of the incumbent APNU/AFC coalition, Cathy Hughes, said the decision is not one for a political party to make, but rather, for the “experts” to determine.
But representative of the PPP/C, Priya Manickchand disagreed, saying that the political leaders have to make the decision, and then the experts can make the decisions thereafter.

Priya Manickchand

According to her, introducing a sex education programme in schools is “necessary”; however, it has to be “age-appropriate”.
“It does not necessarily mean that we will be teaching seven-year-old boys that we can be girls, that is so far away from what sex education really encompasses,” Manickchand explained, noting that studies will have to be conducted to determine how to roll out such an initiative here.
She explained that the same programme used in other countries like the United States, may not be suitable for Guyana.

LGBTQ+ bullying
Another question posed to the politicians concerned bullying against LGBTQ+ students, and how their respective parties plan to tackle the social issue.
Hughes, who is currently the Minister of Public Telecommunications, explained that the situation has to be addressed holistically, not just bullying against LGBTQ+ students, but bullying in general.
“Once you have children with problems that are not being addressed, those problems will just be transferred from the home into the school environment,” she explained, noting that, like with many other issues, education can help.
She suggested the implementation of an aggressive educational campaign in the form of animated productions and mobile applications.
Manickchand, a former Education Minister, agreed that educating the nation will help. But she went further to explain that teachers need to be trained at the level of the Cyril Potter College of Education (CPCE) and the school curriculums need to be revamped so both students and educators can understand and appreciate the “realities” of the modern world.
According to Manickchand, teachers need to be trained on how to deal with children who are a part of the LGBTQ+ community.
Lamenting that, to this day, the school system still teaches that ‘daddy goes to work’ while ‘mommy stays home’, Manickchand said there is a dire need for the curriculum to be revised so students can understand modern “realities”.

Principle or popularity
Meanwhile, the politicians were also grilled on whether they make decisions based on principles or popularity, especially in the context of the demands from the LGBTQ+ community.
Both APNU/AFC and the PPP/C admitted that while each individual is entitled to their fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution, political parties are in the business of getting votes from the populace.
“Political parties are in the business of securing votes of as many people as they can get. Very few political parties will tell you that they will do something that is highly unpopular, if they think they have a chance of winning,” Manickchand posited.
However, she noted that what needs to be done by all stakeholders is to ensure that the unpopular position becomes popular.
Moreover, she explained the challenges of moving to support an “unpopular” position.
“We can’t be unrealistic in what we are saying…oh this is the right thing to do…what makes your view righter than their view,” Manickchand pointed out, noting that while she has her own opinion on issues, she is not governing for herself.
When it comes to making concrete legislative changes to support LGBTQ+ rights in Guyana, the former Parliamentarian explained that the PPP/C “is not, at this stage, prepared to say that same-sex marriage will be promoted or allowed…”
However, she said the Party is insistent that no law will be passed or implemented in a way that discriminates against the LGBTQ+ community.
Similarly, the APNU/AFC representative explained that political parties are made up of a group of individuals who each have their own views on these issues.
“A part of the challenge is that political parties themselves are made up of individuals…individuals bring to the table their own personal beliefs, whether it is based on religious norms [or morals],” Hughes said, suggesting that in cases like these, allowing a conscience vote in the National Assembly would be the best solution.
Meanwhile, the other political parties that participated in the forum are A New and United Guyana, The Citizenship Initiative, The New Movement, The Liberty and Justice Party and Change Guyana.