By Utamu BelleThe Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has partnered with the Linden Care Foundation (LCF), For the Children Sake Foundation (FCSF) and Peace Corps, to launch the Region 10 (Upper Demerara-Berbice) Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Sexual Health Training project.From left: SASOD Managing Director Joel Simpson, LCF Prevention Coordinator Yanick Copeland, FCSF Executive Director Vernon Todd, LM&TC Social Development Committee Chairman Keeran Williams and Peace Corps Guyana Health Volunteer Caitlin SullivanThe project was launched in Linden on Friday during a simple ceremony held at the Linden Enterprise Network (LEN). It aims at empowering and providing capacity building for LGBT persons in the community, while promoting positive mental and sexual health practices. Also, the project provides the opportunity for promoting basic human rights, as it relates to non- discrimination, and reduction of internal stigma among LGBT people living within the community. Another objective of the project is to identify a support network of LGBT and ally persons to establish a sustainable and ongoing linkage of local support, after the project has concluded. It is set to include a 16-night sex positive HIV prevention training, utilising the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC)/Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV (PANCAP) workshop manual, entitled “Sex positive model for HIV prevention and promotion of sexual health”.During the course of the project, members of the LGBT community will also be provided with HIV testing in a safe, stigma-free environment. The project is expected to serve as the official registration for the sex positive HIV prevention training, with network opportunity for Linden LGBT and community allies (civil society).SASOD Managing Director Joel Simpson, during his address, said the need to work with communities outside of Georgetown was realised about a year ago, with the organisation’s 2020 vision serving as a guide within the next four years. In reaching out, he said it was intended that beneficiaries of the project were empowered to become advocates in their communities, as well as take better care of their mental and sexual health.“Often times, the approach to sexual health tends to be just about giving people information… without looking at some of the underlying issues that prevent the vulnerable population, vulnerable groups in particular, from attaining a higher level of sexual health. One of the issues that prevent those groups from attaining the best sexual health is the discrimination they face,” he outlined.Simpson said while SASOD was a national organisation, owing to limited resources, its work was focused on policy which targeted Government and Parliament to change laws regarding same-sex communities and cross dressing, as well as to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, through the Discrimination Act of 1997.“Through constitutional reform, we’d also like to see sexual orientation and gender identity included,” Simpson said.Homophobic communitySimpson further related that based on data from independent organisation Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES), homophobia was said to be more pronounced in Linden when compared to other towns across the country. The reasons for the findings, he suggested, may be limited access to broadcast information, high levels of unemployment, limited access to tertiary education and a direct link between poverty and discrimination.As a result, he said it was discovered that the Linden LGBT community had become more comfortable socialising in Georgetown.“In our work, we found that…of the towns that we have in Guyana, homophobia is probably most pronounced in Linden, of all of those towns…There’s a direct relationship between levels of education, poverty, homophobia and discrimination…because of the socio- economic circumstances of Linden that we find homophobia is more pronounced. With that said, we recognise the dire need to work in Linden.”He added that it was also discovered that a number of suicide cases over the years in the community may be linked to cases regarding sexuality. Circumstances such as these have led to the organisation’s establishment of a physical presence in the community as he stressed the importance of partnership with civil society.In his remarks, LCF Prevention Coordinator Yanick Copeland stated that the organisation supported the work of SASOD. He also outlined the need for LGBT support, increased access to HIV testing, capacity building and improved cohesion to meet psycho-social and sexual health needs, in addition to human rights promotion in a stigma and discrimination free environment.Meanwhile, FCSF Executive Director Vernon Todd related that his organisation has recently begun work with LGBT youths in the community through its “Youths seeking answers programme”. Through the programme, he said, it was realised that young people have many issues and many organisations were not talking about issues affecting the LGBT community.Todd emphasised also that it was important that we treat each other as human beings, noting that his organisation also provided HIV testing for the LGBT community.Linden Mayor and Town Council (LM&TC) Social Development Committee Chairman Keeran Williams also stated during his address that the Council was committed to addressing social issues and creating a stigma-free environment. It was noted that a similar project was launched in Region Three (Essequibo Islands-West Demerara) last month.