Guyana suit seeks to end anti-transgender 'dress code'

Guyana is the only South American country with a law against homosexual activity. Last week, a court hearing was scheduled on a lawsuit by transgender people seeking relief from a related Guyanan law against men dressing as women.

Guyana's location in South America
Guyana’s location in South America

“All the lawyers in court today were in gowns that looked very much like dresses. Shouldn’t they be charged too?”  asked Seon Clarke, one of those who filed the suit.

“How can we still have these laws today? They are used to harass a particular set of Guyanese and it is not right,” Clarke said, as reported in Guyana Observer News.

That publication and the Kaieteur News in Guyana gave different accounts of how much was accomplished during the May 10 hearing. Both agreed that a further hearing was scheduled for June 4.  Kaieteur News said the hearing was delayed and then gave this account of the case:

A group of transgender persons have appealed to the Supreme Court to strip the constitution of laws that leave them open to arrest for cross-dressing.

Intimate same-sex relations are outlawed in Guyana as is cross-dressing. Groups say the laws smack of hypocrisy since women who dress in male clothing do not face arrest, but men who dress as women risk being jailed.

The challenge was launched in February 2010 following a police crackdown on cross-dressing.

Police had arrested and briefly detained six persons for cross-dressing a year before the challenge was filed.

They were arrested and charged under Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, which criminalizes as a minor offense the “wearing of female attire by man; wearing of male attire by women.”

The six were born male but dress as women. The men claimed they were humiliated by the Police and the court.

“It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I felt like I was less than human,” Seon Clarke, one of the persons arrested stated in a statement from the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

The then acting Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson fined the six persons $7,500 each and told them to “go to church” and give their lives to Christ.

SASOD is leading the challenge for those arrested with a team of lawyers which include human rights attorney Arif Bulkan.

The crackdown in February 2009 was heavily criticised by rights groups locally and overseas.

For more information, read the full Kaeiteur News article “Delay skirts hearing in challenge against dress code laws” and the Guyana Observer News article, “Challenge in the High Court to address Guyana’s nineteenth century cross-dressing law.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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