Americas

Activists challenge Guyana’s anti-trans stance

A legal challenge to Guyana court rulings that allow anti-transgender bias is heading to the Caribbean Court of Justice. Guyana, the only South American country with anti-LGBT laws, allows judges to discriminate against trans people by refusing to allow them in court unless they wear what a judge considers gender-appropriate attire.

Guyana’s Demerara Waves website reported Feb. 27:

Magistrate reportedly instructs transgender woman return to court dressed ‘like a man’

Petronella (Photo courtesy of Demerara Waves)

Petronella Trotman (Photo courtesy of Demerara Waves)

City Magistrate Dylon Bess, this morning, made an unconventional move, clearing out his court before dealing with the assault matter of transgender woman, Ronnel Trotman, known as Petronella, although the matter was neither a sexual offense, domestic violence, nor a matter regarding minors.

The move by Bess was called unconstitutional by attorney Arif Bulkan, who represented a number of transgender women in a cross-dressing appeal case today. …

Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson told Demerara Waves Online News today, after the Court of Appeal dismissed a cross-dressing appeal, that Bess asked the public to leave court, took evidence, and instructed that when she returns to court she “dress like a man.”

[On March 2, Bess dismissed the assault charge after refusing to allow Trotman, the victim of the assault, into the courtroom.]

After then Chief Justice Ian Chang ruled in 2013 that cross-dressing was legal unless it was done for an improper purpose, the transgender women who brought the matter to Chang sought clarity on what is an improper purpose.

The Appeal Court [on Feb. 27] dismissed the appeal on multiple grounds, including that the Court of Law does not have the authority to interpret what Parliament did not interpret. …

Bulkan said the decision of the Court of Appeal [on Feb. 27] regarding what constitutes an “improper purpose,” allows for case-by-case interpretation from magistrates.

This is not the first time that Bess had instructed Petronella to present herself in male clothing.

In January, Bess reportedly barred Petronella from accessing his court because she presented herself dressed in female attire. Bess reportedly told the transgender woman he only knows about two genders, which are male and female. …

Petronella is the victim of assault by an assailant known to her. The matter was reported at the Brickdam Police Station and the perpetrator was charged for assault.

SASOD’s Managing Director Joel Simpson, Twinkle Bissoon, a trans-woman activist; Petronella Trotman, member of Guyana Trans United and first named applicant and Director of Guyana Trans United Gulliver Mc Ewan in conversation at the Court of Appeal. (Photo courtesy of SASOD)

Guyana activists discuss the appeals court rule on Feb. 27. Left to right: Joel Simpson, managing director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD); Twinkle Bissoon, a trans woman activist; Petronella Trotman, a member of Guyana Trans United who is the first named applicant in the case; and Gulliver McEwan, director of Guyana Trans United. (Photo courtesy of SASOD)

“Bess has an ideological perspective not rooted in the law but in his own biases,” SASOD’s Managing Director Joel Simpson told Demerara Waves some time ago.

Simpson had then advised Bess be guided by the 2013 ruling by then Chief Justice Ian Chang that cross dressing in Guyana is not illegal, save and except for when it is done for an “improper purpose.”

“Going to court to give evidence in a case where somebody assaulted you cannot constitute an improper purpose,” Simpson told Demwaves today.

A formal complaint had also been issued in March last year when Bess refused to hear matters for three transgender women, all in the same month. A protest action was held outside the court then by the Guyana Trans United, an organisation representing transgender women.

Petronella Trotman (in blue) stands outside the door of the court where she was denied entry. Inside the court, Magistrate Dylon Bess dismissed the assault case in which Trotman was the assault victim. (Photo courtesy of Demerara Waves)

Petronella Trotman (in blue) stands outside the door of the court where she was denied entry. Inside the court, Magistrate Dylon Bess dismissed the assault case in which Trotman was the assault victim. (Photo courtesy of Demerara Waves)


After the March 2 court action, Demerara Waves reported:

Transgender assault victim barred from entering court as Magistrate dismisses case

City Magistrate Dylon Bess [on March 2] dismissed a physical assault case where transgender woman, Ronnel Trotman, known as Petronella, was the victim.

Bess, before handing down his decision, asked the public to leave the courtroom. Just as the assault victim, Petronella, was entering the court, she was barred by the court’s officers. The decision was read in her absence.

Petronella was informed of the Magistrate’s decision by the defendant, Jamal Johnson, who exited the court and informed the victim of the ruling made in her absence.

Petronella told the press corps after the ruling she was upset by the decision since she was not allowed inside the court.

An attempt to obtain Bess’s decision from police prosecutor Tracy May-Gittens was unsuccessful. The prosecutor told Demerara Waves Online News to check with the court’s clerk. The clerk informed Demwaves he was not paying attention to the decision, since he was completing court documents.

This is the second time Bess has barred the public from entering the court when Petronella’s case came up, although the matter was neither a sexual offense, domestic violence, nor a juvenile matter.

Bess’s first decision to bar the public from his court while Petronella’s matter was heard on Monday was called unconstitutional by attorney Arif Bulkan. …

Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination reported on Feb. 28:

Cross-dressing case likely heading to the CCJ

Joel Simpson, managing director of SASOD (Photo courtesy of the Guyana News Network)

Joel Simpson, managing director of SASOD (Photo courtesy of the Guyana News Network)

(Georgetown, Guyana) The Court of Appeal [on Feb. 27] in an oral decision delivered by the acting Chancellor, the Honourable Carl Singh, confirmed the ruling of the then acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in the High Court that the expression of one’s gender identity as a trans person is not in and of itself a crime. However, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal, rejecting the appellants’ arguments that the law in question discriminates based on gender and violates multiple equality provisions in the Constitution. The appellants confirmed that they intend to appeal this ruling to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

In 2010 four trans women and one of Guyana’s LGBT organisations brought an action challenging the constitutionality of an 1893 colonial vagrancy law found in the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act which makes it an offence for a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ to cross-dress in public ‘for any improper purpose’. The essence of the case brought by Gulliver McEwan, Angel Clarke, Peaches Fraser and Isabella Persaud and SASOD was that this 19th century vagrancy law is hopeless vague, amounts to sex/gender discrimination because it is based on sex-role stereotyping and has a disproportionate impact on trans persons.

The Court of Appeal relied on the earlier reasoning of the Chief Justice and held that the section in question does not make the wearing of specific attire a criminal offence but only targets clothing when worn for an improper purpose in public. The first named applicant and Director of Guyana Trans United Gulliver McEwan expressed her disappointment with how the Court dealt with the uncertainty of the term ‘improper purpose’.

“Trans people are no clearer after today on what this means than before the Court of Appeal’s decision” says McEwan.

The Court of Appeal admitted that the expression ‘improper purpose’ could be rather broad, but held that from a practical perspective, certainty and accessibility of laws are not always attainable. As such, the Court of Appeal said that it would fall to Magistrates to determine the meaning of the term on a case by case basis.

Twinkle Bissoon, a trans female activist who has been repeatedly barred from court for dressing in female clothing, observed that “the ruling of the Court of Appeal leaves the application of the law to be done on a case by case basis and is very problematic because it allows police officers and other law enforcement to interpret the provisions to give effect to their own prejudices.”

Danuta Radzik, human rights activist, after learning of the judgement, stressed that “it is ridiculous to expect that every time a trans-woman in female attire goes to the magistrate’s courts that we have to go through this charade. Parliament needs to repeal these discriminatory laws so that the human rights of all citizens’ can be respected.”

Although the Guyana Constitution is unique in the Caribbean in that Article 39(2) obligates the court to pay due regard to international human rights law in interpreting the fundamental rights provisions, the Court of Appeal failed to address any of the arguments of the appellants which addressed the discriminatory nature and effects of the cross-dressing prohibition on trans persons. Guyana’s Constitution has the most robust provisions related to equality found in Anglophone Caribbean constitutions, largely through amendments made in 2003. These provisions include a positive duty on the state to secure equality, especially for disadvantaged groups, and a wide anti-discrimination provision that prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex and gender. …

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