Guyana government introduces bill to repeal defunct cross-dressing ban

The Guyanese government has introduced a bill to repeal its defunct criminal ban on cross-dressing, Starbroek News reports. The law had previously been struck down by the Caribbean Court of Justice in 2018.

Marchers at Guyana’s 2018 Pride Parade in Georgetown. (Photo courtesy of Starbroek News)

The government bill was introduced at first reading on June 10, 2021, and must pass through the National Assembly before becoming law.

Until November 2018, cross-dressing was criminalized under the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, section 153 (xlvii), which condemns anyone who “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire,” to a fine of between 7,000-10,000 Guyanese dollars (approximately US $33-$48).

In 2009, a group of seven trans women were charged and convicted under the law and ordered to pay G$7,500. They fought the conviction all the way to the Caribbean Court of Justice, the court of final appeal in Guyana. In November 2018, the CCJ struck down the law after finding that it was unconstitutionally vague and “violated the appellants’ right to protection of the law and was contrary to the rule of law.”

The government’s bill will formally strip the offending section from the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, once it becomes law.

In an explanatory note to the bill, the government states that it “signals the government’s commitment to fulfilling the human rights of all Guyanese. The Government rightly acknowledges and agrees with the CCJ that this archaic law, which is inconsistent with the Constitution of Guyana, has no social of legal purpose in a progressive society.”

Still, the government has not announced any intention to repeal sections of its Criminal Law (Offences) Act which penalize same-sex intimacy with up to life imprisonment. Although the offending sections are rarely enforced, Guyana remains the only country in South America where same-sex intimacy is criminalized.

Guyana inherited its prohibitions on same-sex intimacy from the British colonial era, as did many other countries in the Caribbean region. However, some nearby countries have decriminalized same-sex intimacy in recent years, including Belize (2016) and Trinidad and Tobago (2018). Barbados also announced plans to expand LGBT rights and recognize civil unions in 2020, although it has not formally committed to decriminalizing gay sex.

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Written by Rob Salerno

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