Transgender activists in Guyana are fighting against archaic laws
Transgender activists in Guyana are fighting against transphobic laws that have led to the trans community become used to dealing with daily abuse and violence.
The push to beat transphobia in the country comes after a trans resident in the capital of the country, Georgetown, encountered abuse and found it near impossible to seek justice.
Petronella Trotman was attacked my a young man who stabbed her in the neck with a pair of scissors because he believed Trotman had “disrespected her”.
Trotman told the BBC that after the initial attack the man ran but came back quickly to carry on attacking her with glass bottles.
“It happens a lot here in Guyana to transgender women. We live in a very homophobic society,” she said.
The attack spurred Trotman to seek conviction but realised that an arctic 124 year old law that criminalised “cross-dressing” stood in her way.
When attempting to appear in court, Trotman was told that she must “dress like a man” by the magistrate Dylon Bess.
Her dress was seen as a violation of law, a factor that led to the eventual dismissal of the case because magistrates would not let her testify as a female.
Magistrate Bess tried to defend the move, calling it a “preference and not a requirement” but insisted that parliament should abolish to outdated law, not the courts.
Since hearing about the case, local LGBT groups in Georgetown and the rest of the country are pushing to have the old law overturned.
Some are even calling for magistrates to aide in taking down the law.
Joel Simpson, the managing director at Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) said Bess had demonstrated a “dereliction of duty”.
“While he is a magistrate not a judge, the court does have the power to declare that a particular law is unconstitutional… Where there’s conflict, the constitution prevails,” Simpson said.
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The fight to raise awareness for trans communities was initially sparked several years ago in 2010 after a number of trans activists were arrested for wearing female clothing.
In conjunction with SASOD, the Guyana Trans United (GTU) group launched a challenge in the Supreme Court against the cross-dressing law.
Much to their dismay, the case felt through when Ian Chang, the chief justice at the time, ruled that cross-dressing was legal unless done for an “improper purpose” – a term he did not define.
Now, the two advocacy groups believe that they are left with limited options and so they are turning to mass petitions and protests.
“Our next step is to continue to have protests, let our voices be heard and then to get a petition before parliament,” founder of GTU, Quincy McEwan, said.
“And we’re not stopping there. We’re going to appeal our matter before the Caribbean Court of Justice.”