The British High Commissioner, Simon Bond, yesterday encouraged the government to make good on its commitment to hold consultations on the decriminalisation of sex between males, and other laws which discriminate against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people.
Bond’s call came with an acknowledgement that the British government bears historic responsibility for such legislation which has spawned discrimination against LGBT people.
He pointed to the British government’s efforts to end discrimination against the LGBT community, but said Britain, like almost every other country, used to have discriminatory legislation and practices against LGBT people until relatively recently.
“And those laws and attitudes, of course, were reflected in the way Britain administered its former colonies.
“So we clearly have some historical responsibility for the legislation that countries like Guyana inherited at independence,” Bond said.
He was speaking at an event held by the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), which has been leading calls for LGBT law reform.
Bond said it was shocking that 43 Commonwealth countries still criminalise homosexual behaviour.
The Government of Guyana committed at the Universal Periodic Review at the United Nations in Geneva in May last year to “hold consultations on this issue over the next two years.”
“We encourage progress on that and an open and constructive debate,” Bond stated.
SASOD yesterday joined 50 countries around the world to celebrate International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), marking the anniversary of one of the most powerful steps in advancing human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people globally – the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the World Health Organization 21 years ago.
SASOD used the occasion to launch a documentary titled “My Wardrobe, My Right” which explores issues related to the criminalisation of cross-dressing in Guyana.
It captures the stories of two of the cross-dressers who were victims of Police crackdowns in February 2009, and also features views of SASOD and an attorney representing litigants who have filed a constitutional challenge against the country’s law which prohibit cross-dressing.
The goal of the documentary project, SASOD stated, is to create a more supportive socio-cultural environment for sexual and gender minorities through public education efforts which aim to mitigate stigma faced by these marginalised groups.
“It aims to create a supportive infrastructure by building a more enabling socio-cultural environment which encourages ordinary people to embrace these groups who are stigmatised because of sexual taboos and gender non-conformity,” SASOD declared.
Guyana’s laws criminalise cross-dressing. Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 makes an offence of ”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… ”
“This antiquated piece of legislation dates back to the 19th century colonial period, but is still being selectively enforced today – in the 21st century,” SASOD stated.
In 2006, Ronell Trotman, better known as ‘Pertonella,’ a cross-dressing sex worker, was fined for vagrancy and wearing female attire; $5000 for each offence.
And then between February 6 and 10, 2009, police detained at least eight people, some of them twice, charging seven of them under section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02.
On February 19, 2010, four cross-dressers and SASOD filed a notice of motion before the Supreme Court of Judicature for redress claiming, among other relief, to have section 153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:02, invalidated as irrational, discriminatory, undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law and unconstitutional.
The matter is before the High Court.
SASOD yesterday also launched the inaugural issue of its quarterly newsletter, “Spectrum Vibes,” which is dedicated to the life and work of the late Dr. Robert Carr, who passed away last week.
Dr. Carr was the director of advocacy and policy of the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO), co-chair of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF), founder, co-chair and first executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), former executive director of Jamaica AIDS Support and former coordinator of the Graduate Studies Unit at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, among many other affiliations.