Rights activist urges action following CCJ ruling

first_imgGuyana’s cross-dressing case– says it may set precedence for entire commonwealthHuman rights activist Vidyaratha Kissoon is urging Government to take heed of the recent ruling handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) which declared the cross-dressing law unconstitutional in Guyana following a case filed by the transgender community.Vidyaratha KissoonKissoon said the transgender community has welcomed the ruling, reminding that one of the applicants in the case, Gulliver (Quincy) McEwan, has always noted that laws alone are not needed to change hearts and minds, and that other things need to be in place.“Guyana now has to ensure that the duty bearers – public servants, Government, employers, landlords, minibus drives, Police, others recognise what Justice Adrian Saunders wrote, that “difference is as natural as breathing. Infinite varieties exist of everything under the sun.”The CCJ President also wrote in his ruling that civilised society has a duty to accommodate suitably differences among human beings. He said only in this manner can people give due respect to everyone’s humanity.“No one should have his or her dignity trampled upon, or human rights denied, merely on account of a difference, especially one that poses no threat to public safety or public order. It is these simple verities on which this case is premised.”Kissoon told Guyana Times that this recognition of difference is not only about transgender identities, it is about all other differences which are present in Guyana.He therefore recommended that Government make moves to strike down the law. He said too that the Police should engage the transgender community about accountability mechanisms to stop the harassment of transgender citizens.“The Judiciary and the magistracy should take note of the comments made in the ruling about the behaviour of the Magistrate who wanted to use religion as a ground for discrimination,” he said, while calling on the Social Protection Ministry and the Labour Department to ensure that there is no discrimination against transgender persons in employment.PromisesFurther, the human rights activist is also advising that the Prevention of Discrimination Act should be updated to outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.He reminded that political parties in their 2015 manifestos had said they were committed to ending discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation. As such, he is calling on these parties to act on those promises.While Guyana is the only country in the Caribbean with the laws against cross-dressing, Kissoon feels the judgement will definitely set a precedent for the Caribbean, but not only the Caribbean, the rest of the Commonwealth and any other jurisdiction which has to deal with discrimination against LGBT citizens.“There are judgements in Belize and Trinidad and Tobago against the sodomy laws, which show that there are Caribbean courts that are moving to deal with the homophobia left over from the colonial masters,” he added.The CCJ has ruled in favour of striking down Guyana’s laws against cross-dressing, saying that the colonial-era law was unconstitutional. After gaining independence from Britain in 1966, Guyana adopted many colonial-era laws, including the 1893 Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act that effectively banned men or women from wearing clothing conventionally worn by the opposite gender for “improper purposes”.This section was never clearly defined, leaving the door open for constitutional challenges which appellants Quincy “Gulliver” McEwan, Seon “Angel” Clarke, Joseph “Peaches” Fraser and Seyon “Isabella” Persaud mounted against their February 9, 2009 arrest, detention and conviction in Georgetown.After they appealed the law banning their mode of dress, former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in September 2013 said while the act of cross-dressing was not a crime in itself, when for an “improper purpose”, it constitutes an offence. That ruling was also appealed at Guyana’s Appeal Court, but their case was similarly dismissed in 2017.The four persons who were born male and later opted for a transgendered way of life took their case all the way to the CCJ, citing their treatment was discriminatory, based on their position that the law violated their constitutional rights to equality and non-discrimination and freedom of expression.The Justices of the Trinidad-based authority agreed with the applicants. They, therefore, declared the 1893 law unconstitutional and ordered that it must be struck from the laws of Guyana, a decision which could unsettle many in religious circles.The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), which was initially struck out of the case by CCJ, has nevertheless been fully behind the legal change.last_img

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