Human rights organisations call for end to ‘police abuse’ of trans people in Guyana

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Human rights organisations in Guyana have called for an end to the arrest and abuse of trans people for not conforming to gender-typical dress codes.

In a letter to President Bharrat Jagdeo, six groups said a repressive law that criminalises wearing clothes considered appropriate only for the opposite sex must be repealed.

The letter was signed by the Caribbean Forum for Liberation of Genders and Sexualities (CARIFLAGS), Global Rights, Guyana Rainbow Foundation (Guybow), Human Rights Watch, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).

They called on the Guyanese authorities to drop the charges against seven people arrested under the law in February, 2009, and investigate allegations of abuse by the police.

In February, police in the Guyanese capital, Georgetown, arrested and charged seven people under section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, which criminalises as a minor offence the “wearing of female attire by man; wearing of male attire by women.”

The detainees said that police refused to allow them to make a phone call or contact a lawyer, both basic rights under Guyanese law.

They told human rights organisations that police officers photographed them and then told them to take off all of their “female clothes” in front of several police officers.

One defendant said that after the detainees stripped, the police told them to bend down to “search” them, as a way to mock them for their sexual orientation. They were then ordered to put on “men’s clothing.”

“Police are using archaic laws to violate basic freedoms,” said Scott Long director of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Rights Programme at Human Rights Watch.

“This is a campaign meant to drive people off the streets simply because they dress or act in ways that transgress gender norms.”

Vicky Sawyer, a transgender representative for CARIFLAGS, said: “It is outrageous in this day and age that human beings get arrested for cross-gender expression.

“Transgender issues should be dealt with using international human rights standards, not police abuse.”

Guyana has several laws that criminalise relationships between people of the same sex. Section 351 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act punishes committing acts of “gross indecency” with a man with a two-year prison sentence.

Section 352 criminalises any “attempt to commit unnatural offences”, including a ten-year prison sentence for any “male [that] indecently assaults any other male person.” Section 353 states “Everyone who commits buggery, either with a human being or with any other living creature, shall be guilty of felony and be liable to imprisonment for life.”