End Sexual-Orientation and Gender-Identity Discrimination in Guyana

Published: July 10, 2012

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women ("CEDAW Committee"), meeting this month at United Nations headquarters in New York City, will review the human-rights record of several countries that are signatory parties to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). In recent years the CEDAW Committee has increasingly included the rights of lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LBT) women in its deliberations. During the week of July 9, Guyana will be reviewed. There has been strong engagement by LBT activists in preparation for the hearing. In the case of Guyana, an LBT-specific shadow report, "Human Rights Violations of Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (LBT) People in Guyana," was jointly drafted and submitted by three human-rights organizations: Guyana RainBow Foundation (GuyBow), the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). I had the privilege of making an oral presentation of this report to the members of the CEDAW committee on July 9 at the UN.

There is a glaring gap in Guyana’s anti-discrimination policies and practices on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity: There is no specific protection for LBT people in Guyana’s constitution, or in existing legislation. While the argument may be made that certain articles of the constitution offer general protections against all kinds of discrimination, Guyana has retained archaic, colonial-era legislation, such as laws that criminalize cross-dressing and specifically penalize gender-nonconforming individuals. Retaining these laws reinforces discriminatory, heteronormative stereotypes, creating a de facto climate of intolerance for LBT people and negatively affecting their quality of life, mental health, and economic circumstances.

Guyana may say that these laws are not regularly enforced, but the reality is that representatives of the state, such as the police and members of the judiciary, selectively implement them. The sentencing magistrate told four cross-dressers arrested in 2010 that they should "go to church and give their lives to Christ." One lesbian, who had been attacked because of her sexual orientation and who reported the incident to the police, received no assistance. "The police just laughed and made a mockery of the situation; it was like entertainment to them," she said. A transgender individual under arrest described being placed in a jail cell with male inmates who were instructed by the arresting officer to rape her. She reported that two of the prisoners did rape her, and that when she cried out for help, no one came to her rescue.

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