Guyana’s Chief Justice, Ian Chang will continue to listen to arguments on June 4 in a landmark case that could have an impact on some colonial type laws that remain in modern-day Guyana and which affect the Gay and Lesbian community.
The Society Against Sexual Orientation and Discrimination(SASOD) and four other applicants in the names of Quincy McEwan, Seon Clarke, Joseph Fraser and Seyon Persaud are challenging Guyana’s 19th century cross dressing law.
The court challenge is a constitutional one and the applicants hope to prove that outdated laws could increase the vulnerability of poor and powerless people to other prejudices.
The case was initiated in 2009 following the convictions of seven persons for violating an 1893 law which makes it criminal for men to wear female attire and for women to wear male attire in any public way or public space, for any improper purpose.
A number of human rights activists have described the old laws as discriminatory and believe that they should have no place in a modern society.
The applicants have been arguing that the law violates many provisions of the amended Guyana Constitution, particularly the rights to equality and non-discrimination.
SASOD believes the hearing comes at an opportune time for Guyana since this year the nation has several chances to engage in a rational discourse surrounding key human rights issues. Guyana could find itself facing tough questions about the colonial laws during the periodic review of the Human Rights Council.
According to a statement from SASOD’s Secretary of the Board of Trustees, Zenita Nicholson, “the constitutional challenge is part of this wider network of opportunities to examine the way people interact with one another, whether state agencies uphold the rights and dignity of all citizens, and the extent to which laws undermine equality.”
Guyana has been making moves to decriminalize a number of the old laws including one which makes it criminal for persons of the same-sex to be involved in sexual activities even if they are consenting adults.
A National Forum on that issue is expected to be organised. The National Assembly has made efforts to address the laws but has asked a Special Select Committee of the Parliament to assist in the case.