The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) ruled against a law in Guyana banning men and women from going into public places ‘dressed in clothing of the opposite sex for an “improper purpose”‘.
In their ruling, the CCJ deemed the law unconstitutional.
The law, part of the Section 153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, was enacted in 1893. Guyana, a country located in the north of South America, developed the law as part of their post-emancipation vagrancy laws.
In February 2009, authorities arrested four transgender individuals: Quincy McEwan, Seon Clarke, Joseph Fraser, and Seyon Persaud. Per the report from the CCJ, they were all ‘convicted and punished for cross-dressing in public’.
They all pleaded guilty to the charges.
During their hearing in the Georgetown Magistrate’s Court on 9 February 2009, the Magistrate reportedly told them ‘they must go to church and give their lives to Jesus Christ and advised them that they were confused about their sexuality’.
Initially, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) challenged the law in Guyana. Both the High Court and the Court of Appeal denied these challenges.
More than nine years later, the CCJ ultimately struck down the law.
A law from a ‘different time’
The Honourable President Mr. Justice Saunders and Justices Wit, Anderson, Rajnauth-Lee and Barrow made up the CCJ’s panel ruling on the law.
In their decision, they found the law hailed ‘from a different time and no longer served any legitimate purpose in Guyana’.
Saunders stated: ‘Law and society are dynamic, not static. A Constitution must be read as a whole. Courts should be astute to avoid hindrances that would deter them from interpreting the Constitution in a manner faithful to its essence and its underlying spirit.
‘If one part of the Constitution appears to run up against an individual fundamental right, then, in interpreting the Constitution as a whole, courts should place a premium on affording the citizen his/her enjoyment of the fundamental right, unless there is some overriding public interest.’
Guyana’s Constitution also prohibits discrimination.
The CCJ found the law resulted in trans people being ‘treated unfavourably by criminalising their gender expression and gender identity’.
GSN reached out to SASOD and the Guyana Equality Forum for comment.