The repeal of laws criminalising consensual sexual conduct between persons of the same sex and cross-dressing should be subject to public consultations, President Bharrat Jagdeo has said.
“I think this matter should be subjected to consultation,” he said when asked at a press conference on Monday, where he emphasised that the government has a responsibility to “pay heed to what society feels.”
However, he also indicated that there is need to strike a balance between the public’s feelings and the need to prevent discrimination. “It doesn’t mean that you are going to follow it [the public’s feelings] slavishly, because you have to make sure that society advances in rights and term and other ways, making sure people are not stigmatised,” Jagdeo explained.
Last week, six gay rights groups wrote to President Jagdeo, urging him to stop arrests and end abuses against people on the grounds of their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. The Caribbean Forum for Liberation and Acceptance of Genders and Sexualities, Global Rights, Guyana Rainbow Foundation, Human Rights Watch, International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) specifically called for the repeal of the laws that criminalise wearing clothes considered appropriate only for the opposite sex. Women have not been prosecuted under the law.
The groups argue that the colonial-era laws are being used to selectively discriminate against transgender persons.
Their letter came in the wake of the arrest and conviction of men last month on the grounds that they were wearing female attire. The arrests were made under Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which criminalises the wearing of female attire by men and wearing of male attire by women as minor offences. The groups said the law permits and encourages police abuse, along with other provisions that criminalize consensual sexual conduct between people of the same sex. “All these provisions are relics of colonial rule, and stand in violation of international human rights principles,” the groups stated in the letter.
President Jagdeo said he had not seen the letter. But he emphasised the government’s consultative approach to such issues, drawing comparisons to other contentious areas like corporal punishment in schools and capital punishment. “Because when you go out, you find a significant part of people in the country who support corporal punishment in school and then a lot who don’t, so we have to make sure we find the right balance,” he said. “The same with capital punishment… [it] is seen as a human rights issue in some countries but in our region, in Caricom, the majority of the people support capital punishment.”