Guyana’s laws need broader interpretations to extend anti-discrimination protections to Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (LBT) women, who in many cases don’t seek legal redress out of fear that they will be denied justice.
This was noted at a public forum on “Gender Equality and Sexual Rights in Guyana,” hosted last Thursday at Moray House by Red Thread, Stella’s Sisterhood for Service and Support (S4) Foundation, the Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBow) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).
The Guyana Association of Women Lawyers, the forum was told, has begun work to assist with the development of laws to create more gender equality and will push to have extant legislation, such as the Domestic Violence Act and the Married Persons Property Act, be interpreted in new ways to provide protection to the LBT community.
Sadie Amin, a member of the Association, said the courts needed to challenge laws and interpret them in unconventional ways. “We need to interpret laws to be against discrimination on behalf of gender orientation,” she noted, explaining that if the laws use the word “women” it was not just descriptive of heterosexual women in Guyana, but inclusive of all women.
Amin noted that Guyana’s first step has to be the decriminalising of same sex relationships. She noted that Guyana has signed numerous conventions, such as the Rights of the Child, the Elimination of Violence Against Women and the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and they all need to be preceded by laws drafted to ensure that they are adhered to within the society.
Amin, however, noted that some progress is being made. “SASOD is celebrating 10 years and 50 years ago in Guyana you wouldn’t think that as possible,” she said.
Colleen McEwan, Executive Director of GuyBow, stated that her organisation collects data from many victims of rape and sexual harassment who are too ashamed to file police reports out of fear that they will be denied protection and justice.
Further, victim blaming and societal discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons, she noted, is being perpetuated through many current laws, such as those that deal with loitering and cross dressing. She added that even these minimal issues can foment into larger more violent acts against the LGBT community,
She proposed that public officials and the police force be required to take sensitisation classes.
Meanwhile, human rights activist and Red Thread’s National Coordinator Karen de Souza said the Sexual Offences Act of 2010 was a step forward in offering protections to victims of sexual violence, but decried the double court process as a bureaucratic measure that is failing victims. Currently when rape cases go before the courts, a decision has to be made at the magistrate’s court level as to whether the case will be brought to the High Court, de Souza stated. “That can take four, five, six years,” she noted, while adding that for many victims the time cases took to be heard was too long, especially when they use the intervening years to heal and move forward. She said victims did not want to reopen old wounds. “I am worried about Guyana. We aren’t prepared, ready or willing to take steps to address violence in our communities,” she further said, while noting that Guyana’s culture of victim blaming will only continue to hamper the creation of protective laws.