Former health minister under the PPP administration Dr Leslie Ramsammy has called on Guyana and by extension the Caribbean community to repeal laws that “stigmatize, discriminate and criminalize” the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.
Ramsammy said, “Guyana is today one of about five countries in the world that in accordance with the law can sentence a person in the LGBT community .. for simply engaging in same-sex relations in the privacy of their homes.” Under the Criminal Law (Offences) Act same sex relations between gay men attract a jail term of 10 years to life.
Ramsammy said in a statement, “If we are serious about achieving the goals and targets to end AIDS by 2030 in accordance with the global collective agreements, Guyana signed under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), then we in Guyana and in Caricom must demonstrate leadership and repeal the laws that criminalize too many of our citizens.”
He noted, “We largely have retained through saving-clause legislations the old, outdated and archaic laws. While we have made tremendous progress in reaching the HIV SDG targets in every area, we are lagging way behind in terms of progress towards reducing and eliminating stigma and discrimination. One reason is that our laws are hopelessly homophobic and we must ensure that the laws of the land are congruent with our aspiration to guarantee fundamental human rights to all citizens.”
In 2013 Acting Chief Justice Ian Chang had ruled that the law against cross-dressing does not discriminate against any gender, while finding that both men and women are free to cross-dress in public as long as the reason for doing so is not improper.
“…It is not a criminal offence for a male to wear female attire and for a female to wear male attire in a public way or place under Section 153 (1) (XLVII). It is only if such an act is done for an improper purpose that criminal liability attaches,” Justice Chang had stated in his 34-page ruling.
The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) challenged Section 153 (1)(XLVII) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act and had requested more clarity on what constitutes improper use calling the descriptor vague and open to interpretations.
Though this was the position taken while the PPP was in government, Ramsammy said it was a “cop-out” for political parties and the government to oppose repealing the law because of friction in society. “I do understand that many will be opposed to repealing anti-gay laws on religious grounds. While we are a deeply religious country, our laws and our human rights guarantee are not derived from any religious books. We have a constitution and that constitution guarantees every citizen equal rights. The truth is Guyana and other Caricom countries are denying a section of our community their fundamental rights. We cannot boast of strict adherence to human rights as long as we continue to have anti-gay laws in our books.”
He said it “boggles the mind” why Guyana has not been more proactive, adding, “the evidence is clear – we are on the wrong side of this debate.”
He said, “The 11th Parliament must act with haste to repeal the anti-gay laws, repeal the death penalty laws and end corporal punishment in schools now. As long as we continue to procrastinate on remedying these flaws in our law books, we remain a rogue nation in terms of our global commitment for human rights.”
Governance Minister Raphael Trotman was non-committal on the abolition of the death penalty recently when questioned on the subject after the Caribbean Regional Conference on the Abolition of the Death Penalty was held here on November 23 and 24.