Guyana remains one of 11 countries in the English-speaking Caribbean that still have laws criminalizing same-sex relationships and cross-dressing, as a direct result of British colonization. The Criminal Law Offences Act (8:01) of 1893 is usually selectively enforced today for the prosecution of male to female transgendered persons. Cross-dressing is criminalized under Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:02.

Envisioning’s research shows that these discriminatory laws reinforce homophobic and transphobic prejudices. In 2013, there were at least three transgender and gay persons who were murdered in circumstances suggesting they were ‘targeted’ hate crimes. This can result in seeking asylum in other countries. LGBTI people are coerced into rigidly regulating their sexuality and gender expression. Nonconforming gender identities are more likely to result in arrest.

In 2010 a constitutional challenge against the cross-dressing law was launched by four transwomen, along with the Guyanese LGBT group, Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD). The 2013 judgment found that cross-dressing for the purpose of expressing one’s sexual orientation in public is not a crime. However, it upheld the constitutionality of Section 153, as the Chief Justice deemed that dressing for an “improper purpose” is against the law.  

Cracey Annatola Fernandes:

Keywords: Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC); Gay; Trans; LGBT; Sex Work; Violence; Prison; Police; Stigma; Employment; HIV/AIDS.

Cracey: “My strong belief is that equality through democracy should be equality for everyone.”

Synopsis: Cracey Annatola Fernandes is the Co-Chairman of the Guyana Sex Work Coalition (GSWC), and Director in charge of the Caribbean of the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP), where he participates on the board as Director of Caribbean Vulnerable Communities (CVC). Cracey speaks of his experience as an LGBT person in prison and the violence and oppression he faced there, which he compares to a microcosm of society. Cracey fought discrimination within the prison system that withheld jobs from people identified as homosexual. He also discusses the work he does now, to help sex workers and male ex-prisoners, including creating a safe space where marginalized people can access workshops and information about HIV/AIDS.

Melinda Jankie: 

Keywords: Justice Institute; Amerindian Act 2006; Human Rights; Law; Stigma; Discrimination.

Melinda: “As a lawyer, you come across injustice everyday and at some stage you have to make the decision whether you’re going to be part of the problem or part of the solution. Tolerance is the mark of a civilized society.”

Synopsis: Melinda Jankie is the Executive Director and founder of the Justice Institute. An international lawyer and law expert, Melinda was the lead drafter of the Amerindian Act 2006, which guarantees the collective rights of Guyana's Indigenous peoples to land and natural resources, their collective identity and protected areas. She identifies the main challenges she faces as out-of-date legislation, and attitudes based on ignorance and fear of the ‘other’. Melinda wants to ensure LGBTI people are treated with respect and are given equal protection, and she recognizes the injustice the community faces. She talks about how laws promoting zero tolerance for discriminatory behaviour need to be passed and how she would like to bring the laws in Guyana up to the standards of international human rights.

Selina Maria Perez:

Keywords: Trans; Transgender; Violence; Police; Law; Human Rights; Most-at-risk populations

Selina: “They called the police, and the police came, but [they] just drove away. And I was on the ground bleeding.”

Synopsis: Selina Maria Perez is a transgender woman and social worker. She worked as the Behaviour Change Promoter for Guyana HIV/AIDS Reduction and Prevention Phase 2, providing services for most-at-risk populations. Due to discrimination in Guyana, Selina now resides in the Netherlands with her partner. She talks about her experience providing technical support at locations where queer people would congregate. Here, Selina was assaulted. She shares her story and her emotional and physical scars resulting from this assault, pointing out that the police refused to intervene.