Friday, March 24, 2017

“Women, Wine & Words” – The Launch of SWAG

On Friday, March 10, 2017, the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted the fourth women’s empowerment session, titled “Women, Wine & Words”, in celebration of International Women’s Day and to officially launch the SASOD Women’s Arm at its 203 Duncan Street, Lamaha Gardens location.

The women’s empowerment series was birthed as a collaboration between SASOD and the Guyana Responsible Parenthood Association (GRPA). The intention of the series is to educate and empower lesbian, bisexual (LB) women and women allies about issues related to their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR). Previous sessions have focused on the basics of SRHR, self-care, wellness, body image, gender-based violence and rape culture.The women empowerment sessions are intended to create a safe space for women to ventilate pertinent women and gender issues and to share their own lived-experiences or observations. The sessions also serve to give women the information needed to make informed decisions about their own sexual and reproductive health and their own rights.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Run, Hide, Fight

They coming for me!
I got to run I got to hide I got to—
I got to— I got—
No. I don't got nothing but me two bare hand.
I got what inside me and I can't change that.

They coming for me?
They life so perfect they coming to fix how I live?
How I love? Who I love?
I gon learn to walk straight if you shoot me?
I gon learn to pray great if you prey on me?

They coming for me. Ha.
To take me where? To do me what?
You can't erase me, I always been here.
I gon always be standing here, fighting
here, and you can't change that.

- Anonymous

N.B: "Run, Hide, Fight' is the shorthand American school children are taught for what to do if there's an active shooter. i.e. Try to run away. If you can't run, find a hiding place. If you can't hide, fight back with whatever you have.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cross-dressing Case Likely Heading to the CCJ

(Georgetown, Guyana) The Court of Appeal today in an oral decision delivered by the acting Chancellor, the Honourable Carl Singh, confirmed the ruling of the then acting Chief Justice Ian Chang in the High Court that the expression of one’s gender identity as a trans person is not in and of itself a crime. However, the Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the appeal, rejecting the appellants’ arguments that the law in question discriminates based on gender and violates multiple equality provisions in the Constitution. The appellants confirmed that they intend to appeal this ruling to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

In 2010 four trans women and one of Guyana’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) organisations brought an action challenging the constitutionality of an 1893 colonial vagrancy law found in the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act which makes it an offence for a ‘man’ or a ‘woman’ to cross-dress in public ‘for any improper purpose’. The essence of the case brought by Gulliver McEwan, Angel Clarke, Peaches Fraser and Isabella Persaud and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) was that this 19th century vagrancy law is hopeless vague, amounts to sex/gender discrimination because it is based on sex-role stereotyping and has a disproportionate impact on trans persons.

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Social Cohesion Minister Commits to Leading Anti-discrimination Law Reform

On Thursday, January 9, a team from the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) met with the new Minister of Social Cohesion, Honourable Dr. George Norton, M.P. and his Technical Officer, Pamela Nauth, at his Ministry of the Presidency office.

SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues and Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick attended the meeting to discuss their partnership with the Ministry of Social Cohesion and the Ministry’s public education work which is pivotal in the prevention of violence and discrimination and is at the heart of SASOD’s work with sexual and gender minorities. 

Opening the meeting, Simpson outlined SASOD’s approach to social cohesion. He discussed a combination approach which give a “sandwich effect” to achieve social cohesion.  Simpson described the top-down approach which includes law and policy reform, especially constitutional reform to protect minority groups from discrimination. He stated that constitutional reform is paramount to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He then described the bottom-up approach which engages communities and educates citizens to curtail their prejudices. “SASOD believes that both approaches need to be taken together to achieve social cohesion in Guyana,” Simpson said.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Guyana Equality Forum Hosts “Orange Walk” to Close 16 Days of Activism on Gender Violence

Last Saturday, December 10, Human Rights Day, the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) hosted its “Orange” Walk to commemorate Human Rights Day 2016 and close the 16 Days of Activism Campaign, which is held annually to galvanize action to end gender-based violence.
SASOD’s Joel Simpson led the marchers as they chanted “Equal Rights! Equal Love! Equal People!” and “Break the Silence, End Gender-Based Violence.”
At the end of the walk, brief remarks were shared by Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence and keynote speaker Dr. Dawn Stewart. Dr. Stewart is the civil society representative to Guyana’s Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) and founder and Chief Executive Officer of CPIC’s Monique’s Caring Hands - a leading, local grassroots women's rights group. 
Dr. Stewart commenced her remarks by expressing, “It is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development. I am talking about violence against women and children. I am honoured to be here, at your request, to address this urgent matter as we join together to advance human rights, and the common values of humanity.” 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Cross-Dressing Appeal Case for Judgment in 2017

The case McEwan, Clarke, Fraser, Persaud and SASOD versus Attorney General of Guyana was heard on Friday, November 18, 2016 before Guyana’s Court of Appeal. The hearing was presided over by Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh, Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice Brassington Reynolds. Gulliver McEwan, the first-named appellant, other representatives of the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) were also present at the hearing.

The Chancellor noted that the Court had received extensive submissions from both the appellants and the state, which did not require rehashing orally. However, Dr Bulkan, counsel for the appellants, noted that there were two issues in the state’s submissions that were raised for the first time and to which he would like to respond. He was permitted to address these issues, but after doing so the Court indicated that these new submissions should be recorded in writing, and both parties were given four weeks to present their further written submissions to the court.

The Court questioned counsel for the appellants on their contention that the law was uncertain, asking whether it was not possible for a Magistrate to define the term ‘improper purposes’ on a case by case basis by reference to its dictionary meaning. Dr Bulkan responded that permitting this would offend the requirement of the rule of law, since penal statutes had to be defined with sufficient clarity to give citizens prospective notice of how to conduct themselves. He pointed out that even if a person was eventually acquitted by a Magistrate, the fact of being charged and subjected to the state’s coercive powers would have already resulted in violations of their fundamental rights. He added that the term ‘improper purpose’ had no boundaries whatever, and thus gave police unfettered discretion in enforcing the law.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Cross-Dressing Suit Set for Appeal Hearing Tomorrow Friday November 18

As the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) join the global observances of November as Trans Awareness Month, Guyana’s Court of Appeal is expected to hear the case McEwan and others versus Attorney General of Guyana tomorrow, Friday, November 18, 2016 at 9:00 hrs at the Court of Appeal, 60 High Street, Kingston.  The Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Hon. Justice Carl Singh, is expected to preside over the hearing with a panel of appellate judges.

The appeal was previously fixed for hearing on Wednesday July 13 at 9 am before Guyana’s Court of Appeal. Gulliver McEwan, the first-named appellant, and representatives of the GTU and SASOD were present in a completely full courtroom.  At this hearing, the appellants filed their skeleton arguments in accordance with the rules of the Court. The arguments of the State were yet to be filed. The Court of Appeal noted that the arguments filed by counsel for the appellants were extensive and that it wished some time to fully review them and to receive the arguments from the State.

The case was initially filed in February 2010, following the widely reported arrests and convictions of seven trans persons for the 1893 summary offence of ‘being a man’ and wearing ‘female’ attire in a public way or public place, for an improper purpose.’ Four of the convicted persons filed this action, along with SASOD, which approached the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP). Thereafter, with the assistance of U-RAP and local counsel, a constitutional challenge to the cross-dressing law was filed.
The McEwan case argues that the archaic cross-dressing law, found in section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act 1893, is inconsistent with the Constitution of Guyana. It also argues that the conduct of the Chief Magistrate, who told the individual appellants that they were confused about their sexuality and should follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, was also not consistent with the Guyana Constitution.
In September, 2013, then Chief Justice, Ian Chang, heard the case and ruled that cross-dressing per se is not a crime, unless done for an “improper purpose.” The parties appealed this ruling, in part because of the inherent uncertainty in the terminology employed in the statute. With that uncertainty, state officials have virtually unlimited discretion in applying the law.
The entire legal team includes Mr. Miles Fitzpatrick SC, Mr. Nigel Hughes, Dr. Arif Bulkan, and Mr. Gino Persaud.