UCTRANS advocates for legal identity recognition

Trans persons in the Caribbean are subjected to exclusion and poverty that make them more vulnerable to violence. This exclusion starts with the lack of legal recognition of gender identity and makes it difficult for them to have access to health care and the formal work market.

In the region, trans persons cannot get their gender identity recognised on their identification documents. They can change their names on some documents but not on the gender marker in Antigua, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago and Suriname.  In the Dominican Republic and Haiti, they cannot modify their documents to include their preferred gender identity.

Legal gender identity recognition encompasses the components of name and gender mark, having just a name changed does not fulfil human rights obligations, it is necessary to get the gender marker changed in conjunction with the name to guarantee legal recognition of a trans person.

Gender is a fundamental element of a person’s identity, consequently, its recognition by the State is crucial to guarantee the full enjoyment of the human rights of trans persons, including protection against violence, torture, ill-treatment, right to health, education, employment, housing, access to social security, as well as the right to freedom of expression, and association.

Legal recognition of identity facilitates access to rights that should be enjoyed by all citizens, to the name, to the nationality, to the inscription in the civil registry, to the familiar relations, among other rights recognised at the national level. These rights are also included in international instruments such as the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The lack of recognition of identity implies that the person does not have legal proof of their existence, hindering full access to their rights. Trans persons in the Caribbean cannot exercise all their rights openly and participate in the daily activities of society because they do not exist as who they are. Not having personal documentation that genuinely reflects your identity is a violation of human rights.

Trans rights are human rights, trans people do exist in the Caribbean, and they are entitled to have their gender identity recognised and to have access to health. It’s time for our States to take a step forward to equality. UC Trans urges our governments to fulfil the international human rights obligations and honour the diversity that characterises the Caribbean region, joining efforts to protect and recognise the rights of trans persons and grant gender identity recognition.

Act to change laws that discriminate: A Global Mandate and a Caribbean Response to Ending the AIDS Epidemic

The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) draws our attention to the significance of Zero Discrimination Day. Its observance provides an opportunity to reflect on the seminal 1948 UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights that has enshrined the equal dignity and worth of every person. Appropriate too, is the call for actions worldwide to change discriminatory laws and practices which among others, are significant barriers to access to health and other services. They are in large measure, impediments to achieving many of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, which include reducing poverty, achieving gender equity, quality education and the end of the AIDS epidemic as part of integrated health and tackling the challenges of climate change as well as peace, security and social justice.

In a poignant statement, Michel Sidibe, Executive Director, UNAIDS, affirmed that “Human rights violations are happening all over the world because of discriminatory laws and practices”. He warned that “laws must protect, not cause harm” and that “all countries must carefully examine their laws and policies in order to ensure equality and protection for all people without exception”.   He also referred to a number of countries which in 2018 made landmark decisions to change discriminatory laws and bills. These include the Supreme Court of India that struck down Section 377 of the Penal Code which criminalized same-sex relations.

The Philippines lowered the age of voluntary HIV testing without the need to obtain consent from a parent or guardian to 15 years. Malawi removed the provisions from a draft bill that would have criminalized HIV non- disclosure, exposure and transmission.

What is more important, UNAIDS has identified a range of laws that are discriminatory and impede access to health and social service thereby restricting freedom of movement and violation of human rights. They include travel restrictions against people living with HIV, criminalization of same-sex relations and transgender people and the need for parental consent for adolescents and young people below 18 years to access HIV testing services.

All these are challenges faced by the Caribbean in its attempt to accelerate the response to HIV and AIDS and thereby fulfil the UN Mandate to which all countries are committed i.e. to end the AIDS epidemic by 2030.

The Caribbean Response 

The Pan Caribbean Partnership against HIV and AIDS (PANCAP), currently led by Dereck Springer, its Director, has been making a valiant effort to bring together relevant stakeholder groups to discuss what can be done to end AIDS-related stigma and discrimination. Its Justice for All (JFA) Programme has produced 15 actionable recommendations, most of which have been endorsed by its partners that include parliamentarians, religious organizations, youth leaders, development partners and representatives of the private sector, NGOs and key LGBTI populations who are most affected. Of the 15 actionable recommendations in the Justice for All Roadmap, three (3) have posed a challenge to implementation. They are (a) elimination of discriminatory laws and practices against same-sex relations; (b) access to sexual and reproductive health, especially by adolescents; and (c) adopting comprehensive age-appropriate sexual education through the Health and Family Life Education curriculum especially targeted to – ‘in’ and ‘out’ of school youth.

The Process toward the Elimination of Discriminatory Laws in the Caribbean

The legislative framework in the Caribbean is at odds with the inclusive rights approach for a successful public health response to HIV. Nine (9) CARICOM Countries have laws that criminalize consensual sex between same-sex adults; two (2) criminalize same-sex relations; three (3) have laws, which restrict entry of people who are HIV positive; thirteen (13) deem sex work illegal.

Ironic, in this regard, is that since 2012, the CARICOM Legal Affairs Committee comprising Attorneys General approved the implementation of the PANCAP Model Anti-discrimination Legislation consistent with the human rights approach. To date, its elements are implemented only in Suriname and The Bahamas.

PANCAP’s sensitization fora with national parliamentarian groups are supported by a grant through the 10th European Development Fund (EDF). These are follow-ups to a regional consultation of parliamentarians held in Jamaica in May 2017 on the theme: “what can parliamentarians contribute to ending AIDS by 2030”. Accordingly, the current round of national engagements have focused on the legislative, representative and oversight roles of parliamentarians and have identified various bipartisan parliamentary committees.

The parliamentarian consultations in Belize, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago have all agreed to accelerate the PANCAP Model legislation that includes provision for prevention of discrimination in employment and other areas such as harassment, victimization and vilification, access to prevention and care and the establishment of an Anti-discrimination Commission to deal with complaints, investigation and conciliation. The decision of Jamaica to include Arlene Harrison Henry, the Public Defender in its Antidiscrimination Coordinating Group is a useful initiative.

However, while there is anecdotal evidence that homophobia in most of the Caribbean has reduced considerably over the past decade, there are major pockets of influential stakeholders that continue to advocate for the retention of discriminatory laws that mainly do not exclusively affect the LGBTI community. In the meantime, Governments of the region have been fairly silent in stating positions, arguably because of their fears of the electorates’ emotional response to the issue. In some countries, notably in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, there have been articulated threats of votes being directed by some elements of the religious leadership against any political party or candidate who lends support to what is regarded as “the homosexual agenda”.  As a result, resolution of discrimination is increasingly being dealt with through litigation in the courts of law.

In August 2016, Chief Justice Kenneth Benjamin declared that Section 53 of the Criminal Code which criminalized “carnal intercourse against the order of nature, violated the rights of a gay man (Orosco) in the Belize Constitution.” He further ordered that that section should be read down so that it did not apply to consensual acts between adults in private.

In April 2018, Judge Devindra Rampersad said that sections of the Sexual Offences Act, which prohibit “buggery” and “serious indecency” between two men and criminalized consensual same-sex activity between adults, are unconstitutional. This decision has caused a polarization opinion among different segments of church leaders. Archbishop Jason Gordon stated that while the Roman Catholic Church does not support homosexuality, “buggery should not be criminalized at this time” [Trinidad and Tobago Guardian April 16, 2018]. This is in distinct conflict with the views of mainly the Evangelic and Muslim leadership.

Other decisions by the Caribbean Court of Justice, the highest appellate Court in CARICOM, are instructive. While ruling against Maurice Tomlinson’s challenge of the provisions of the Belize and Trinidad and Tobago immigration laws for impairing his right to hassle-free movement within the Community as a gay man, the CCJ “cautioned that [CARICOM] Member States should strive to ensure that national laws, subsidiary legislation and administrative practices are consistent with and transparent in support of, the right of free movement of all CARICOM nationals”.

In its November 2018 decision, The CCJ ruled that “a law [Section 153 of the Summary Jurisdiction Offences Act] in Guyana that makes it an offence for a man or woman to appear in a public place while dressed in clothing of the opposite sex for an “improper purpose” is unconstitutional” and should be struck from the laws of Guyana.

Most recently at the Parliamentarian Forum in Jamaica (February 2019) attention was paid to the recommendations from the Legal Environment Assessment from a cross-section of parliamentary, representational and outreach roles.  The most critical issue revolved around advocacy against the recommendation to introduce a law to criminalise wilfully, knowingly and recklessly transmitting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections to a partner.   Attention was also given to amending the Public Order Laws, advocating for increased access to sexual and reproductive health for youth, engaging the private sector in financing of projects for People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Key Populations.

Taking Action to Change Discriminatory Laws  

The Lancet Commission Report Advancing Global Health and Strengthening the HIV Response in the Era of the Sustainable Development Goals: the International AIDS Society (July 2018) makes the argument for including the HIV response into the broader issues of global health and universal access to health.  However, it also identifies major barriers such as a deteriorating environment of human rights, sound governance and global cooperation together with growing official hostility toward civil society. Another major challenge it identified is the decrease in adherence to democratic norms that risk normalizing human rights violations and degrading human rights commitments. When compounded by discriminatory practices within the health and law enforcement systems, they result in a heavy toll on migrants and other disenfranchised and marginalized groups. For example, the experiences of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities in the Caribbean were fully ventilated in the various PANCAP consultations.

Through its Justice For All (JFA) programme, PANCAP has bought together in national and regional consultations faith leaders, key populations, parliamentarians, faith leaders, parliamentarians, National AIDS Programme Coordinators with parliamentarians, faith leaders and key populations and CARICOM Youth Ambassadors and key populations youth leaders in the youth advocacy fora. These multi-stakeholder consultations have assisted in advancing respectful dialogue and accommodating diversity of views within the broad consensus of the JFA Roadmap. They have therefore provided a template for action.

In their Declaration following the Regional Faith Leaders Consultation (February 2017), it was agreed that the Regional Consultative Faith Leaders Steering Committee should include a representative of the LGBTI Community. In the Joint Faith Leaders and Key populations consultation in Suriname (February 2018), it was agreed that in pursuit of the goals to reduce stigma and discrimination, key populations would engage in respectful dialogue with faith leaders, recognizing that they are not a homogeneous group.

A composite view is provided by Lord Bishop Howard Gregory, Anglican Bishop of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands.  His sanguine advice is for faith leaders to advance a civil discussion without additional polarization within our region.  In his words: “I believe that the church’s role should be one of mediation and dialogue, rather than confrontation and polarization…It is through the exercise of such leadership and engagement that the Government and political leaders would be able to take meaningful decisions and citizens would have an intelligent and defensible understanding of the issues” [Jamaica Sunday Observer July 6, 2014].

These illustrations of activities in the Caribbean clearly demonstrate the value and the role of PANCAP in fostering functional cooperation. They are consistent with the Nassau Declaration (2001) by CARICOM Heads of Government:  “the health of the region is the wealth of the region”. They also portray the significant lessons that the accelerated approach to HIV provides toward Zero Discrimination. These are essential approaches in this era of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Experiences of Caribbean Transgender People Part 2

In this era where most of the world is becoming more tolerant, Trans people are still among the most marginalized of the LGBT community.

We face stigma and discrimination at alarming levels particularly for Trans people of color. We are excluded from being a part of our societies because of our gender identities.

As Admin and Outreach Officer for TransWave Jamaica, I am tasked with documenting human rights violations for members of the community. It is shocking the number of reports of discrimination and violence experienced by Trans people in Jamaica.

Trans people are human beings. Humans like myself, yourself, your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, aunt, uncle, nephew or niece.

Trans people in Jamaica are at a disadvantage as they are sometimes prevented from completing school, due to instances of discrimination and violence. We clearly see where there is a pattern of forcing our Trans kids from their homes. Leaving them to fend for themselves, now homeless, neglected, unloved and in most cases violated and hurt. Adopting a nomadic lifestyle is sometimes the only way they can survive doing inhumane and morally deplorable things to make ends meet.

Not being able to gain meaningful employment means that they would be forced to turn to alternative means of sustaining themselves. Members of the community are faced with discrimination from all angles and seek access to resources through alternative means, which makes them vulnerable to HIV. Of course, I am speaking of sex work. We also see large numbers of incidents involving discrimination in this field as sex workers are normally said to be HIV positive. There is also an element of danger as Trans persons have to endure having sex without condoms for additional money.

Access to adequate healthcare is also an issue. Untrained healthcare providers find it hard to approach and deal with persons of Trans experience and identity. For us in Jamaica, we have done some amount of training with healthcare providers. Not at all exclusive but it helps never the less.

I can remember once participating in a conversation regarding sensitization training with doctors and healthcare providers. It was explicitly said by one of the senior doctors that he would not treat a member of the community.

In order to make progress on this issue, I think a standardized approach should be taken to ensure that policies are put in place to prevent doctors and other healthcare providers from discriminating.

Additionally, there is the issue of persons being counted as numbers. This I must add is a big problem for persons of the community. The fact that they are only seen when they are required to be counted in an organization’s ‘HIV response reach’ and ‘test targets’ has been an issue for the community for a long time.

What has worked for us is to build relationships, lasting relationships and ones that will not be solely based on testing and target needs. Overall, the work of NGOs, in my opinion, lacks the psychosocial support needed to communicate with Trans people on a level that will be beneficial to themselves and the operations of that organization.

Extensive training for staff is one main way that I believe can create a change as we find that most staff are sometimes not adequately trained. Simple mislabeling of genders in some cases affect the responses we receive from members of the Trans community. The use of preferred pronouns should be something that is stressed when dealing with Trans people.

I call on all stakeholders to implement policies that will have positive changes to the persons we serve. Health and well-being involve knowing your HIV status. Will we achieve the goal of the 90-90-90 Targets if we continue to neglect our Trans people? The simple answer is no. There is so much more that can be done to make Trans people feel and appreciate themselves.

Above all, there is a constant need for Trans persons to be included. They must be included in all aspects of life and not seen as taboo, repulsive or portrayed as criminals living on the streets and gullies or referred to “cross-dressers”. They must be portrayed as human beings and persons living and existing as who they are.

The inclusion of Trans persons would mean having gender recognition legislation in place to allow us to be able to have our genders legally recognized. We would also need Anti-discrimination legislation as well to provide adequate protection against discrimination.

At TransWave Jamaica, one of our core objectives is the mental health of Trans persons which forms a significant portion of our monthly support group sessions as well as our fitness brand. Additionally, we focus on creating spaces where people feel comfortable and appreciated.

It would also be important to have Trans people and our issues woven into programmes and policies to ensure that the community is fully integrated and represented at all levels.

We urge decision-makers to create policies that reflect full consideration for the humanity of Trans people; this means that Trans and gender non-conforming people are able to update their gender marker on legal documents, access gender-affirming healthcare and social support services without discrimination.

Read PART 1 of this series here.

Experiences of Caribbean Transgender People

Transgender People in the Caribbean experience gender-based violence throughout their lives, which impedes their access to services and contributes to poor health outcomes and quality of life. When visiting a health care facility, they are more often than not met with emotional abuse from the parking lot to the door. These abuses include gossiping, insults, and refusal to use their chosen name. Trans people continue to experience economic, physical, sexual violence, and other human rights violations based on their gender identity and expression. They suffer physically threats, assaults, harassment and are often denied services.

Access to Mental Health services is mostly nonexistent unless you have the financial means to access this service privately. In the Caribbean, Trans people are the lower priority and receive substandard care. Healthcare workers often blame Trans people for their health problems and deny them services. Service providers have not only failed to meet the specific needs of Trans people in the Caribbean but also discriminate against them when they seek services.

Although international and regional resolutions call for the legal protection of Transgender people, states do not meet these obligations. To respect, promote, and fulfill Trans women’s human rights, governments should enact and enforce anti-discrimination and gender-affirming laws and policies. Health care workers need to be sensitized to deliver gender-affirming services for Trans persons in the Caribbean.

As a human rights advocate, it is not uncommon for me to hear Caribbean Transgender people speak of negative experiences at healthcare institutions. Many persons often recount ordeals of dirty looks in the waiting room, being harassed by other patients, and even being subjected to on-the-spot preaching and judgmental reproach from nurses and doctors when it is revealed that they engage in sexual intimacy with persons of the same sex or both sexes.

The effect is often more felt by members of the Transgender and Intersex communities whose bodies and experiences are not fully understood by the public and often come under intrusive scrutiny.

In the case of Transgender persons, oftentimes the stigma inflicted by health care workers is rooted in the belief that one is “tampering with God’s creation” by transitioning to live as the sex or gender not assigned at birth. The resulting discomfort, which many Trans and Intersex people face, will result in a reluctance to seek medical attention unless it is absolutely unavoidable, such as in a life-or-death situation.

In some cases, persons would still try to avoid seeking medical attention under those circumstances. This sort of attitude even causes individuals to place their health care needs lower on the totem pole of priorities. They engage in risky behaviors for the sake of other priorities, for example, Transgender sex workers place their financial bottom line ahead of HIV and STI preventative or even post-exposure care or treatment.

We need to correct this harmful behaviour. We need our policymakers to stand by us.

Remnants of colonial law still haunt Guyana

As July speedily comes to a close, our minds will turn once again, to the celebration of emancipation. What does it mean to be emancipated? It is quite simply the state of being free: from both restriction and influence. As we celebrate emancipation this year, we must look inwards and ponder is Guyana truly emancipated?

When we think of Guyana, we think of an independent nation, with its own constitution and parliament, but how many of us are aware that within our constitution lie remnants of our colonial rulers. Perhaps, most importantly something known as a ‘savings clause’.  A saving clause such as the one present in our constitution “purports to carry forth all the laws from the old regime.”  (M. Burnham, 2005). This means that within our constitution not only are all of the laws from our former colonial rulers carried forth, but also they cannot be repealed. This clause stagnates Caribbean society. It does not take into account the progression of society, along which comes the changing of values and morals, but rather tethers us to a definition of ‘just’ provided by our former colonial rulers, from a point in history long past.  A great example of just how backwards this clause can be is shown in the case of the death penalty. In England in 1965, after much debate, the death penalty was abolished, yet Caribbean countries retained these laws. Even though modern English society had decided that the death penalty should be abolished, we were stuck upholding the laws.

To summarize, as Sheila I. Velez-Martinez, put it, “The savings clauses inserted in the independent constitutions across the Caribbean serve to perpetuate laws that were not products of the independent nations’ own desires; not the result of deep reflection about the nature and direction of the new Caribbean societies.”

In 2013, the savings clause surfaced, when Justice Ian Chang ruled that a law from our former colonial masters was not unconstitutional, and therefore under the said savings clause was protected from challenge. The particulars of the case were that seven transgender persons were charged with cross-dressing for an ‘improper purpose’, under the law which states that, “Every person who does any of the following acts shall, in each case, be liable to a fine of not less than seven thousand nor more than; (xlvii) being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire; or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire.”

Moreover, Chang ruled that the law was not discriminatory, as it applies to men and women equally. However, as columnist Alissa Trotz pointed out in 2013, “We could come up with other examples to show how this thinking is deeply flawed and short-sighted, say a ruling that upholds a racist law that criminalizes inter-racial marriages between Indians and Chinese, arguing that since both Indians and Chinese are equally liable to face charges and go to jail if they intermarry, then the law is not racially discriminatory. In short, what this judgment says is that the law is not discriminatory because men and women are equally vulnerable to its discriminatory provisions.”

Chang did however rule, that cross-dressing is not illegal in itself unless it is done for an improper purpose. However, what constitutes an improper purpose was left woefully undefined. In fact, if we look at the law itself, we can see that it too, is incredibly vague. What constitutes “male attire”, and what constitutes “female attire”?

The law leaves much up to the discretion of the person who is enforcing it. Who is to determine what is proper for males to wear vs. what is proper for females to wear? Can we not agree that from the time that these laws were made, (in 1893) fashion has evolved? Do we keep those standards of male and female clothing, and therefore charge every woman seen wearing jeans? The law also serves as a staunch reminder that Guyana fails to recognize the legitimacy of the Trans identity. It empowers discrimination against the LGBTQ community, and places the power in the hands of the police to decide who should be charged, and who is “improper”.

It is with this background that the case proceeded to the Caribbean Court of Justice early this month, with a few key points being made. Some of those being that (1) that the offence is so vague it does not qualify as a law at all, since every law must be certain enough for the ordinary person to know in advance what is prohibited and what is allowed, and (2) that the offence violates the separation of powers doctrine because it is so vague that it as one court explained, it “impermissibly delegates basic policy matters to policemen, … for resolution on an ad hoc and subjective basis, with the attendant dangers of arbitrary and discriminatory application.

Whilst the ruling will not be made for quite some time, we can hope that this vague and flawed law will see its end soon. On 27 June 2018, the Caribbean Court of Justice found Barbados’ mandatory death penalty unconstitutional, thus overruling their constitution’s savings clause. If the cross-dressing law can be proved unconstitutional then, there is a chance that it too may be overturned.

In closing, Guyana may be independent; but we are haunted still by the laws of our colonial past. We should all listen closely to the ruling that will be made by the CCJ, and continue to examine all aspects of our society, whether it be our law or our culture that have been passed down from Colonial leaders and continue to oppress us.

Road to freedom

I knew an elderly man who was not in agreement with women and girls wearing pants. A teenager at the time, I used to be fearful about him seeing me when I was dressed in pants even when I was not on the premises of the religious institution where most of the admonishment occurred.

He based his criticisms on Deuteronomy 22:5: “The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment: for all that do so are an abomination unto the Lord thy God.”

After a while, in the spirit of rebellion, I wore pants with little thought as to what the elder or other persons thought or said about it. I reject any attempt by individuals, state or religion to control one’s freedom. No one should stay silent if any system encroaches on his or her fundamental rights.


The Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02, which dates back to 1893, states at Section 153(1)(xlvii) that a fine of not less than $7,500 or more than $15,000 shall be imposed on every person who “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire; or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire.”

There is no definition about what an “improper purpose” is. The ambiguity of this law is enough reason for it to be removed from our laws. Those who possess the power can use that law to oppress others with any given reason as to what “improper” is.  I am quite sure those who have been affected can attest to this.

The persecuted and prosecuted

But who are the people who have been persecuted and prosecuted in recent times because of this law? The evidence tells us that it is members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community.

It can be assumed that this law may have been inspired by what is written in the Bible, as quoted above since Guyana was still a colony of England at the time it was written. Many nations were enslaved and colonized, and that also meant Christianization. With newly emancipated Africans and Indentured Servants, the laws were no doubt an attempt to maintain control over them. Today, 52 years after Independence, we are still abiding by laws invented during colonialism.

Law in effect

Seven persons spent a weekend in jail in February of 2009 because they were found to be in violation of the 1893 law.  The seven persons were eventually charged and fined $7,500 each, not before being told by a magistrate that they were confused about their sexuality. Four of them, who are transgender women–Gulliver (Quincy) McEwan, Angel (Seon) Clarke, Peaches (Joseph) Fraser and Isabella (Seyon) Persaud—brought a constitutional claim that the law was inconsistent with Guyana’s 1980 Constitution.

Former acting Chief Justice Ian Chang, SC, subsequently found that “It is instructive to note that 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. Therefore, it is not criminally offensive for a person to wear the attire of the opposite sex as a matter of preference or to give expression to or to reflect his or her sexual orientation.”

It was argued that the 1893 law is very vague and that a person with ordinary intelligence could be at a disadvantage because they might not be able to fully comprehend what is prohibited; the law violates the right to freedom of expression and constitutional guarantee of equality before the law and non-discrimination.

It should be noted that in the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, the following are also prohibited:

If a person:

(xi) in any public way or public place in any town, beats or shakes any mat between seven o’clock in the morning and six o’clock in the afternoon.

(xxix) in any public way flies any kite or plays at any game; or

(xxx) flies any kite within the City of Georgetown or at any place situate east of the Demerara River and within one mile of the boundaries of the said City.

The grooming of animals in a public place, the placing of goods in a public way, loitering around a shop and hauling timber in a public way are also criminal offences under this law. Many would find these laws ridiculous and laughable at this point in time. However, there is nothing amusing when the lives of people are affected, especially when it is a small section of an already oppressed group that suffers.

Members of the LGBT community not only suffer under the law that speaks to crossdressing, but they are also often harassed for loitering, they are threatened with arrests without being charged, they are not told what the charges are when they are arrested, they are violated during detention and they are convicted for various minor offences.

It is no secret that many Guyanese reject and abhor the LGBT community. Much of this rejection and hate exists because of religion, misunderstanding and fear. Some argue that the LGBT population is destroying the ‘moral fabric’ of society.

It is troubling when people are seen as outcasts for living their truth. When one talks about the “moral fabric” of society, don’t we have very real social issues that have been destroying our society? These include the many fathers who reject their children, the men who murder their partners, incest and armed robberies. Why is there silence about the prevalence of child abuse? Aren’t those offenders found in every section of our society? Where is the constant outrage about that?

Law upheld

The decision was made to uphold the law by the High Court in 2013 and the Appeal Court in 2017 even though it was stated that cross-dressing itself is not a crime.One reason given by both courts for their decision is that the 1893 colonial law enjoys the protection of the Constitution’s Savings Law clause. The Savings Law clause limits constitutional challenges to laws that existed before the date the 1980 Constitution came into effect.

The case was recently heard by the Caribbean Court of Justice and a decision is expected in the next few months. Members of the LGBT community are hopeful that the law will be expunged.


Freedom is being your authentic self without fear of persecution, prosecution or condemnation. Freedom is respecting each other even though there may be disagreements, misunderstandings or disapproval. Freedom is using our power to correct mistakes from the past.

As a teen, I was scolded because of biblical scripture for simply choosing to sometimes wear pants. Now, I do not have to live with the fear of reproach because I no longer comply with the rules and laws of that religion. And while I am not a member of the oppressed group who is affected by the 1893 law, I think laws that affect one’s freedom of expression have no place in a progressive nation.

It is difficult but it is not impossible: acceptance, support and care for the transgender population

Editor’s note:

This is the second blog by the Surinamese participants of the PANCAP – Integral Orientation and Research Center/ Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) knowledge exchange.  To read about the knowledge exchange click here. 

As part of the south-to-south learning exchange to the Dominican Republic, organized by the PANCAP Knowledge for Health project, we visited TRANSSA, Trans Siempre Amigas (Trans Always Friends), a community-based organization focusing on improving the quality of life of transgender people by offering a variety of services.

TRANSSA focuses on improving the quality of life of transgender persons through psycho-social support, and education on HIV transmission, treatment, care and human rights.

By utilizing a combination of awareness, education and empowerment, TRANSSA builds resilience against stigma and discrimination among transgender people in the Dominican Republic. TRANSSA also achieves this through its close working relationship with the Integral Orientation and Research Center/ Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN), which was the primary focus of the south-to-south learning exchange.

The knowledge building facilitates change, which is evident in testimonies given by beneficiaries at the organization’s “safe space.” The organization has helped transgender people to withstand rejection within their immediate family and community by creating a better understanding of who a transgender person is and how gender identity differs from homosexuality. Furthermore, being informed enabled them to educate others within their inner-circle about who they are and the consequences of discrimination on their wellbeing.

Being aware of human rights and the laws of the country facilitates effective communication by transgender persons when faced with abusers. TRANSSA also creates a “safe space” where victims of abuse and violence are guided and provided with care and support. If necessary, they are referred to a hospital for treatment.

Building the self-esteem of transgender people is perceived by their community and HIV stakeholders to be of primary importance for their empowerment. It also provides encouragement to transgender people to work to freely express themselves and to achieve respect and equity for the Trans population. As one of the Trans women stated, “Change may not come easy but it is certainly not impossible. As I start to change because of the knowledge I gain at TRANSSA, I receive positive reactions from my surroundings.”

Achieving acceptance, support, and care for transgender people is difficult, but not impossible. Community-based organizations focusing on the Trans community play a major role. Not only as a “safe space” where Trans persons can come, but also through empowerment in accepting themselves, building self-esteem, dispelling myths and misconceptions and to assist them with navigating the healthcare and legal system.C

Click here to read the first blog in this series.

Strategic Alignment: the formula for improving the quality of life for key populations

Editor’s note: 

In June 2018, PANCAP collaborated with the Integral Orientation and Research Center/ Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN) for a face-to-face knowledge exchange in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.  The objective of the knowledge exchange event was to provide participants with first-hand experience of COIN’s operations.  Nine persons from three countries, Jamaica, Suriname and the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, were involved in the learning exchange event.  Participants were invited to share their experiences observing COIN’s collaboration with the Ministry of Health, other civil society organizations and stakeholders in delivering comprehensive HIV services in communities and to key populations.   The blog below from the Surinamese participants provides details of their experience. 

During the June 2018 South-to-South Learning Exchange, organized by the PANCAP-Knowledge for Health project in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, we were part of a multidisciplinary team which visited various organizations, both public and private, that work together in the fight against HIV and AIDS. The keyword from this entire experience is collaboration.

The Dominican Republic’s Ministry of Health and Social Assistance coordinates the HIV response through its partners. Integral to that response is the involvement of all necessary stakeholders, including representatives of key populations, for achieving the goals and ensuring sustainability.

The national strategic plan, protocols for treating HIV, laws for reduction of stigma and discrimination against vulnerable groups, and training of healthcare workers are among the activities of this strategic alignment.

Integral Orientation and Research Center/ Centro de Orientación e Investigación Integral (COIN), the focus of the learning exchange, is a non-governmental organization (NGO) which focuses on treatment and reduction of HIV in the country. As a non-profit organization, COIN is a very good example of how an NGO with powerful leadership can work together with the Ministry of Health and other NGOs to reach their goals.

Civil society groups in the Dominican Republic should be recognized for being well organized, as they have formed strategic alliances with both the Government and the private sector. Civil society underscored the importance of staying true to their respective missions as this has made them stronger and more articulate in voicing the needs of the most vulnerable populations. Civil society groups also provide leadership to advocacy campaigns to establish clear guidelines for health professionals to ensure a rights-based approach to HIV treatment for key populations.

COIN is one of the NGOs that work closely with the Ministry of Health in the Dominican Republic. Through COIN, other smaller organizations such as TRANSSA, Trans Siempre Amigas (Trans Always Friends) and MOSCTHA, Movimiento Socio-Cultural para los Trabajadores Haitianos (Socio-Cultural Movement for Haitian Workers) receive funding to reach and test key populations and to link the HIV-positive persons from their target groups to treatment. TRANSSA and MOSCTHA also refer people to COIN for services they do not provide, such as hormone replacement therapy and antiretroviral therapy.

In conclusion, leadership, political activism, collaboration, and commitment were common themes heard during the learning exchange and should be considered prerequisites to achieving the sustainability of efforts to end AIDS.

There should be nothing for us, without us.

Because I know that the HIV epidemic is much bigger than any of us and affects our daily lives whether we want it or not, I keep on getting out of bed to help bring it to zero.

The Second Regional Meeting of Youth Leaders: Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV and AIDS,  showed me that as much as I thought I knew, the process of learning doesn’t stop. Each individual with their knowledge is one in billions. We must realize that our input as allies, community members, NGOs, government or whatsoever, brings us closer to the change we want to see no matter how small. This change can only be so if our intentions are real and honest.

With more appreciation for the little that I know, I’m more than ready to give it my all and play my part in leaving the world a better place than when I entered. For now, I’ll cheer to the little victories.

I’ve committed to the advocacy of CSE (Comprehensive Sexuality Education) in our education system and the access to high-quality health services. In doing so I’m taking home the following messages: there should be nothing for us, without us, make better use of opportunities given by CARICOM, and make more time to check up on one another. 

“The moment that changed so many lives” 

In this PANCAP Blog, Human Rights Activist Terry-Ann Roy reflects on the ruling in the Jason Jones Case.  

Photography: Christian Nixon and Maria Nunes  

On April 12th, 2018, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago celebrated a landmark victory as the High Court of our country declared that sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, which criminalized sex between consenting adults of the same sex and anal intercourse, was unconstitutional as it infringed on the rights to family and private life of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons (LGBT).

As a young activist who has been involved in work with the LGBT community as well as a member of PANCAP’s youth arm, it served as an inspiration to continue the work which has been started by so many great leaders who have dedicated their lives to ensuring that LGBT persons are afforded their equal place in society.