CCJ ruling restores dignity, freedom of expression

Friday, November 16, 2018

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Dear Editor,

The Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVCC) welcomes the decision of the learned justices of the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) in ruling that Guyana's cross-dressing laws are unconstitutional.

Common sense has prevailed and justice has been served not only for four appellants but for a whole community of trans persons who have been extremely marginalised from country to country across the Caribbean.

The decision of the CCJ is a step in the right direction; a step that signals that we're becoming a more liberated region which recognises the right of every human being to due process, freedom of expression, non-discrimination and equity.

The case was brought by four appellants, who identify as transgender, after they were arrested, convicted and punished for cross-dressing in public.

In conjunction with the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination, and supported by CVCC, proceedings were brought in the High Court of Guyana challenging this law on several grounds, including that it is discriminatory and inconsistent with the Constitution of Guyana. However, both the High Court and the Court of Appeal in Guyana denied the constitutional challenges. The appellants took their case to the CCJ arguing that the law violated their constitutional rights to equality and non-discrimination and freedom of expression, thereby circumventing the rule of law.

On Tuesday, November 13, 2018 the CCJ handed down the judgement ordering that Section 153(1)(xlvii), which criminalises cross-dressing, be struck from the laws of Guyana. The court held that the law was unconstitutionally vague, violated the appellants' right to protection of the law, and was contrary to the rule of law. A majority of the judges, President Adrian Saunders and justices Jacob Wit and Denys Barrow, also upheld the appeal on the basis that the law resulted in transgendered and gender non-conforming persons being treated unfavourably by criminalising their gender expression and gender identity.

It was a long fight and CVCC applauds the appellants for staying the course. The appellants are to be commended for maintaining the courage of their conviction to selflessly stay the course, since 2009, while challenging the constitutionality of an 1893 post-slavery vagrancy provision that saw them detained, convicted, and fined for dressing as women. The decision of the CCJ will allow them to restore their dignity and reclaim their right to freedom of expression in public spaces, not only for themselves but for the community of which they are a part.

Dona Da Costa Martinez

Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition Co-Chair

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