National Assembly removes cross-dressing offence in line with Caribbean Court decision

Last Updated on Tuesday, 10 August 2021, 9:15 by Denis Chabrol

In court photo: Twinkle Kissoon, and Quincy ‘Gulliver’ McEwan- Founder and Executive Director of Guyana Trans United.

The National Assembly early Tuesday morning removed the offence of cross-dressing from the Summary Jurisdiction Offences Act, in keeping with an almost three-year old decision by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).

The Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) had  in November 2018 struck out cross-dressing because it is a violation of Guyana’s Constitution. This was after three men and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Against Discrimination had brought against the State after the men had been arrested by police and charged with wearing female attire.

“It is the duty of this House, having been directed by the declaratory orders made by the peak of our judicial hierarchical structure, it is the duty of this House now to remove that repulsive provision from the laws,”  Attorney General Anil Nandlall said in piloting the amendment to the Act.

He took aim at the Christian community who continue to maintain that cross-dressing offends moral values. “I’m told that some people have some strong Christian views. Well, in a liberal secular society , in a democratic nation you’re entitled to those views but the Constitution says, civil liberties say that those people are also entitled to dress in that way,” he said.  Mr. Nandlall argued that civilization and democracy “compel a peaceful co-existence” of competing interests. “You will see whatever concerns you have, as a religious community, the world has moved away. The thinking is that we are all God’s Creation,” he added.

The case of Quincy McEwan, Seon Clarke, Joseph Fraser, Seyon Persaud and SASOD v The Attorney General of Guyana began with the arrest of the appellants in February 2009. The Attorney General noted that even if the law was not amended neither the police or prosecutors could take any action against cross-dressers because the CCJ had already removed that section of the law by its judgment.

Opposition A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) parliamentarian Richard Sinclair  maintained that cross-dressing is “improper” based on God’s creation. “I believe that man was created by God in His image and likeness,” even as as he quoted from several sections of the Bible. “The Bible does not endorse dualism, Mr. Speaker,” he said.

Mr. Sinclair said the problem is that societies were not recognising transgenders and gays as an identity disorder in which they are unsure of themselves.

Fellow opposition lawmaker Annette Ferguson also relied on the scriptures that outlawed cross-dressing and amounted to an “abomination”.

But AFC Leader, Khemraj Ramjattan supported the removal of cross-dressing from the Summary Jurisdiction of Offences Act on the grounds of the constitutional rights and the United Nations Convention on Civil and Political Rights. “I will support this to the extent that it is logically concluding that cross-dressing is an offence because it violates the human rights of the persons who want to cross-dress and especially in the context of when they are not creating any harm,” he said.

At the same time, he noted that the issues of personal and freedom choice come into play, in the same way that everyone has a right to  chose whether he or she take the COVID-19 vaccine. The Attorney General said he could not see the connection because one has to do with life and death and the other is which no one is harmed.