Collateral Damage : The Social Impact of Laws affecting LGBT in Guyana

This report was authored by Christopher Carrico and published by the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project, Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies.

From the Executive Summary
This study focused on the social effects of laws that criminalise lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations and transgender identities in Guyana. It was designed to assess the effects of the enforcement, or the implicit or explicit threat of enforcement of laws against sodomy, same sex sexual activity, cross-dressing, loitering and vagrancy.

The research project also aimed to assess the background effects of these laws in social control, surveillance, and discipline in the wider society, outside of the scope of the enforcement of laws by the police and the courts.

While most of the world has been moving towards the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, sodomy and same sex sexual activity remain illegal in Guyana and in ten other countries in the Caribbean, all of which were formerly British colonies.

Persons found guilty of sodomy in Guyana can be sentenced with up to life imprisonment. Guyana also has laws against ‘gross indecency’ between males, and cross-dressing. These crimes carry punishments of up to two years imprisonment, and fines of not less than 7,000 Guyana Dollars respectively.

While the laws against sodomy and same sex sexual activity are largely unenforced, research in other national contexts has shown that even unenforced laws can have pervasive effects in the society.

The laws against cross-dressing are periodically enforced and brought to trial. In 2009, seven persons, who were born biologically male, were arrested and prosecuted under this law. The courts found them guilty and they were fined. This study examined the effects of the laws mentioned above on the LGBT community in Guyana. It also took in

The study relied on the accounts of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender Guyanese, who told us about the effects of the laws used against sexual minorities. 21 interviews were conducted, 11 of males who identified as homosexual or bi- sexual, five of females who identified as lesbian or bi-sexual, and five of biological males who cross-dress as women.

The interviews consisted of an open-ended, qualitative questionnaire that collected information on demographics, subjects’ knowledge of the existing laws, the effects of the actual or threatened enforcement of the laws, and the laws’ wider societal effects.

The research indicated that there were a series of very direct impacts of the continued existence of the laws against sodomy, same sex sexual activity, cross- dressing, and loitering. Interviewees reported a number of injuries that were directly inflicted by the police and the courts, such as police harassment and abuse, arrest, prosecution, and conviction of crimes.

Many of our respondents also expressed fear of reporting crimes that had been committed against them. They believed or were told that charges would also be brought against them because of their sexual orientation. The research also shows that many of the crimes committed against sexual and gender minorities are enabled because perpetrators know they will not be punished, or believe that they are privately enforcing the law.

Laws criminalising same-sex intimacy and their gender expression affected where LGBT persons chose to live and go on vacation, and the extent to which they felt free to express their identities in public and private space. Even with family and close friends, some interviewees reported that they did not feel that they could freely express their gender identities and sexual orientations.

Interviewees felt the daily impact of the effects of the laws on their access to health care and social services. They faced stigma and actual or threatened discrimination when they accessed public entitlements. Some also reported that they faced discrimination when they tried to access the real estate market. One of the most profound impacts of the laws is the degree to which sexual and gender minorities feel that they needed to regulate their behavior at the workplace in order to have access to employment and a means of livelihood.

The laws against sodomy, same-sex sexual activity, cross-dressing and loitering are not harmless laws. The Fundamental Rights enshrined in the Guyana Constitution include rights to equal protection, freedom of movement, freedom of expression, and freedom from inhuman treatment. The existence of the laws examined in this study creates conditions conducive to the violation of all of these basic rights for the LGBT community. While there would, no doubt, continue to be many sources of homophobia in society even without the existence of these laws, the repeal of these laws would go a long way towards securing the Fundamental Rights of LGBT in Guyana.

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Source – SASOD