Guyana: Reject Transphobia; Respect Gender Identity
Sunday, 17 May 2009 - 9:01pm
In far too many places around the world, Transsexual, Transgender and Intersex people face violence, abuse, rape and hate crimes. The only motive: they are not confirming to social stereotypes about the way they should appear and behave in society as men or women.
Trans people is an umbrella term for people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth, including cross-dressers, female or male impersonators, pre-operative, post-operative or non-operative transsexuals. Trans people may define themselves as female-to-male (FTM, assigned a female biological sex at birth but who have a predominantly male gender identity) or male-to-female (MTF, assigned a male biological sex at birth but who have a predominantly female gender identity); others consider themselves as falling outside binary concepts of gender or sex. Trans people may or may not choose to alter their bodies hormonally and/or surgically: the term is not limited to those who have the resources for gender reassignment through surgery. Gender identity is different from sexual orientation. Trans people may be heterosexual, lesbian, gay or bisexual.
Be it out of ignorance, prejudice, fear or hate, Trans people overwhelmingly face daily discrimination, which results in social exclusion, poverty and poor health care, with little prospects for employment. Far from protecting Trans citizens, states and international bodies reinforce social transphobia violating their human rights. And to add insult to injustice, the World Health Organisation (WHO) still classifies them as “mentally disordered.”
On May 17, the world observes International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, commonly called IDAHO. On this day in 1990, WHO took homosexuality off the list of mental disorders and this is why May 17 was chosen as the day to observe IDAHO. This year’s observance also marks the launch of an International Appeal to the WHO to remove transsexualism from the list of mental disorders. The Appeal also calls on all states of the world to adopt the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and ensure that all Trans people benefit from appropriate health care, including gender reassignment if they so wish; be allowed to adapt their civil status to their preferred gender; live their social, family or professional lives without being exposed to transphobic discrimination or violence and that they are protected by police and justice systems from physical and non-physical violence. The Appeal has been signed by over 300 organisations, including SASOD, in more than 75 countries across the globe, three Nobel Laureates: Elfriede Jelinek, who won the 2004 Prize in Literature, and Francoise Barre-Finoussi and Luc Montagnier, who were jointly awarded one half of the 2008 Prize in Physiology and Medicine, for their discovery of “human immunodeficiency virus” known as HIV, and other personalities like Senegalese Doudou Diene, former special rapportuer on racism to the UN. Major international institutions have also expressed their support, including the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS), the International Lesbian and Gay Law Association (ILGLaw) and the Global Justice Ministry of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). The Appeal is open for the general public to sign on at the website www.idahomophobia.org.
In Guyana, transphobic violence and discrimination came in for much attention a few months ago when a group of people verbally and physically attacked some ‘cross-dressers’ in the vicinity of Stabroek Market. The escalated confrontation lead to the ‘cross-dressers’ being detained and charged for an archaic offence related to ‘cross-dressing’ under section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02. Days later, police unleashed a series of crackdowns in downtown Georgetown against ‘cross-dressers,’ detaining them without reading them their rights, informing them of their charges or allowing them to make phone calls or contact a lawyer. While in detention, they were mocked and ridiculed for their sexual orientation. Further to the insults by the police, the acting Chief Magistrate also unloaded her own disparaging remarks in making her decision motivated by her own religious views. These human rights violations clearly illustrate that the state is complicit and sanctions transphobic discrimination and violence. SASOD has repeatedly appealed to the Guyana government even at the highest levels to repeal our colonial-inherited discriminatory laws, which our former colonizers have since rid themselves of decades ago, and enact laws and policies to protect sexual and gender minorities from violence and discrimination.
In the face of government inaction, SASOD has embarked on several initiatives to raise awareness and educate Guyanese on transphobia, violence and discrimination. As part of a collective under a joint UN inter-agency HIV project on sexual and gender minorities, SASOD will continue to address human rights abuses suffered by Trans people in Guyana by sensitizing and training the uniformed forces, health-care workers and other social-services providers to work with these marginalized groups.