Friday, February 10, 2017

New Social Cohesion Minister Commits to Leading Anti-discrimination Law Reform


On Thursday, January 9, a team from the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) met with the new Minister of Social Cohesion, Honourable Dr. George Norton, M.P. and his Technical Officer, Pamela Nauth, at his Ministry of the Presidency office.

SASOD’s Managing Director, Joel Simpson, Social Change Coordinator, Jairo Rodrigues and Advocacy and Communications Officer, Schemel Patrick attended the meeting to discuss their partnership with the Ministry of Social Cohesion and the Ministry’s public education work which is pivotal in the prevention of violence and discrimination and is at the heart of SASOD’s work with sexual and gender minorities. 

Opening the meeting, Simpson outlined SASOD’s approach to social cohesion. He discussed a combination approach which give a “sandwich effect” to achieve social cohesion.  Simpson described the top-down approach which includes law and policy reform, especially constitutional reform to protect minority groups from discrimination. He stated that constitutional reform is paramount to sanction discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. He then described the bottom-up approach which engages communities and educates citizens to curtail their prejudices. “SASOD believes that both approaches need to be taken together to achieve social cohesion in Guyana,” Simpson said.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Guyana Equality Forum Hosts “Orange Walk” to Close 16 Days of Activism on Gender Violence

Last Saturday, December 10, Human Rights Day, the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) hosted its “Orange” Walk to commemorate Human Rights Day 2016 and close the 16 Days of Activism Campaign, which is held annually to galvanize action to end gender-based violence.
SASOD’s Joel Simpson led the marchers as they chanted “Equal Rights! Equal Love! Equal People!” and “Break the Silence, End Gender-Based Violence.”
At the end of the walk, brief remarks were shared by Minister of Social Protection, Volda Lawrence and keynote speaker Dr. Dawn Stewart. Dr. Stewart is the civil society representative to Guyana’s Global Fund Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) and founder and Chief Executive Officer of CPIC’s Monique’s Caring Hands - a leading, local grassroots women's rights group. 
Dr. Stewart commenced her remarks by expressing, “It is one of the most pervasive violations of human rights in the world, one of the least prosecuted crimes, and one of the greatest threats to lasting peace and development. I am talking about violence against women and children. I am honoured to be here, at your request, to address this urgent matter as we join together to advance human rights, and the common values of humanity.” 

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Cross-Dressing Appeal Case for Judgment in 2017

The case McEwan, Clarke, Fraser, Persaud and SASOD versus Attorney General of Guyana was heard on Friday, November 18, 2016 before Guyana’s Court of Appeal. The hearing was presided over by Chancellor of the Judiciary Carl Singh, Chief Justice Yonette Cummings-Edwards and Justice Brassington Reynolds. Gulliver McEwan, the first-named appellant, other representatives of the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) were also present at the hearing.

The Chancellor noted that the Court had received extensive submissions from both the appellants and the state, which did not require rehashing orally. However, Dr Bulkan, counsel for the appellants, noted that there were two issues in the state’s submissions that were raised for the first time and to which he would like to respond. He was permitted to address these issues, but after doing so the Court indicated that these new submissions should be recorded in writing, and both parties were given four weeks to present their further written submissions to the court.

The Court questioned counsel for the appellants on their contention that the law was uncertain, asking whether it was not possible for a Magistrate to define the term ‘improper purposes’ on a case by case basis by reference to its dictionary meaning. Dr Bulkan responded that permitting this would offend the requirement of the rule of law, since penal statutes had to be defined with sufficient clarity to give citizens prospective notice of how to conduct themselves. He pointed out that even if a person was eventually acquitted by a Magistrate, the fact of being charged and subjected to the state’s coercive powers would have already resulted in violations of their fundamental rights. He added that the term ‘improper purpose’ had no boundaries whatever, and thus gave police unfettered discretion in enforcing the law.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Cross-Dressing Suit Set for Appeal Hearing Tomorrow Friday November 18

As the Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) join the global observances of November as Trans Awareness Month, Guyana’s Court of Appeal is expected to hear the case McEwan and others versus Attorney General of Guyana tomorrow, Friday, November 18, 2016 at 9:00 hrs at the Court of Appeal, 60 High Street, Kingston.  The Chancellor of the Judiciary, the Hon. Justice Carl Singh, is expected to preside over the hearing with a panel of appellate judges.

The appeal was previously fixed for hearing on Wednesday July 13 at 9 am before Guyana’s Court of Appeal. Gulliver McEwan, the first-named appellant, and representatives of the GTU and SASOD were present in a completely full courtroom.  At this hearing, the appellants filed their skeleton arguments in accordance with the rules of the Court. The arguments of the State were yet to be filed. The Court of Appeal noted that the arguments filed by counsel for the appellants were extensive and that it wished some time to fully review them and to receive the arguments from the State.

The case was initially filed in February 2010, following the widely reported arrests and convictions of seven trans persons for the 1893 summary offence of ‘being a man’ and wearing ‘female’ attire in a public way or public place, for an improper purpose.’ Four of the convicted persons filed this action, along with SASOD, which approached the Faculty of Law UWI Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP). Thereafter, with the assistance of U-RAP and local counsel, a constitutional challenge to the cross-dressing law was filed.
The McEwan case argues that the archaic cross-dressing law, found in section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act 1893, is inconsistent with the Constitution of Guyana. It also argues that the conduct of the Chief Magistrate, who told the individual appellants that they were confused about their sexuality and should follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, was also not consistent with the Guyana Constitution.
In September, 2013, then Chief Justice, Ian Chang, heard the case and ruled that cross-dressing per se is not a crime, unless done for an “improper purpose.” The parties appealed this ruling, in part because of the inherent uncertainty in the terminology employed in the statute. With that uncertainty, state officials have virtually unlimited discretion in applying the law.
The entire legal team includes Mr. Miles Fitzpatrick SC, Mr. Nigel Hughes, Dr. Arif Bulkan, and Mr. Gino Persaud.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Civil Society Groups Remember Late Activist at Campaign Event on Gender-Based Violence

On Friday, November 25, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) hosted the second annual Zenita Temall Nicholson Memorial Event. The event took the form of a Public Discussion on Gender-Based Violence in Guyana and served as the commencement of SASOD’s 16 Days of Activism Campaign. The 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence Campaign is a time to galvanize action to end violence against women and girls around the world. In 2016, the campaign strongly emphasizes the need for sustainable financing for efforts to end violence against women and girls towards the fulfilment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The official theme for this year’s Campaign is: “Orange the World: Raise Money to End Violence against Women and Girls.”

Raising funds
The Public Discussion was facilitated by Guyanese feminist advocate and stalwart educator, Bonita Harris. She began her presentation by underscoring that “ending violence against women begins with awareness and consciousness of why the names, nouns, and pronouns we use to call and refer to persons can violate their integrity and sense of their gender identity.” 
In her presentation, Harris urged participants to “talk the talk and walk the walk”. “I want to encourage everyone here to ‘walk the talk’ … Raising money to end violence against women and girls is an important action for walking the talk or as Guyanese say, putting your money where your mouth is.” She used the opportunity to launch a fundraising initiative by producing an orange bowl to be used to raise money during the 16 Days of Activism. “See this large orange bowl; I will be passing it around for a collection to galvanize action to eradicate violence against women and girls. And I will be donating the bowl for future collections. Please give generously from whatever you have in your pockets and purses today.” She also encouraged civil society organisations to forego refreshments and use that money to eliminate gender-based violence in Guyana.

Friday, October 21, 2016

SASOD presents “Butches & Barbies” Costume Ball this Saturday October 22!

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) is hosting its highly anticipated “Butches & Barbies” Costume Ball this Saturday, October 22, at the Tower Suites Hotel on Main Street, Georgetown.

The party starts at 9 PM. Mix Master Tony is on board to keep persons energized by playing the best hits in all genres of music. Added attractions include signature cocktails and shots. Partygoers are urged to come out with their best ‘butch’ or ‘barbie’ costume in order to win special prizes.

Limited pre-sold tickets for the event cost $1000 and can be purchased from the Vintage Wine Bar & Lounge, Lamaha Street; Oasis Cafe, 125 Carmichael Street; Tower Suites Hotel, Main Street and SASOD’s Office, 169 Charlotte Street. Admission at the door is $1500.

All proceeds from this fundraising event go towards SASOD’s Community Shelter Fund to build an emergency shelter for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims of violence in Guyana. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

SASOD and GEF Launch Public Policy Advocacy Programme for Civil Society Trainers

The Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) in partnership with the Guyana Equality Forum (GEF) with the support from the European Union (EU) and the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice on Wednesday, October 19 launched the final installment of a three-part training series as part of the Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project. The three-day Civil Society Public Policy Advocacy Training of Trainers Programme takes place at the Moray House, at Camp and Quamina Streets, Georgetown, until Friday October 21.

Project and Training Overviews 
In a short opening, SASOD’s Advocacy and Communications Officer, Ms. Schemel Patrick, shared a brief overview of the Guyanese Vulnerable Communities Capacities Strengthening Project, stating that it was designed to contribute towards the equitable treatment of all peoples in Guyana by supporting efforts to strengthen the participation of vulnerable persons and their representative organisations in decision-making processes of the state.