Friday, April 04, 2014

"Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition at National Library until Saturday



On Monday, March 31, 2014, Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) launched their “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition in celebration of International Transgender Day of Visibility at the National Library’s Conference Room. 


Observed globally on March 31, International Transgender Day of Visibility is a day to visibly celebrate being transgender. It’s a day to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by transgender individuals and to highlight accomplishments. It is also an important day for allies and stakeholders to show their support for transgender people. GTU and SASOD joined these global celebrations in an effort to raise awareness of the issues and showcase Guyanese transgender people through this photo-exhibition.


The “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition is the first photographic exhibition of transgender people in Guyana. Giving a brief overview of the photo-exhibition, photographer and curator, Ulleli Verbeke, SASOD’s Co-Chair, shared that, “each photo portrays a trans-woman and is annotated with a brief quote on their lives and accomplishments. She expressed that, “the women featured in this exhibition are fearless and I am honoured to have had the opportunity to work with each of them on this project.” She thanked them for participating and for allowing her to share their stories. 



Photographer and curator of the photo-exhibition, SASOD’s Co-Chair, Ulelli Verbeke, giving an overview of the photo-exhibition


Openly sharing about her life as a trans-woman, and highlighting some of the many acts of discrimination and human rights abuses meted out to her and many other transgender people, was trans activist and GTU member, Twinkle. She chronicled her life from the time she discovered that she was “a woman trapped in man’s body” and the discrimination she experienced from family and peers. She spoke about the many acts of stigma and discrimination experienced by other transgender Guyanese from their families, employers, healthcare workers and the general population. 




Trans activist and member of the Guyana Trans United, Twinkle giving the keynote speech


Also speaking at the photo-exhbition was Mr. Derek Lambe, in his capacity as Chargé d' Affaires for the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and for the Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories. He noted that, “For the European Union, human rights and fundamental freedoms are the "silver thread" running through our actions both at home and in our external relations. The EU's position is that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are protected under existing international human rights law and that transgender, and LGBI, persons have the same rights as all other individuals — no new human rights are created for them; but neither should any be denied to them. These rights include: equality before the law, right to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, right to work and the right to health. The EU, similarly to the United Nations, is committed to the principle of the universality of human rights and reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values do not justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against transgender and LGBTI persons.” The European Union also encourages the Government of Guyana to repeal the laws criminalising same sex intimacy and cross-dressing, Mr. Lambe stated. “We fully support SASOD and Guyana Trans United in their efforts in this area. The EU demonstrates its support for LGBTI issues in relations with the Government, in public statements, in international fora, and also in providing funding to assist civil society organisations. The European Union Delegation in Guyana is proud to have been able to provide funding to the Equal Rights Trust and SASOD to support them in their efforts to combat discrimination and to advocate for legal reform and to address societal prejudice,” he added. He concluded that “one of the reasons for the international Transgender Day of Visibility is also to focus on all the good things in the trans community. This has been done beautifully in this excellent photographic exhibition, which gives a face to transgender Guyanese persons, both literally and symbolically. I congratulate Guyana Trans United and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).”




(l-r) Mr. Derek Lambe, in the capacity of Chargé d' Affaires for the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and for the Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories; Trans activist and GTU member, Twinkle; Dr. Shanti Singh, Programme Manager, NAPS; Quincy McEwan, Director of Guyana Trans United & Schemel Patrick, Advocacy and Communications Officer, SASOD


The participation of transgender Guyanese in this photo-exhibition is particularly courageous in the local context where the laws criminalise cross-dressing and there have been police crackdowns against working-class transgender women. In a September 2013 decision, Chief Justice (ag.) Ian Chang ruled that cross-dressing in public is only a crime if it is done for “improper purpose.” The learned judge did not clarify what the term “improper purpose” means nor did he indicate what improper purposes gave rise to the February 2009 police crackdown against cross-dressing. SASOD and the four trans litigants are appealing this and other aspects of Chang’s decision. The notice of appeal was prepared within the 6 week deadline of the judgment and filed. The next step is now up to the Court of appeal. The court will fix what essentially a case-management date is, after which a date will be set for arguments.


At the launch cutting the ribbon declaring the “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo – Exhibition officially opened was Dr. Shanti Singh, Programme Manager at National AIDS Programme Secretariat of the Ministry of Health. Also in attendance were Canadian High Commissioner to Guyana, Dr Nicole Giles; Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, Mr. Bryan Hunt; Diplomatic Attaché of the Mexican Embassy, Alejandro Martinez; Public Affairs Officer, US Embassy, Tabatha Fairclough; Chief of Party for the USAID/International Republican Institute LEAD project, Glenn Bradbury; PAHO/WHO Family and Community Advisor Dr. Rosalinda Hernandez; civil society partners and other supporters. 




Dr. Shanti Singh unveils the exhibition as Quincy McEwan, Director of Guyana Trans United looks on

Schemel Patrick, SASOD’s Advocacy and communications Officer, in her remarks noted that, “Guyana Trans United and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination aim to utilize this photo-exhibition to continue to empower transgender Guyanese to “stand against transphobia” by ‘visibilizing’ them in their own images and words.  For us, visibility is key to empowerment.”


The “Stand against Transphobia” photo-exhibition is being hosted with financial support from the Equal Rights Trust (ERT), the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana (EU) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).


The “Stand Against Transphobia” photo-exhibition will be housed in the lobby of the National Library, Conference Room all week until Saturday, April 5. The National Library is opened from 9:00 to 17:00 hrs. during week days, and 9:00 to 13:00 hrs. on Saturday.



A section of the participants viewing the photo-exhibition



Related Web-Links:


Twinkle’s Keynote Address: http://sasod.blogspot.com/2014/04/international-transgender-day-of.html


Derek Lambe’s Closing Remarks:http://sasod.blogspot.com/2014/04/international-transgender-day-of_4.html


International Transgender Day of Visiblity Clsoing Remarks



GTU/SASOD Photo-Exhibition Launch


Closing Remarks
by Mr. Derek Lambe, Chargé d' Affaires for the Delegation of the European Union (EU) to Guyana, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and for the Dutch Overseas Countries and Territories


31 March 2014



Dr Shanti Singh, Ms Twinkle, Ms Ulelli Verbeke, members of SASOD and Guyana Trans United, colleagues from the diplomatic corps, ladies and gentlemen.



It is a pleasure to be here on International Transgender Day of Visibility for the launch of the week-long "Stand Against Transphobia" Photo-Exhibition.



International Transgender Day of Visibility is celebrated all over the world every year, and celebrates the lives of transgender persons. The day is also used to raise awareness of issues of discrimination that they often encounter.



For the European Union, human rights and fundamental freedoms are the "silver thread" running through our actions both at home and in our external relations. The EU's position is that the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) persons are protected under existing international human rights law, and that transgender, and LGBI, persons have the same rights as all other individuals — no new human rights are created for them; but neither should any be denied to them.



The EU, similarly to the United Nations, is committed to the principle of the universality of human rights and reaffirms that cultural, traditional or religious values do not justify any form of discrimination, including discrimination against transgender and LGBI persons.



To be more specific: when speaking about the rights of transgender or LGBTI persons, we’ve always made it clear that it is not about introducing new or different rights for one group of people. It is about the same human rights being applied to every person everywhere without discrimination.



These rights include: equality before the law, right to privacy, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, right to work and the right to health.



The European Union therefore encourages the Government of Guyana to repeal the laws criminalising same-sex intimacy and cross-dressing. We fully support SASOD and Guyana Trans United in their efforts in this area.



The EU demonstrates its support for LGBTI issues in relations with the Government, in public statements, in international fora, and also in providing funding to assist civil society organisations. The European Union Delegation in Guyana is proud to have been able to provide funding to the Equal Rights Trust and SASOD to support them in their efforts to combat discrimination and to advocate for legal reform and to address societal prejudice.



As well as raising awareness of the problems transgender persons face, one of the reasons for the Trans Day of Visibility is also to focus on all the good things in the trans community. This has been done beautifully in this excellent photographic exhibition, which gives a face to transgender Guyanese persons, both literally and symbolically. I congratulate Guyana Trans United and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD).



Thank you.

International Transgender Day Of Visibility Keynote Address



International Transgender Day of Visibility
“Stand Against Transphobia”
Photo-Exhibition
March 31, 2014

National Library
Georgetown, Guyana

Keynote Address by Twinkle

Twinkle delivering the keynote address
Being a trans-woman in Guyana is challenging. I was born in 1993 with the assigned sex of male. At the age of 8, I knew that I was a girl trapped in a boy's body. Growing up knowing this was very difficult because my family was very strict and expected differently for their young boy child. Often I would change into my cousin's female clothing at nights, sleep and would wake up early to change before anyone in the home saw me. One morning I overslept and was found asleep in her clothing. I was beaten. From then I was often verbally abused and threaten to be put out of the home if I ever express my true self again.
I expressed myself only in dark places alone, away from my family and society.
At school, I adopted a male outlook and hid my identity as well as associated with the tough crew. This is because I knew how I would be treated if they knew who I really was. 
At age 15, having had no physical signs of male development, such as facial hair and voice changes as compared to my male cousins of the same age, I was taken to a doctor who prescribed testosterone. I was made to use this for 6 months.
With the treatment I developed masculine features, however inside I remained the same- female.
At age 17, I decided that I am a woman and will always be a woman. I was restricted from leaving the home. However, I went to parties, where for the first time I was free to express the inner me. This feeling of freedom was profoundly relieving, that I decided not to return home as it would have been back to a kind of prison.
I was now free to be me. Twinkle. 
As a trans-woman, I began dressing in women's clothing full time. This change brought new and different challenges, which not only affect me but every trans- woman in Guyana. Accessing public and private transportation became difficult where I was often left on the road stranded or some drivers would try to knock me over. In some instances drivers demand double and triple fares for transportation services. 
Employment opportunities are almost non-existing for trans-women, despite being qualified. This is because employers often stigmatize and fear us. They are against cross-dressing and feel that it is inappropriate and so would not employ us based on this. We need to live too, and to do that we need money, and are forced into sex work.  Doing sex work is very high risk and life threatening as there is violence from both clients and the police. There are instances where persons seek us out as clients but with the intention to rape, physically hurt and maim or even kill us.   
Healthcare providers often display negative attitudes and scorn towards us when we go to centers for medical care and treatment. This results in many trans- women feeling uncomfortable and unwanted to the extent where they refuse to access care and treatment services. Living a life filled with degradation and rejection from our loved ones, our families and society at large often finds many trans-women facing depression and suicide attempts. There are no mental health services available and often we are left to grapple with these issues alone. 
Many young trans-women suffer at the hands of their peers and teachers in school due to transphobic bullying. As a result many drop out of school. After realizing the value of education, many trans-women attempt to access education as adults. However, this is often not realized because cross-dressing is frowned upon in many institutions. Additionally, transphobic bullying is often perpetuated in these institutions by the students and educators.
Simply walking the streets is challenging where persons grope you to ascertain whether you are a “real woman or man; where verbal abuse is hurled at you; where threats are made; weapons drawn and physical violence often ensues. In many instances green lanterns meaning (beer bottles); wood; stones or anything handy are hurled along with the chorus of, "bun battie boy. Battie boy fi dead"  to harm and hurt you. In the last year alone, at least 4 trans-women were brutally murdered with no investigation to date nor anyone charged for their murders. Why does it have to be like this? Aren't we human beings too?
Complaints are often made to the police; however, they turn around and harass us, threatening to charge us for cross-dressing and buggery under the existing laws.  We are continuously denied our basic rights and are often pushed around. 
On this day, International Transgender Day of  Visibility 2014 I would also like to highlight the successes of trans women in Guyana despite the many challenges we face.  
We are still fighting to remove the laws which criminalize cross-dressing in Guyana. Last September, the Honorable Chief Justice, Ian Chang (ag) in his ruling stated that cross-dressing in a public place is an offence only if it is done for an improper purpose. There is no definition of "improper purpose" and so we are challenging this through the Court of Appeal. I am fearful for myself and other trans-women as I feel we can be picked up by the police “for an improper purpose” and prosecuted under the current laws at any time, simply because we cross-dress. 
I am fortunate to have the opportunity to highlight these issues with the hope that it will change the minds and hearts of those who discriminate against us.
It is my hope to see a Guyana where trans-women are recognized and treated equally, from childhood to adulthood. I would like a Guyana where trans-woman can access education, health, transportation, employment, police services and housing among other basic needs like everyone else. Where we are accepted by society and supported like every other Guyanese. Guyana is a diverse nation, land of six peoples, where in every race, you can find trans-women. 
Thank you.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

“Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition Set for the National Library



On March 31, transgender people the world over celebrate International Transgender Day of Visibility (ITDV). Joining these global celebrations in an effort to raise awareness locally, Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) will be hosting a week-long “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo- Exhibition. 

The Photo-Exhibition will be launched on the ITDV itself, which is Monday, March 31, 2014, at the National Library’s Conference Room at 11:00 hrs. The exhibition will be housed in the lobby of the National Library from Monday until Saturday, April 5, 2014. Dr. Shanti Singh, Programme Manager at the National AIDS Programme Secretariat of the Ministry of Heath, will cut the ribbon, declaring the photo-exhibition officially open. Outspoken Guyanese trans activist and GTU member, Twinkle, will be the keynote speaker at this event.
Keynote Speaker, Twinkle (Photo Courtesy of Ulelli Verbeke)

SASOD Co-Chair, Ulelli Verbeke, is the photographer and curator behind the photo-exhibition. She has travelled around Georgetown and West Demerara to interview and photograph transgender Guyanese from all walks of life who have consented to participate in this ground-breaking activity. “I was very moved by the openness of these trans folks who shared their stories with me,” Verbeke remarked. “I’m inspired by their bravery and willingness to participate in the project, not knowing how it will be received,” she added.

SASOD’s Co-Chair, Ulelli Verbeke (Photo Courtesy of Priscila F. Pascoal)
 
Their participation is particularly courageous in the context of Guyana where the laws criminalise cross-dressing and there have been police crackdowns against working-class transgender women. In a September 2013 decision, Chief Justice (ag.) Ian Chang ruled that cross-dressing in public is only a crime if it is done for “improper purpose.” The learned judge did not clarify what the term “improper purpose” means nor did he indicate what improper purposes gave rise to the February 2009 police crackdown against cross-dressing. SASOD and the four trans litigants are appealing this and other aspects of Chang’s decision. 

Locally, transgender Guyanese are struggling for equality and rights to live freely, without stigma, discrimination and abuse.  The  Guyana Trans United (GTU) and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) aim to utilize this photo-exhibition to continue to empower transgender Guyanese to “stand against transphobia” by ‘visibilizing’ them in their own images and words.  The groups believe visibility is key to empowerment. 

GTU is a collective of transgender and gender non-conforming Guyanese working to empower trans Guyanese communities to advocate for their human rights and participate as equal citizens in decision-making processes at all levels of Guyanese society. 

SASOD is a local human rights organisation and movement dedicated to achieving equality and justice for all Guyanese, especially those suffering discrimination based on their sexuality, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression. 

ITDV is a day to visibly celebrate being transgender. It’s a day to raise awareness of the discrimination faced by transgender individuals and to highlight accomplishments. It is also an important day for allies and stakeholders to show their support for transgender people. The theme is “Stand Against Transphobia” for the first commemoration of ITDV in Guyana. 

The “Stand Against Transphobia” photo-exhibition is being hosted by GTU and SASOD with financial support from Equal Rights Trust (ERT), the Delegation of the European Union to Guyana (EU) and the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS).

public is invited to attend Monday’s launch event and the week’s photo-exhibition. 

    Invitation to the Launch of the “Stand Against Transphobia” Photo-Exhibition