SASOD launches cross-dressing documentary and ‘soft’ launches quarterly newsletter for International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHO)
WHO: SASOD with support from the Caribbean Treatment Action Group (CTAG)
WHAT: Launch of “My Wardrobe, My Right” video documentary and ‘soft’ launch of the inaugural edition of quarterly newsletter, “Spectrum Vibes,” with feature remarks by His Excellency Simon Bond, British High Commissioner to Guyana
WHERE: Sidewalk Café & Jazz Club, 176 Middle Street, Georgetown
WHEN: International Day Against Homophobia & Transphobia (IDAHO), Tuesday, May 17 at 10:00 hrs
WHY: SASOD with support from CTAG, the regional funding and advocacy mechanism of the Collaborative Fund for HIV Treatment Preparedness - A Project of the International Treatment Preparedness Coalition (ITPC) and TIDES Network – is producing a series of video documentaries. On the occasion of IDAHO 2011, SASOD launches the first in the series, “My Wardrobe, My Right” which examines the criminalization of cross-dressing in Guyana. SASOD also takes the opportunity of IDAHO to ‘soft’ launch the inaugural issue of its quarterly newsletter, “Spectrum Vibes,” which is dedicated to the life and work of the late Dr. Robert Carr, who passed away last week. Dr. Carr was the director of advocacy and policy of the International Council of AIDS Service Organisations (ICASO), co-chair of the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF), founder, co-chair and first executive director of the Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition (CVC), former executive director of Jamaica AIDS Support and former coordinator of the Graduate Studies Unit at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, among many other affiliations.
Information Note on IDAHO Launch of “My Wardrobe, My Right” Video Documentary
What is IDAHO?
On May 17, over 50 countries around the world celebrate the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), marking the anniversary of one of the most powerful steps in advancing human rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people globally – the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness by the World Health Organization 21 years ago. IDAHO is recognized by the State in a number of countries, including Brazil and Cuba, which includes a month of government-sponsored activities, and is observed in Jamaica and in Guyana, this year for the sixth year. IDAHO is a global collaboration to take local action to engage violence, stigma, unequal treatment and state oppression, including criminal laws, that target people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity. It is an occasion to call for and demonstrate political action, to build public awareness, and to mobilize alliances within and across borders. The international celebration of a day against homophobia was spearheaded by a Caribbean man, Martiniquan Georges-Louis Tin.
What is this SASOD/CTAG video-documentary about?
The goal is to create a more supportive socio-cultural environment for sexual and gender minorities through public education efforts which aim to mitigate stigma faced by these marginalized groups. It aims to create a supportive infrastructure by building a more enabling socio-cultural environment which encourages ordinary people to embrace these groups who are stigmatized because of sexual taboos and gender non-conformity. It is envisaged that this locally-made film, which can have a wide reach and mass appeal, will buttress other ongoing efforts to build supportive infrastructure through policy and law reform, training and skills-building by various stakeholders. Film technology provides an invaluable tool to humanize these taboo issues in mainstream television media and address sensitive areas where lack of knowledge is pervasive among Guyanese and Caribbean people.
Guyana’s laws criminalise cross-dressing. Section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02 which makes an offence of “being a man, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in female attire, or being a woman, in any public way or public place, for any improper purpose, appears in male attire… ” This antiquated piece of legislation dates back to the 19th century, colonial period, but is still being selectively enforced today – in the 21st century. In 2006, Ronell Trotman, better known as ‘Pertonella,’ a cross-dressing sex worker, was fined for vagrancy and wearing female attire; $5000 for each offence (Stabroek News, Tuesday 16 May 2006). And then between February 6 and 10, 2009, police detained at least eight people, some of them twice, charging seven of them under section 153 (1) (xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act Chapter 8:02. The first arrests took place on February 6, when plainclothes policemen detained three persons in downtown Georgetown, near Stabroek Market. On February 7, the police detained five more. In both occasions, the then acting Chief Magistrate Melissa Robertson fined the detainees GY$7,500 each. On February 10, the police detained four people; three of whom had been among those arrested on February 6 and 7. In court, when handing down the sentence, the then acting Chief Magistrate Robertson told the detainees they were not women but men and exhorted them to “go to church and give their lives to Christ.”
Laws which penalize cross-dressing effectively criminalize persons whose ways of expressing themselves, in their manner of dressing, goes against certain stereotypical expectations for gender roles. In this regard, dressing, as a form of gender expression, is a question of freedom of expression. Laws against cross-dressing therefore violate the right to freedom of expression, as all persons have the right to express their gender freely through the way in which they dress. These insidious provisions should therefore be urgently expunged from the law books given their contravention of basic, democratic freedoms.
On February 19, 2010, the eve of World Day of Social Justice, four cross-dressers and SASOD filed a notice of motion before the Supreme Court of Judicature for redress claiming, among other relief, to have section 153(1)(xlvii) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act, Chapter 8:02, invalidated as irrational, discriminatory, undemocratic, contrary to the rule of law and unconstitutional. The matter is sub judice, presently before the High Court.“My Wardrobe, My Right” explores these issues related to the criminalization of cross-dressing in Guyana. It captures the stories of two of the cross-dressers who were victims of the February 2009 crackdowns and the views of SASOD and one of the human rights attorneys representing the litigants in the constitutional suit against Guyana’s laws which penalise cross-dressing.