Four transgender women challenge Guyana’s cross-dressing law

Four Guyanese transgender women have asked the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) to strike down an 1893 post-slavery vagrancy provision which led to their convictions in 2009.

They are challenging the South American country’s colonial cross-dressing law.

Trinidad and Tobago Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes who argued the case for the four women maintained that Guyana’s vagrancy law from 1893, which makes is an offence for a man or woman to be dressed in the attire of the opposite sex for “improper purposes”, is unconstitutional.

He claimed it disproportionately affected persons like his clients, who do not conform to society’s gender stereotypes.

Mendes said that men wishing to dress in women’s clothing were more susceptible to being charged under the legislation.

He took issue with the provisions of the legislation, which deals with cross-dressing for “improper purposes” as he pointed out that it was too vague and transgender persons at the mercy of the police and magistrates, who may be homophobic.

Mendes’ clients were all present in court for the recent hearing and came dressed in the attire of their chosen gender.

They were charged and fined in 2009 for wearing women’s clothing for an improper purpose – under an l893 vagrancy law. They are now seeking for their convictions to be quashed.

The Guyana Appeal Court acting Chief Justice Ian Chang said that both men and women were free to cross-dress in public once the reason for doing so was not for an “improper purpose.”

In his ruling, Chang held that cross-dressing by men was not a crime.

The four transgender women in 2010 had asked the Guyana Supreme Court to strike down the law, which left them open to arrest, but lost the petition.

They are seeking clarity on what constituted “improper purpose.”

The CCJ led by new President Justice Adrian Saunders has reserved its ruling in the case.

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