Police uses discriminatory laws to extort LGBT persons- SASOD

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By Bibi Khatoon

Discriminatory clauses in the Laws of Guyana contribute to extortion of Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons by law enforcement authorities.

Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson told the News Room that over the years, many such cases were recorded where LGBT persons were made to pay bribes to avoid being taken to the police station.

“[It is] in the sense that same sex practice of men who are found in any compromising positions in any kind of public places are usually threatened by the Police that they would be arrested in an effort to get them to pay bribes,” Simpson told the News Room.

He said SASOD has documented cases where a same sex couple may be having a date on the seawalls, in the parks, the gardens late at nights or simply having a drink in a car together and officers will approach and harass them.

“Just a threat of that offence causes men to pay bribes because nobody wants to go to the station to report for anything that has to do with homosexuality,” the rights activist noted, adding that these persons are faced with further discrimination at the police stations –affecting justice.

The few persons who are brave enough to make a formal report for being a victim of hate crime often times give a “watered down” version of the story for fear of further embarrassment.

Joel Simpson, Managing Director of SASOD

He pointed to the Summary Jurisdiction Act under which a landmark decision was handed down by the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) on November 13, 2018, striking out a clause which prohibits cross-dressing.

While the clause is still in the law, it cannot be implemented.

However, Simpson noted that the Act still allows for persons to be arrested for loitering and vagrancy which affects sex workers- the majority of whom are from the LGBT community.

“We would like to see those old colonial laws in the Summary Jurisdiction Act repealed,” Simpson said.

He also pointed to the Criminal Law (Offences) Act, where there are provisions that criminalise same-sex intimacy, specifically between men under section 353.

In sections 351 and 353 of the Act, buggery and attempted buggery is also criminalized.

“We would expect those kinds of offences are repealed,” the SASOD Director said.

Article 351 of the Criminal Law (Offences) Act states that “any male who in public or private commits or is in party to the commission, or procures or attempts to procure the commission, by any male person of any act of gross indecency with any other male person shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.”

Article 352 states that “everyone who attempts to commit buggery or assaults any person with the intent to commit buggery or being a male, indecently assaults any other male person, shall be guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for ten years.”

Article 353 states that “Everyone who commits buggery…shall be guilty of a felony and liable to imprisonment for life.”

The laws, Simpson argued, are also used by citizens to promote hate crimes.

“When you get into a debate with them on LGBTQ rights when they can’t logically win the argument anymore, they just say well at the end of the day, it is illegal.”

He explained that one of the major challenges is the constant hate crimes experienced by LGBT persons when they try to access public transportation –a situation which affects the poorest group of LGBT persons.

“These are people who can’t necessarily always afford to take a taxi or have their own means of transportation so minibuses, the boats and so on –persons face discrimination from operators and many times from passengers themselves,” he noted.

The SASOD Director believes that the discrimination experienced by persons in society is tied to discriminatory clauses in the Laws of Guyana.

“The law being a site of institutional discrimination also kind of reinforces the social discrimination that exists,” the SASOD Managing Director pointed out.

Measures

The LGBT coalition is hoping that the Legal Affairs Ministry’s Law Reform Commission, after meeting with stakeholders, will be able to update the “archaic” laws in keeping with international best practices. This will see the removal of discriminatory clauses.

In the meantime, the coalition has been working with health professionals to improve their knowledge of this vulnerable group.

Work is also being done with the University of Guyana students and this will be extended to the Nursing schools across the country.

“We want to get to a place where the training is also in the nursing schools and other places to ensure that they are educated beforehand so that they will already know how to deal with LGBT persons,” Simpson explained.

To observe International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, the coalition will be branding the Herstelling, East Bank Demerara Clinic as “LGBT friendly clinic,” to encourage these persons to visit the facility for the required attention without feeling awkward.

This training, certification, branding of public clinics will be a pilot project which will be extended to other parts of the country.

Additionally, the body has convened the ‘Stakeholders working in public transportation’ group with the Traffic Department, the Minibus Union and the Consumer Affairs Department to sensitize minibus operators on LGBT rights.

The LGBT Coalition is preparing to hold the second Pride Festival later this month from May 28 to June 3. Among the activities planned is the second pride parade.

The LGBT Coalition made up of the SASOD, the Guyana Rainbow Foundation (GuyBo) and Trans United, will be joining in the observance of International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia on Friday.

The day created in 2004 is aimed at combating violence and discrimination against LGBT persons.

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