Cross-dressing suit set for Appeal hearing today

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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 today (Friday, November 18) at 9:00 hrs at the Court of Appeal, in High Street, Kingston, Georgetown.  Chancellor of the Judiciary, Justice Carl Singh, is expected to preside over the hearing with a panel of appellate judges.

Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh
Chancellor of the Judiciary, Carl Singh

The appeal was previously fixed for hearing on Wednesday July 13 at 9:00 hrs 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  legal team for GTU and SASOD includes Mr. Miles Fitzpatrick SC, Mr. Nigel Hughes, Dr. Arif Bulkan, and Mr. Gino Persaud.

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