• A protest for transgender rights in 2016. (Facebook/Guyana Trans United)Source: Facebook/Guyana Trans United
The South American country continues to enforce an archaic law that criminalises cross-dressing.
Michaela Morgan

28 Mar 2017 - 11:17 AM  UPDATED 28 Mar 2017 - 11:17 AM

Transgender activists in Guyana are protesting against a 124-year-old law that criminalises cross-dressing.

The archaic legislation puts the lives of the trans community in danger as they’re unable to seek justice when acts of violence are committed against them.

Petronella Trotman is a transgender woman living in Georgetown and was physically attacked while walking in the country’s capital in January. 

According to the BBC, the assailant approached Trotman and asked “if it was me who disrespected him the other night”, referring to a previous altercation.

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"And he joock [stabbed] me to my neck with scissors. I fell to the ground and when he left, I ran away. Then he came back with some glass bottles and pelted me down."

"It happens a lot here in Guyana to transgender women," she added. "We live in a very homophobic society."

While most transgender people in the South American country feel powerless against these kinds of injustices, Trotman took her attacker to court.

During the hearing, the presiding magistrate warned Trotman that she should “dress like a man” at the next court date on March 2. 

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In defiance of the archaic rule, Trotman wore a long, patterned skirt, determined not to hide her gender identity—and was barred from entering the court.

"I felt really bad because the magistrate ordered me out of the court and he literally tried the case without me," Ms Trotman told the BBC.

Magistrate Bess defended his dress code ban, saying it was a "a preference and not a requirement" and that "sometimes persons commit offences dressed as males and then when they appear in court dressed as a female it can have implications for how a victim can identify his or her accuser, or vice versa".

The issue has angered LGBT+ rights groups in Guyana and there have been renewed calls for the cross-dressing law to be abolished.

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"I think the courts should take the lead in recognising that these things are irrelevant to justice,” said a former president of the Guyana Bar Association, Ronald Burch-Smith.

In 2009, transgender activist Quincy McEwan and six others were arrested and fined for wearing female clothing and loitering.

As a result, McEwan formed Guyana Trans United and in 2010, launched a Supreme Court challenge against the outdated legislation.

The matter did not reach the courts until 2013 when the chief justice Ian Chang ambiguously ruled that cross-dressing was legal unless done for an “improper purpose”.

But McEwan has remained determined to fight for transgender rights in Guyana.

"Our next step is to continue to have protests, let our voices be heard and then to get a petition before parliament," Ms McEwan said.

"And we're not stopping there. We're going to appeal our matter before the Caribbean Court of Justice."