Much of your recent work has been aimed at legal reform. Why is this necessary?
In February 2009, there was a series of crackdowns by local police against male-to-female transgender people in downtown Georgetown. A year later, we launched a constitutional challenge to those discriminatory laws, hoping that the courts will declare them invalid and unconstitutional.
What’s the connection between these human rights violations and the HIV/AIDS epidemic among the transgender population?
Transphobia and discrimination against transgender people lock them into lower socioeconomic conditions than the average person. For example, if you start to express your transgender identity in high school, you’ll get taunted and teased, and may not finish school. This in turn affects your employment prospects. Many transgender people in Guyana have turned to sex work because they have no other viable choices. Because the sex trade is unregulated in Guyana and there are no protections for sex workers, transgender sex workers, in particular, are exposed to abuse by police and clients, and have less access to non-discriminatory HIV services.
Currently there is also a law on the books prohibiting same-sex sexual behavior. What impact has that had on HIV prevention in Guyana, where HIV prevalence among MSM is estimated at more than 21 percent?
These punitive laws play a role in reinforcing social stigma. Knowing that expressing their sexual orientation in an intimate way, in private, is criminalized has an impact on how MSM feel about themselves, and whether they are willing to take the necessary precautions to ensure good sexual health. This stigma will not change unless we begin to change those laws, and re-educate people so that future generations grow up with more inclusive and appreciative attitudes toward sexual and gender minorities.
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