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'Not stopping here'

'Not stopping here'Image caption Petronella Trotman was told by the magistrate to "dress like a man"

As a transgender woman living in Guyana, Petronella Trotman has grown accustomed to violence and daily abuse on the streets.

But when she was physically attacked in January, while walking in Georgetown, the South American country's capital, she decided to seek justice.

"The young man came up to me and asked if it was me who disrespected him the other night," she said, in reference to a previous argument with her alleged assailant.

"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."

Ms Trotman reported the matter to the police and the case went to Georgetown Magistrates Court.

But seeking justice as a transgender woman is not easy in Guyana due to a colonial-era law, now 124 years old, that criminalises cross-dressing.


Guyanese Summary Jurisdiction Act

  • Passed in 1893 when Guyana was still a British colony
  • Makes it illegal for men to dress as a woman and vice versa, if done for "any improper purpose"
  • The definition of "any improper purpose" is open to interpretation by magistrates
  • Its opponents say it is open to abuse as its wording is "vague" and "broad"

On her first day in the courtroom, Ms Trotman was told by the presiding magistrate to "dress like a man" at her next court date.

When she returned to court on 2 March to hear the final verdict, she defiantly wore a blue top and a long, patterned skirt.

This time, Magistrate Dylon Bess refused her entry, citing "inappropriate dress".

Image caption A sign outside the courtroom outlines the dress code

"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.

The case was dismissed and, with Ms Trotman not allowed inside the court, she only learned of the decision when her alleged attacker shared the news upon leaving the courtroom.

'Dereliction of duty'

Magistrate Bess defended his demand that Ms Trotman dress in male clothes.

Image caption Activists protested against the decision outside Georgetown Magistrates Court

He said that while it was "a preference and not a requirement" that transgender women dress as men in his courtroom, "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".

He also said that it would be up to parliament to abolish Guyana's law criminalising cross-dressing and not a court of law.

The managing director of Guyana's Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD), Joel Simpson, strongly disagrees.

"It's really a dereliction of duty for Magistrate Bess to say that parliament has

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