LGBT rights in Guyana

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Guyana (orthographic projection).svg
StatusMale illegal.
Female "indecent acts" illegal.
Penalty2 years in prison for gross indecency between men, 10 years in prison for attempted buggery, life in prison for buggery
Gender identityCross-dressing legal since 2018[1]
MilitaryYes, according to the Army Chief of Staff Commodore
Discrimination protectionsNone
Family rights
Recognition of relationshipsSame-sex marriage illegal

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons in Guyana face legal challenges not experienced by non-LGBT residents. Guyana is the only country in South America, and the only country in the Americas outside the Caribbean, where homosexual acts (as well as heterosexual anal and oral sex) are still illegal. Under the laws of Guyana, engaging in anal or oral sex can carry a possible punishment of life imprisonment. Recently, there have been efforts to decriminalise homosexual acts. President David A. Granger supports these efforts.

In August 2016, the Belize Supreme Court struck down Belize's sodomy ban as unconstitutional. Because Belize and Guyana (and all member states of CARICOM) share an identical jurisprudence, Guyana's buggery ban is also unconstitutional. However, unlike Belize, Guyana's Constitution contains a "savings clause", which protects laws inherited by the former British Empire from constitutional review, even if these laws run counter to fundamental human and constitutional rights.[2] Cross-dressing was illegal until November 2018, when the statute was struck down by the Caribbean Court of Justice, the court of last resort of Guyana.

Guyanese society tends to view homosexuality, transgender and non-binary people negatively, though attitudes are slowly changing and becoming more accepting. The country's first pride parade took place in June 2018 with the support of various political and religious leaders.[3]

Laws about same-sex sexual activity[edit]

According to the Criminal Law (Offences) Act of Guyana:[4]

Section 352. Any male person who, in public or private, commits, or is a 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.

Section 353. Everyone who-

(a) attempts to commit buggery; or

(b) assaults any person with intent to commit buggery; or

(c) being a male, indecently assaults any other male person,

shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for ten years.

Section 354. Everyone who commits buggery ... shall be guilty of felony and liable to imprisonment for life.

Section 355. Everyone who-

(a) does any indecent act in any place to which the public have or are permitted to have access; or

(b) does any indecent act in any place, intending thereby to insult or offend any person,

shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and liable to imprisonment for two years.

The law does not specifically define "buggery", "gross indecency" or "indecent", as these terms remain defined by the common law, specifically the colonial era English common law, which Guyana inherited most of its laws from.

Decriminalisation efforts[edit]

Following a call from Dr. Edward Greene, the United Nations Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS to the Caribbean, to decriminalize homosexuality,[5] the Guyana Government announced in April 2012 that it was launching a national debate on whether to overhaul the country's laws that discriminate against LGBT people. Religious groups voiced their opposition to any changes in those laws.[6]

In 2013, the Government created a parliamentary commission to decide whether to scrap the country's buggery laws. It started receiving public submissions in early 2014.[7]

During the 2015 elections, both major political parties expressed support for LGBT rights. The People's Progressive Party stated that: "We believe that all Guyanese must be free to make choices and must not be discriminated against because of their ethnicity, gender, religion or sexual orientation."[8] The electoral manifesto of APNU-Alliance for Change, the largest party in Parliament, calls for an end to discrimination against LGBT people.

In April 2017, the Government announced it would hold a referendum to decide whether to decriminalize homosexuality.[9] However, in May 2017, Pink News reported that no referendum would be held, as several Guyanese media organisations had misunderstood the Government's position.[10]

President David A. Granger supports legalising same-sex sexual acts. In 2016, he said: "I am prepared to respect the rights of any adult to indulge in any practice which is not harmful to others."[10]

In August 2016 and April 2018, the Belize Supreme Court and the Trinidad and Tobago High Court, respectively, ruled that laws criminalising homosexuality are unconstitutional. These rulings have been welcomed by Guyanese LGBT activists, who hope to have their own laws repealed too.

Recognition of same-sex relationships[edit]

According to a document published in October 2006, same-sex marriages are illegal in Guyana.[11]

Adoption and parenting[edit]

According to the U.S. Department of State, an LGBT person is not disqualified from adopting a child in Guyana. Both married and single people may adopt.[12]

In December 2015, the Director of Guyana's Childcare and Protection Agency (CPA) stated that the CPA does not discriminate as there are no laws barring LGBT individuals and same-sex couples from adopting, being foster parents or guardians. The statement also encourages LGBT individuals to become adoptive parents and reiterates the lack of legal barriers as the Director of the CPA can issue a mandate determining which potential applicants can adopt under the Childcare and Protection Act.[13]

Discrimination protections[edit]

In December 2000, the National Assembly of Guyana unanimously approved a proposed amendment to the Constitution that would have prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. But the efforts of religious leaders prior to the March 2001 elections caused President Bharrat Jagdeo to deny his assent to the amendment.[14] A new amendment, containing only the sexual orientation clause, was put before the Assembly in 2003,[14] although it made no progress and was later withdrawn by the Government.

Gender identity and expression[edit]

Under Guyanese law, cross-dressing previously was illegal. In 2009, several transgender activists were arrested for wearing clothes of the opposite sex.[15] In 2010, Guyana Trans United launched a Supreme Court challenge against the cross-dressing law. In 2013, Chief Justice Ian Chang ruled that cross-dressing was legal unless done for an "improper purpose". Guyana Trans United appealed the case to Guyana's Court of Appeal, denouncing the law as discriminatory and unconstitutional. However, the Court of Appeal subsequently upheld Chang's ruling. The case was then appealed to the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ).[16] At issue is the vagueness of "improper purpose" and whether the law, which contravenes constitutional provisions for the protection of fundamental individual rights and freedoms, can be challenged because of the savings clause exemption.[17] The savings clause prevents colonial-era laws from being challenged.[18] The oral arguments in the case began on 28 June 2018,[19] and the court reserved the ruling for a later date.[20] On 13 November 2018, the Caribbean Court of Justice ruled that Section 153(1)(XLVII) of the Summary Jurisdiction (Offences) Act is unconstitutional and must be struck down from the legal code. The panel of five judges ruled that the statute, in addition to being archaic and vague, "violated the appellants' right to protection of the law and was contrary to the rule of law".[21]

In 2017, a transgender woman was assaulted and attacked in the capital city of Georgetown. She reported the attack to the police and filed a case against her attacker before the Georgetown Magistrates Court. On 2 March 2017, the day the verdict was announced, she was denied entry into the courtroom because she wasn't "dressed like a man". The court later dismissed her case.[16]

Military service[edit]

Former Army Chief of Staff Commodore Gary Best declared in November 2012 that the Guyana Defence Force (GDF) has no problem with same-sex relationships.[22]

No one is discriminated against at the GDF. So, same-sex relationships is not a problem but how persons conduct themselves.[22]

Best's statement came after the GDF sanctioned two female soldiers for engaging in a sex act with each other. A video of the act was leaked to the public.[22] The sanctions caused former Speaker of the National Assembly Ralph Ramkarran to criticize homophobia in the disciplined forces as well as the Government's evasive approach on the issue of same-sex relations.[22]

Living conditions[edit]

Although laws regarding homosexuality in Guyana are not known to have been enforced in recent years, discrimination against LGBT persons is widespread in Guyana due to the heavy influence of Christianity and Biblical law, in both social and political norms. British law criminalized same-sex activity which stood well after Guyana's independence, and created a homophobic society. The majority of Guyana's population frown upon homosexuality. LGBT persons continuously face violence and verbal harassment in Guyana, at the hands of law enforcement, religious leaders and others, and because of this, most keep their sexual orientation hidden. A common term for gay men in Guyana is "anti-men".[23]

About 60% of the population are Christians, while the remaining are mostly Hindu and Muslim. Evangelical groups have strongly opposed improving the lives of LGBT people, from opposing discrimination protections to opposing freedom of speech for LGBT people. Shortly before the first pride parade on 2 June 2018, the Georgetown Ministers' Fellowship called on the Government to ban the event, stating that LGBT people should have no right to freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The group called the event "immoral".[24] The Government ignored their request. Furthermore, the Anglican Bishop of Guyana and Suriname expressed support for the march, saying: "I disagree with the call to ban and must point out that the LGBT community has the right like all of us to march on the streets of Georgetown with police permission. We are all God's children and our rights must be protected. I am the Bishop of Guyana and I approve this message."[25]

Guyana's first pride parade was held on 2 June 2018 in Georgetown. Hundreds of marchers called for the decriminalisation of homosexuality, and "the spread of love, not hate". Groups involved in the event included Caribbean Equality, the Guyana Rainbow Foundation, Guyana Trans United, and the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination. No violent incident occurred, and the event received notable media coverage. The British High Commission flew a rainbow flag in support of the march. In the lead up to the event, a social media post of a father writing to his lesbian daughter condemning homophobia went viral.[26][27] Global Voices said the "event allowed the country's LGBT community the opportunity to step out of the cloak of invisibility and claim their right to be proud of who they are and who they choose to love."[23]


According to a 2013 survey by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. (CADRES), roughly 8% of Guyanese society identified as LGBT, with about 2% identifying as gay, 1% as lesbian and 4% as bisexual. Another 15% answered that they did not want to state their sexual orientation.[28] The same survey found that half of Guyanese people had a gay friend and a quarter had gay family members.[29]

Public opinion[edit]

A 2013 study by CADRES found that about 24% of respondents "hate" homosexuals, while 38% were "tolerant" and 25% were "accepting." Broken down by religion, the study concluded evangelical Christians were the most opposed to homosexuality, with non-evangelical Christians were the most accepting. Hindus and Muslims were somewhere in between.[30] A plurality of people in the survey stated that homosexuality was not an illness, but rather, a choice.[31] Slightly more than half (53%) of Guyanese supported the criminalization of homosexual acts,[32] but that more than half (52%) also stated they would be willing to change their minds if such laws "contributed to social and psychological problems" among the LGBT community.[33] A 2013 CADRES study observed that 14% of Guyanese people supported legalizing same-sex marriage,[34] while a 2010 Vanderbilt University study found that 7.5% of respondents supported same-sex marriage.[35]

The 2017 AmericasBarometer showed that 21% of Guyanese supported same-sex marriage.[36]


In contrast to other Western countries, LGBT people in Guyana tend to be more religious. According to a 2013 survey by the Caribbean Development Research Services Inc., 83% of LGBT Bahá'ís, and 80% of LGBT Jews are actively involved in religious activities, followed by Hindus (69%), Baptists (62%), evangelical Christians (59%), Muslims (48%), and non-evangelical Christians (26%).[37]

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal No (Penalty: Up to life imprisonment; not enforced)
Equal age of consent No (Penalty: Up to life imprisonment; not enforced)
Anti-discrimination laws in employment only No
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services No
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriages No
Recognition of same-sex couples No
Stepchild adoption by same-sex couples Emblem-question.svg[13]
Joint adoption by same-sex couples Emblem-question.svg[13]
LGBT people allowed to serve openly in the military Yes (Since 2012)
Right to change legal gender No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
Commercial surrogacy for gay male couples No
MSMs allowed to donate blood No

See also[edit]


  2. ^ Saving Constitutional Rights from Judicial Scrutiny: The Savings Clause in the Law of the Commonwealth Caribbean
  3. ^ Chabrol, Denis (3 June 2018). "Virtually incident-free gay pride parade held in Guyana to demand election promises". Demerara Waves. Retrieved 30 June 2018.
  4. ^ Criminal Law (Offences) Act, Guyana
  5. ^ "Caribbean plans regional approach to abolish gay laws", Demerara Waves Media, authored by Denis Scott Chabrol, 19 February 2012 Archived 29 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Guyana seeks public opinion on controversial laws", reported by Bert Wilkinson, The Associated Press, published on the website of The Salt Lake Tribune, 4 April 2012
  7. ^ Demara Waves. Guyana's gay rights organisation preparing for parliamentary select committee Archived 13 June 2013 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved 1 December 2013.
  8. ^ Sexual Orientation in the Guyana 2015 Elections
  9. ^ "Referendum to decide legality of homosexuality". Guyana Chronicle. 20 April 2017.
  10. ^ a b Guyana will not hold a referendum to decriminalise homosexuality, despite widespread reports
  11. ^ "Guyana: Treatment of homosexuals and state protection available to them (2004 - September 2006)", Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, 20 October 2006 Archived 15 January 2013 at
  12. ^ "Intercountry Adoption: Guyana", Bureau of Consular Affairs, United States Department of State, September 2010 Archived 23 November 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ a b c Homosexuals can adopt, be foster parents, guardians – CPA Director
  14. ^ a b "Constitution (Amendment Number 2) Bill No. 9 of 2003". Government Information Agency. 18 July 2003. Retrieved 25 January 2009.
  15. ^ Transgender activists in Guyana are fighting against archaic laws
  16. ^ a b Guyana's transgender activists fight archaic law
  17. ^ "CCJ to hear oral arguments in cross-dressing case today". Georgetown, Guyana: Guyana Chronicle. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  18. ^ Burnham, Margaret A. (2005). "Saving Constitutional Rights from Judicial Scrutiny: The Savings Clause in the Law of the Commonwealth Caribbean". University of Miami Inter-American Law Review. Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami Law School Institutional Repository. 36 (2): 249–269. ISSN 2328-4242. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  19. ^ "CCJ to hear cross dressing appeal case today". Georgetown, Guyana: Guyana Times. 28 June 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  20. ^ Loutoo, Jada (28 June 2018). "CCJ reserves ruling in Guyanese transgender appeal". Port of Spain, Trinidad: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday. Archived from the original on 28 June 2018. Retrieved 28 June 2018.
  21. ^ "CCJ rules in favour of transgender women". Georgetown, Guyana: Stabroek News. 13 November 2018. Archived from the original on 13 November 2018. Retrieved 13 November 2018.
  22. ^ a b c d "Army won't discriminate against its gay soldiers", The Daily Herald, 21 November 2012
  23. ^ a b Guyana's LGBT community hosts its first ever gay pride parade, Global Voices, 18 June 2018
  24. ^ Christian Fellowship against LGBT ‘pride’ parade, calls for Govt intervention
  25. ^ Guyana Pride: Anglican bishop lends support; opponents lose, Erasing 76 Crimes
  26. ^ Activists take to streets for Guyana’s first LGBT Pride parade, PinkNews, 4 June 2018
  27. ^ Yes to Guyana’s First Gay Pride Parade – A Letter to my Daughter, and a response to Ms. Bernice Walcott, Stabroek News, 4 June 2018
  28. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 5.
  29. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 15.
  30. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 17.
  31. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 21.
  32. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 28.
  33. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 35.
  34. ^ Wickham & Hinds 2013, p. 32.
  35. ^ Lodola, Germán; Corral, Margarita (2010). "Support for Same‐ Sex Marriage in Latin America". AmericasBarometer Insights. 44: 2.
  37. ^ Wickham, Peter W.; Hinds, Kristen C. (2013). "Attitudes toward Homosexuals in Guyana" (PDF). Caribbean Development Research Services Inc. p. 14. Retrieved 20 April 2017.