Intimate partner violence is rampant and unreported in the trans community
By Lakhram Bhagirat
The transgender community, in Guyana and around the world, is subjected to discrimination on a daily basis for being their authentic self. They are marginalised and forced to either hide their true selves or brave the world.
In Guyana, the transgender community is small and close-knit but they are considered to be outcasts in society as well. Many of the members in the trans community are forced to engage in sex work mainly because of discriminatory hiring practices and the fact that many of them are deprived of the opportunities to further enhance themselves when they decide to live the way they feel.
In an effort to understand some of the issues affecting the trans community, the Sunday Times sat down with Executive Director of the Guyana Trans United (GTU), Candace McEwan.
The local trans community is plagued by not only discrimination from the outside but also the violence within. McEwan told this publication that intimate partner violence is rampant within the community for a number of reasons but mainly because many of its members are flamboyant.
“We cannot say that it is domestic violence because they (the law enforcement officials) never consider us as the domestic, so intimate partner violence it is. It is very high in the (trans) community because of the fact that persons within the community are fearful of stigma. Meaning that I am a transgender woman and my partner is MSM (men who have sex with me) and he might be afraid to even go in public or even be seen in public with me because sometimes if persons know he engages in those behaviour, then they might act (discriminate/beat) out on him and the only revenge is him to come and act out on me at home,” she said.
McEwan said that the reasons for intimate partner violence within the community are not only linked to discrimination from outside but also within.
Over the years, the GTU has been trying to have issues facing the community addressed and have been making some strides. The organisation works at the grassroots level so the passion to address the issues is always there. It fuels their drive and the GTU has been working closely to address them.
The GTU has a strong support system for its members and tailors its responses to the individual needs of its members. The Organisation has a social worker that is accessible to every member whenever they need to have a listening ear.
“Our funding would have ended since July (2019 because of COVID-19) but one of the good things is that the social worker that we have is very committed. She has been with us since 2015 and because funding is not there, she still continues to do supportive work for us. She is still there to address the needs of our community.
“The fact is that we have a social worker addressing the issues (faced by our members) on a one-on-one basis, so we have persons would come and engage the social worker on some of the challenges they would encounter,” McEwan related.
Since its formation, the GTU has been dealing with reports of intimate partner violence from its members along with the struggles they face in accessing justice. It has, over the years, seen many of its members being brutalised, murdered and maimed at the hands of their lovers or even clients.
One of its very early instances of dealing with intimate partner violence is that of the story involving Romario “Thin Slice” Lovell and her relationship with Samuel Bristol. Lovell and Bristol shared a rocky relationship for a number of years and were being counselled at the GTU.
However, Bristol would accuse two of Lovell’s friends – 23-year-old Jason “Jada” John and 24-year-old Carl “Tyra Banks” Sinclair – of encouraging her to engage in sex work. On July 20, 2014, he murdered Jada and Tyra at Leopold Street and Lombard Street in the city.
The process of dealing with intimate partner violence is one that GTU is addressing to suit its members’ specific needs. Many times, reports would be received through the office of the social worker.
The social worker would often counsel the victims since most of them are not ready to report it to the authorities at them.
“There is a higher level of discrimination from the community outside of the trans community in terms of now to have redress matter. So, the social worker would have to counsel that person from time to time, have their confidence built up and then have them to be able to share it outside. Even when they are ready to share it outside, when they go to speak at some Police stations for redress, they reach with Police officers stigmatising them. It is not necessarily the officers taking the report but like the Special Constables in the station’s compound and so.
“Sometimes they would just turn away and not make the report, especially if they are not accompanied by the social worker and when they have those cases the social worker may speak with the officer in charge. We did some training last year with the Police officers and SASOD but the fact that they (Police Force) always have a turnover, it should be an ongoing process and because of donor funding, when you don’t have donor funding then it’s a bit challenging to get your work out there,” McEwan said.
COVID-19 has impacted the work of the GTU, significantly, because of the fact that its funding has been cut off.
“I am so grateful for the staff and the fact that GTU is a grassroots organisation and we have a lot of community members involved and the fact that it is community-driven, the passion is always there for the community,” she said.
For now, the GTU is continuing to use its volunteer pool to help the community and further educate about the issues faced and propose solutions to have them addressed.