Cracey Fernandes and Candacie McEwan advocate for education on transgender people in Guyana through the organization, Guyana Trans United. “We believe strongly in changing hearts and minds,” said Candacie. In this article, they speak about the challenges transgender people face in Guyana and their continuous efforts to empower transgender people and improve their quality of life.
By Savita Sukul
Guyana seems to have its ups and downs when appropriately handling the community of people that identify as LGBTI, according to Cracey and Candacie from Guyana Trans United (GTU) on the obstacles and triumphs for trans people in Guyana.
Cracey tells me that there was never a focus on trans people in other organizations which led to high levels of discrimination. So, a community specifically for trans people would be preferable. Since 2012, Guyana Trans United has been creating a space where trans people can feel more comfortable in terms of becoming educated on their rights.
Candacie struggled with her identity as early as the age of 5. She said growing up amongst her siblings she was not sure if she identified as a trans person or as gay. All she knew about the LGBTI community were the stories of injustice. There were people being brutally murdered for openly coming out in Guyana. She knew she had to change the stereotype and be resilient and open.
As for Cracey, she became an activist for the LGBTI community when she saw the injustices against them when she served in prison. She was determined to not leave prison the way she entered. If you are a part of the LGBTI community and are incarcerated in Guyana, you are to be isolated and only have access when it is necessary such as for food, bath, medical, and visitation, according to Cracey. Cracey went in and forced her way through the barriers and started working and mixing with people. Since her 10 years out of prison, she has heard stories of others in her community benefiting from her actions.
GTU previously had small funding which allowed them to work with the Teachers Association to train teachers directly. Cracey and Candacie said that when they visited schools, people were appreciative for their knowledge. It was apparent that people wanted to talk about LGBTI topics but were usually dismissed by the administration. Cracey and Candacie worry for the younger generation who won’t have the education to approach questions they may have about their identity.
“People are coming from various backgrounds. They are coming to work and they are bringing their prejudices with them, they’re bringing their homophobia, bringing their religious beliefs, they are bringing all that is unnecessary to the workplace and not using what the workplace has to offer,” says Cracey. She is trying to move from one stage to another where people do not adopt these beliefs. Cracey says that unfortunately when the religious community speaks in Guyana, the government is influenced more by them.
Earlier in the year, they had a change in government. Guyana’s previous government showed some form of appreciation for the community by coming to GTU functions and helping them with venues for pride activities. They also supported small grants to start up businesses and offered funds to do HIV testing, counseling and other supportive services through the Social Contracting Initiative in which the organization is paid to reach members of their community with prevention and HIV related services.
They even worked to have a major barrier removed from Guyana’s constitution regarding crossdressing. Previously, transgender people could be penalized for how they dressed. Now, transgender people do not have to worry about being arrested or detained in public spaces for their attire. However, Cracey tells me that the new government won’t even send a representative to come to GTU events.
Nevertheless, Cracey says the crossdressing case, “could be a stepping stone for the conversation.” The conversation, being Guyana’s acceptance of the LGBTI community has definitely been opened. Something Guyana was not able to do a number of years ago was to have pride parades and pageants. In the last few years they can openly enjoy these activities and they now even have an office space for GTU. This was because of support from USAID, but most importantly COC Netherlands. Without this organization and their support from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Netherlands they couldn’t have afforded to participate in Pride.
Candacie says that she and her colleagues want to have a legacy in which basic human rights are available to every individual no matter what minority group you are a part of.
GTU has a space for people with emergency needs where they can host them for however long they can. They also provide HIV testing and counseling, referral services, navigation to services, follow ups, and documentation of human rights violations in a shared incident database. They have even been offering food hampers for COVID assistance and psychosocial/emotional support. However, they need funding to feed those that they house and a mainframe computer to connect for training.
The setup for GTU’s office includes a social worker downstairs along with HIV testing and counseling, a kitchen upstairs for preparing meals and classes and another room where they host people in emergency situations. They hope to one day have a space outside the building for anyone who is being threatened since most people know where the office is located. Based on the availability of funds, GTU also offers floral, sewing, and cooking classes. Candacie is usually there for the cooking classes either assisting in teaching or as support.
Along with her activism, Candacie also loves to cook. “I love to cook for a lot of persons. I enjoy bulk food and such forth,” she said with a smile on her face. She recounted an endearing story of how at an early age she was trying to fall in love with a young man at an ashram. So, she assisted in cooking there. Her grandmother had told her before that, “A way to a man’s heart is his stomach”.
Cooking in itself is a unifying activity as chefs usually cook for other people. Perhaps it is not only a man whose heart is ignited by his stomach as Candacie’s grandmother said. Through cooking people are able to connect and through eating people are able to accept the food in front of them and experience the taste with the people around them.
When asked about cooking, Candacie said, “I just enjoy and share out”. She shares for everyone and anyone.
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