Membership of our two main political parties does not necessarily imply that one is a racist or subscribes to an ethnic approach to politics. The leaderships of both parties seriously strive, largely unsuccessfully, to broaden the leadership and membership of their parties. That they have not been successful has not modified their efforts. In the past when there was a clearer ideological distinction between the parties, it was even easier to justify the assertion that motivations for political activism were not ethnic, at least overtly. But supporters are recalcitrant.
While no leader would tolerate ethnic slurs made by their supporters, they are always conscious of the fact that unacceptable language or characterizations in referring to another ethnic group is a common feature of Guyanese life and their supporters might falter. Strong measures should always be taken against such behavior. When Bill Maher, the white US TV host/comedian, liberal and strongly anti-racist, who donated US$1 million to Obama’s election campaign, recently said light-heartedly while interviewing someone that he should not be considered a ‘house n***’, there was a national outcry. He barely kept his job and had to apologise and publicly atone. One of his guests in his next show, the African American actor and rapper, Ice Cube, said that when that word is used in any context, except by African Americans who are now the owners of the word, and presumably are permitted to use it, ‘it’s like a knife.’ Words of racist abuse feel the same way to every race and they do reflect a ‘personal philosophy.’
Petronella Trotman is the name adopted by Ronnell Trotman, who is a transgender person. Born a male, she identifies as a female. Two famous transgenders, born as males and now identifying as women, are Caitlin Jenner, an Olympian and television personality, and Chelsea Manning, a soldier who was imprisoned for leaking information to Wikileaks, both of them of the United States. Bruce Jenner struggled for many decades and Bradley Manning, who is much younger, for many years with gender identity issues before formally and publicly adopting the female gender with which they have identified.
A transgender person suffers from a gender dysfunction. He or she identifies with the gender opposite to that assigned to him or her at birth. It has nothing to do with sex. Their sexual preferences do not necessarily change. And it is not the same as homosexuality and lesbianism, which has to do with sexual, not gender, preferences. Homosexuals and lesbians are not transgenders.
There are growing concerns within the Indian Guyanese community that the Government has embarked on large-scale discrimination against them. This is being fuelled by politically driven accusations by the PPP using the same emotive language used by the PNC/PNCR in the 1990s – ‘ethnic cleansing.’ I do not accept that there is such discrimination but the growing perception is a negative phenomenon so early in the life of the Government. It should not be dismissed because once such perceptions take hold, they are very difficult to overcome.
Guyana’s politics are organized for the expression of ethnic sentiments and are driven by ethnic considerations. The PPP governments of 1957 to 1964 were accused of racism and of being a ‘rice’ government and worse. During the PNC era of the 1970s and 1980s, the PNC governments were accused by the PPP of ‘racial and political discrimination.’ When the PNC lost the elections in 1992, one dominant theme emanating from its leaders, members and supporters was PPP’s discrimination. That theme quickly developed into accusations of ‘ethnic cleansing.’ It finally settled in to ‘marginalisation’ where it remained constant throughout PPP’s terms of office and became an accepted fact among African Guyanese. It attained great resonance when Dr. Luncheon said in evidence in Bharrat Jagdeo’s libel case against the Kaieteur News and Frederick Kissoon that no African Guyanese were qualified to be ambassadors.
In a wide-ranging, courageous and innovative decision, the Indian Supreme Court ruled a few weeks ago that transgenders, a broad category of persons with varying gender situations, identities and issues, are entitled to the protection of the Indian Constitution. It held in the case of National Legal Services v Union of India and Others that ‘transgenders’ are neither male nor female, but a third gender and that transgenders can answer ‘other’ to any oral or written question officially inquiring about their status, treated as a community discriminated against and have special and defined rights.
The decision reviewed legal developments in India and all over the world including the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, England, Pakistan and other countries. It referred to the recognition of transgenders in ancient India and relied on international conventions against discrimination on the basis of sex, which were applied on the basis that there is no conflict with municipal law, a principle previously upheld in India. In Guyana our Constitution actually mandates that our courts must take into account international conventions in their decision making.
Shanique Myrie is a Jamaican national who was detained at the Grantley Adams Airport in Barbados upon arrival on March 14, 2011 and deported the following day to Jamaica. She alleged that she was subjected to a humiliating body cavity search in insanitary conditions. Ms. Myrie instituted legal proceedings at the Caribbean Court of Justice in its original jurisdiction on January 12, 2012. She claimed that her right of entry without harassment under Article 45 of the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas (“Revised Treaty”) and a 2007 Decision of the Conference of Heads of Government (“Conference Decision”) was violated. Ms. Myrie also claimed that she was discriminated against on the ground of her nationality in violation of Articles 7 and 8 of the Revised Treaty. The Jamaican Government appeared to have put its weight and resources into the case on Ms. Myrie’s behalf.
Barbados denied all of the allegations and claimed that Ms. Myrie was rightfully refused entry because she was untruthful about the identity of her Barbadian host. Barbados also argued that the 2007 Conference Decision did not create for Ms. Myrie a legal right but that if it did, it was not an absolute right and could not be judicially reviewed. Having satisfied itself that it had jurisdiction the Court proceeded to take evidence in sittings in Jamaica and Barbados. Submissions were made at its seat in Trinidad and Tobago.