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 have to do with sexual, not gender, preferences. Homosexuals and lesbians are not transgenders.
Transgenders and their rights are recognized in many developed countries since the LGBTQ revolution started in the 1970s or earlier. Some developing countries are catching up slowly. The Indian Supreme Court in the case of National Legal Services Authority v Union of India decided in 2013 that transgender people are a third gender, that people are entitled to self identify as male, female or third-gender and that they are all protected by the fundamental rights provisions of the Indian Constitution. However, even though India is a socially conservative country, it has always recognized Hijras, transgenders who are born males, and its Supreme Court has always been progressive.
In an oblique form the issue of transgender rights occupied the attention of our courts in what became popularly known as the “cross dressing case.” Both former Chief Justice (ag) Ian Chang and former Chancellor (ag) Carl Singh stressed in their decisions that ‘cross dressing’ is not illegal. It is only illegal when done for an immoral purpose. The transgender persons were charged with criminal offences under legal provisions which created a criminal offence for ‘cross dressing’ for an immoral purpose.
They pleaded guilty and penalties were imposed. They were not charged for being transgender persons or ‘cross dressing’ per se. It was held that their constitutional rights were not violated.
It appears that Petronella Trotman was the virtual complainant in a case in which she alleged that she was assaulted. It is not clear how Magistrate Dylon Bess knew that she was born a man. It could be that the name used in the court papers was her male name. But on the first occasion the Magistrate instructed Petronella to dress like a man or he will take steps.
Petronella declined to dress like a man and on the next two occasions, she was not permitted to enter the courtroom. On the second of the two occasions the Magistrate dismissed the case against her. On both occasions the Magistrate ordered that the courtroom be vacated.
I am sure that Magistrate Bess thought that what he was doing was right. I believe that he felt that he was upholding the law and probably public morality as well. But Petronella committed no wrong. She was the wronged party. Her allegation was that someone had assaulted her. She would have made a report to the police.
She then attended court to seek the justice that she believed that she was entitled to. But Magistrate Bess did not believe that she was entitled to justice if she was not dressed like a man. Magistrate Bess was grievously wrong and a grave injustice was done to Petronella Trotman who only appeared to have offended the sensibilities of His Worship.
This is no small matter. Petronella’s rights were seriously violated. It is hoped that the Director of Public Prosecutions will take over this matter, appeal the decision and ensure that justice is done to a law-abiding citizen who was refused justice for no justifiable reason.
While all this was going on and being fully publicized in the press, it does not appear that any official senior to the Magistrate made any effort to correct him. Of course, I could be mistaken because if this was done it would not have happened in the glare of publicity. And Magistrate Bess could have properly declined to accept such advice.
While no one actually knows the numbers, there must a large number of transgenders in Guyana. What is worse is that most of them, including children and teenagers, have to suffer in silence because they are objects of derision or scorn. Those who pay attention know that the torment and suffering are great and lead in many cases to suicide or attempted suicide.
The authorities pay little attention to these profound social issues. They attract little or no sympathy from officialdom, even in its spare time. These issues attract few people at demonstrations. Consequently, ancient laws remain on the statute books, perpetuating an atmosphere of hostility and mockery to the LGBTQ community whose rights remain unaddressed. Like Petronella, they continue to be assaulted, discriminated against, victimized, derided and scorned for harming no one and doing nothing wrong. It is time that the authorities pay attention.