After coming under fire in the past by members and supporters of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community for not allowing transgender persons to enter his courtroom while cross-dressed, Magistrate Dylon Bess yesterday appeared to back down from his previous stand.
“Today we saw a number of transgender women presenting completely in female attire. Twinkle was in a dress. Some of them were dressed, I would say in a unisex manner—pants and t-shirt—but still wearing long hair, earrings and makeup in some instances and so on [and] were allowed to enter court,” Joel Simpson, Managing Director of the Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) commented yesterday.
Simpson, along with members of Guyana Trans United (GTU), SASOD and the Faculty of Law, University of the West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) were present at the Georgetown Magistrates Court for the hearing of Petronella, born Ronell Trotman, who is the virtual complainant in an assault case with a Jamoul Franklin.
According to a statement sent out by the three groups, Petronella was allegedly physically assaulted on January 26, 2017 by an acquaintance and the matter was reported to the Brickdam police station. It went on to state that on January 31, she made an appearance at the city court dressed in female attire but Magistrate Bess had refused to address the matter. It was further stated that the magistrate asked that on Petronella’s return to court on the next occasion, she do so dressed in pants and a shirt and without earrings. Failing to do so would result in her being dealt with accordingly.
At yesterday’s court hearing, Petronella wore unisex clothing—a pair of jeans and t-shirt. Her alleged assailant was granted a reduction in bail from $50,000 to $40,000 and the matter was adjourned to February 27 for commencement of trial.
Simpson noted that there were three incidents in March, 2016, involving transgender women where Magistrate Bess denied them the opportunity to enter the courtroom. “We don’t think it’s enough to only facilitate and tolerate access when there’s media attention or when activists are in attendance in court. Magistrate Bess needs to understand that the Guyana constitution guarantees the right to equality before the law for all persons regardless of who you are,” Simpson said.
In April, 2016, the LGBT community held a talk in observance of International Transgender day of Visibility during which this very issue was addressed.
At the talk, organised by SASOD and the USAID’s Advancing Partners and Communities (APC) Guyana Project, it was noted that the litigant, David Bissoon, known as “Twinkle,” had been disallowed from entering Magistrate Bess’ courtroom on three separate occasions, and on the third occurrence, she, along with other members of the LGBT community took to the streets to protest what is purported to be a discriminatory stance taken by the magistrate. The matter was subsequently dismissed.
Simpson had agreed that the issue goes deeper than simply a matter of cross-dressing. For him, the deeper issue is the denial of a more specific kind of access to trans-people, whom he said tend to face a high degree of hate crimes and violence. “…Now we have a situation where an officer of the court is saying you can’t come to court as who you are. For me, the issue there is not even about cross-dressing, it’s about accessing justice.”