Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 5th 2015 Contents 16 UWI TODAY -- SUNDAY 5TH JULY, 2015
Krystal Ghisyawan is a PhD candidate in Sociology whose work focuses on women in same-sex relationships in Trinidad,
their space-making practices and the politics of their identity.
"Tolerance as an ethical virtue does not require us to
accept other people's choices, but it does require us to
respect those choices."
If no other point is retained from Judge Helen
Whitener's address this one above should be.
Judge Whitener channeled Dr Eric William when she
de ned "tolerance," one of our nation's watchwords and
underscored its necessity to the functioning of a healthy
democracy as it allows us to disagree about controversial
issues and debate our deepest di erences in a civil and
nonviolent manner. A disposition of tolerance she said,
is necessary for the development of enlightened and just
policies for resolving contested moral issues, such as
disability rights, capital punishment, sexual rights, AIDS
and HIV issues and abortion. It was tting that though
hosted by the US Embassy and moderated by journalist,
Dr Sheila Rampersad, she delivered this message at Daaga
Auditorium, on the St Augustine campus of e UWI -- the
seat of higher education and progressive thinking.
Using the words of Dr Eric Williams, Judge Whitener
outlined democracy as he saw it -- the recognition of the
rights of others; equal opportunities for all in education
and employment; the protection of the weak against the
strong; and the government's responsibility to protect
citizens from the arbitrary exercise of power. Questioning
whether these founding principles were in fact being
observed in the country today, she called on Prime
Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to take homophobic
laws o the books.
She also endorsed the work of local activists groups,
like the Silver Lining Foundation which the Judge felt was
indicative of an awareness of the shortcomings regarding
the equal treatment of ALL citizens. e Foundation was
established a er the suicide of a young man who was
bullied for being gay. If the society was truly tolerant, the
Foundation would not need to exist she opined.
A highlight of the talk was when Judge Whitener's
mother, Mrs Joyce Pierre, explained what it was like being
a Caribbean woman and having a gay child. " ese are
people and have their own life to live. ey've taken a
choice, I don't even know if it's a choice. It was shocking
to me but it is a journey," she said.
is journey is one from a place of ignorance (not
knowing), intolerance (not accepting) and shame, to one
of knowledge, understanding and tolerance. Mrs Pierre
highlighted the need for parents to be willing to learn from
their children, and to take this journey together, by talking
through issues of sexuality. Ultimately, parents will face
the question "Will I lose my child?" and must determine
if trying to maintain dominant intolerant attitudes and
behaviours is worth the loss of emotional ties and family.
Before an audience of local activists, academics,
lawyers and social workers who work with one or more
disenfranchised groups, Judge Whitener acknowledged
that she had little knowledge of our current political state
and was instead asking: if the nation is proud of her, and
her accomplishments as a black, Trinidad-born and raised,
openly gay woman, who at age 50 was the youngest person
to sit at the highest bench of the United States legal system,
why is it not proud of all of its LGBTQI population?
(Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning,
Intersex -- LGBTQI is the acronym commonly used, for
example, in the US when Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton
said that LGBTQI rights are part of the US's Human rights
policy and foreign policy interests)
Yet she was not speaking solely from an LGBTQI
rights perspective, rather on a human rights platform
which includes all people in disenfranchised positions;
emphasising the need for building coalitions across
di erences be it sexual orientation, (dis)ability, (dis)ease,
race, class, and ethnicity.
Drawing on her professional training as a judge, she
believed that legislative change was urgently needed to
recognise innate rights, to secure space at the table for all
citizens, asking, "If not now, when?"
If not now -- when?
BY KRYSTAL GHISYAWAN
Ultimately, parents will face the question "Will I lose my child?"
and must determine if trying to maintain dominant intolerant attitudes
and behaviours is worth the loss of emotional ties and family.
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