HAIRSTYLIST and animal rights activist Taylor Jowelle De Souza spoke in the Senate briefly on Tuesday as a temporary Opposition senator in place of Jayanti Lutchmedial who was absent owing to illness.
De Souza, the first transgender woman to receive a Senate appointment in Trinidad and Tobago, contributed to debate on the Summary Courts (Amendment) Bill 2021. The bill seeks to allow a court the option to consider multiple individuals or offences together in a single trial. It was eventually passed.
Slandered by some over her gender identity and for daring to stand for public office in 2015, De Souza later told Newsday she saw her stint in the Senate as a sign of progress in the society.
She thanked Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for "the opportunity and confidence she has placed in me, and her diverse and inclusive leadership."
De Souza said some cases linked to the bill were hard to understand, but she thought her colleague Senator Anil Roberts had earlier given the best explanation of the legislation.
"I also truly believe that real justice should be given to the actual person to decide whether they want to have a trial jointly or individually.
Senate President Christine Kangaloo congratulated De Souza on her maiden contribution.
Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, in winding up the debate, said the last temporary opposition senator had ended up working as the Chief Public Defender in his ministry as "the best person for the job" despite political background. He was referring to Hasine Shaikh who served as a temporary opposition senator in 2018.
Al-Rawi quipped, "I'll say to Senator De Souza, watch out. You may soon be on the other side (that is, the government benches.)"
De Souza was awarded the Hummingbird (bronze) medal in 2014 for her work in animal welfare.
She stood in the 2015 general election as an independent candidate for San Fernando West which was won by Al-Rawi, and had signalled an intention to run in 2020 but did not.
While winning some electoral support in 2015, certain voices criticised her for her gender identity, she having had gender reassignment surgery in 1993 at age 19 – the first TT national to do so.
Outside the Red House, De Souza told Newsday, "I had a great time. I gave my contribution to the bill. It's all up to the leader. I was very grateful for her to give me the opportunity.
"For now it shows that TT is maturing as a country. So I'm very grateful for both sides for having me today. I was treated really well.
"I'm just very thankful that we have a country that was able to accept people who are different."
Newsday asked if she feared any pushback on her appointment, such as she had faced in 2015.
She replied, "I am always very brave, you know. I've never backed down from anything. You know that. That's just part of life, but whatever leads would make TT better, I'm here to support that.
Asked about her championing of many issues, she said: "Animals are still going to be the first priority, and there will come others."