Posted September 1st, 2012 Her words were not nearly as bold as recent statements by other Caribbean prime ministers about lesbian and gay equality (whether Portia Simpson Miller in Jamaica's recent election campaign, the new Bahamian PM Perry Christie as an Opposition leader challenging his predecessor, St. Kitts-Nevis's Denzil Douglas in international forums since 2006, Barbados's Freundel Stuart while Attorney General, or even Guyana's Sam Hinds a few weeks ago). In fact they never mentioned sexual citizenship at all.
But in a 50th Independence anniversary address, Trinidad and Tobago's prime minister Kamla Persad Bissessar, whose government has been criticised as downplaying the anniversary to not highlight the Opposition PNM's role in winning independence, told her nation's people they "are living in an exciting new chapter and it’s in your power to carry our twin-island nation forward as a pioneer in our region". In a speech that began with an evocation of "democracy and the rule of law and…the belief that all men and women are created equal and endowed with inalienable rights", she committed "to pursue specific ways to begin a transformation of our society" through "a more mature politics which is no longer defined by religion among other factors, "but by policy that is…even-handed and all inclusive", reminded the nation: "We have to continuously work for the changes we seek", and invoked the legacy of the nation's founders "to be tenacious and brave".
She celebrated the country's "vision and courage to recognize that in order to survive as a small, independent nation of such remarkable diversity, we needed to embody and epitomize the spirit and character of democracy in its truest form – respect, tolerance and a determination to protect and safeguard our democracy and our sacred human rights and to have the willpower to let this forever be our hallmark as a nation" and declared: "We must become a nation more committed to upholding human rights."
She repeatedly called for "soul searching on where we might have done better and what kind of nation we must create", questioned "what will be our legacy of the next fifty years" and "will we be heralded as the visionaries", and appealed to Trinidad and Tobago's sense of itself as "a dynamic, trail-blazing nation in our region". And she returned more than once to the admission that "For far too long some of our citizens have sat on the sidelines watching so called development take place while their lives remain relatively unchanged."
"Society was ready to embrace progress in 1962", she reminded, continuing, "fifty years on, we…are ready to advance our democracy." Invoking a past in which people had "risen up against systems of oppression based on racial and social inequality" and "protested against unfairness, injustice and exploitation", she urged "we must now cast off the shackles of discrimination, inequity and inequality which persist in our beloved land".
"Through a number of state mechanisms", she promised, "we will ensure that the Trinidad and Tobago of the future is one where no one is the victim of stigmatisation or prejudice, and where everyone is afforded equal rights and opportunities…This is the legacy I wish to leave as we begin this new period in our history."