Trinidad and Tobago gets a transgender senator for a day, but a series of tweets turns congratulations into chaos

Jowelle De Souza, the first transgender woman in Trinidad and Tobago to sit in the senate. Screenshot taken from a YouTube video of a NOW Morning Show episode on Trinidad and Tobago Television (TTT), in which she was interviewed about animal rights.

In mid-February, politician, activist and animal rights advocate Jowelle De Souza became the first transgender woman in Trinidad and Tobago's parliament when she was appointed as a temporary senator, filling in for opposition senator Jayanti Lutchmedial, who was absent due to illness. De Souza has been very outspoken about her gender identity, having undergone gender confirmation surgery back in 1993 at the age of 19.

After her contribution in the senate, where she weighed in on the 2021 Summary Courts (Amendment) Bill, De Souza told the Trinidad and Tobago Newsday that she enjoyed the experience and was grateful to have had the opportunity, adding:

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.

There were many positive social media messages about her appointment, with some calling it “historic” and “monumental.”

In a country that is still conservative, thanks in part to a strongly ingrained religious culture, the debate about De Souza's presence in parliament may well have stayed within the realm of her sexuality, as it has in past commentary about her. In 2015, certain religious leaders were very outspoken against her bid to run for political office.

However, tweets allegedly sent from her Twitter account shifted the focus from her appointment and contribution to the parliamentary debate on the 2021 Summary Courts (Amendment) Bill, to whether she was simply seeking likes and attention for her new role. It was a move that surprised many, who suggested that her activism work spoke for itself, without having to garner further endorsement.

The tweets, most of which appear to have been deleted, announced her senate appointment and tagged high-profile Twitter users like American talk show host Oprah Winfrey, president Joe Biden, and even the archived Twitter account of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Current White House press secretary Jen Psaki was also tagged:

The move caught the attention of a few Twitter users, including local journalist Kejan Haynes, who tweeted:

At least one mischievous Twitter user was quick on the draw…

…while another was upset that local celebrities weren't tagged:

De Souza soon responded to the social media commotion, saying:

It was a position that was eagerly challenged on various social media platforms:

In fact, one Twitter user alleged that this type of thing was part of De Souza's modus operandi:

In 2019, De Souza had tagged Trinidad-born rapper Nicki Minaj in a tweet about animal rights:

On her personal Facebook page, De Souza continued to insist that she was the victim of online trolls. She did find some support in the LGBTQ+ community, however. Activist Jason Jones said he was “hugely proud” of her accomplishment, and Caribbean trans activist Xoe Sazzle tweeted:

In 2014, De Souza was recognised with a national award, the Hummingbird Medal (bronze) for her efforts towards animal welfare — but as the memes continued over the Twitter faux pas, she was forced to rethink how she felt about Trinidad and Tobago's readiness to be inclusive:

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