Tag Archives: india

International Update: An Indian Transgender Newsreader and an African Transgender Poster Girl

I have two international updates for you all, dear readers, to remind us of the global struggle for our rights, and of the global narrative of our loosely interwoven stories.

The first news article which I’m sharing is the story of Padmini Prakashi, India’s first transgender television presenter. Happily married with an adopted son and a good job, Padmini is now campaigning for free sexual reassignment surgery (SRS) for all transgender Indians. To quote her from the article:

‘We’re born into the wrong body, it’s not our fault,’ she said. ‘I know so many transgenders who are struggling to pay for surgery. Their lives are frozen in time because of the costs involved. This is not our fault; free surgery should be available for all. It should be our right, along with counselling[sic] and guidance classes and education on sexual diseases. We’re not given any help, no one is trying to assist our community.’

My second article tells the story of Tiwonge Chimbalanga, who recently fled to Africa to avoid a 14-year sentence in her home country of Malawi over becoming engaged to a man.

Tiwonge’s story is a different one, including a belief that her earlier existence as a man was due to a witch’s curse, and when a tribal healer cured her of the curse, she felt she had to start living as a woman. Her trial (where she was forced to attend despite being sick with malaria) was ended when the President, under intense internationally pressure, decided to forgive her “crime.” Unfortunately her boyfriend soon left her for a prostitute, and she now lives on the verge of complete poverty in South Africa, having fled intense discrimination from her village in Malawi.

Two women on different continents, both transgender, and both fighting for transgender rights – in the case of Padmini for her community, and in the case of Tiwonge for herself.

India Starts its First Ever Transgender Ad Campaign

India-Hijra-01
India is home to the largest population of transgender and third-gender persons (hijra) on the planet, with estimates ranging from 1.2 million to 5 million in total. And ironically, in a nation with the largest transgender population in the world, discrimination against them is rampant. While not to the level of countries such as Saudi Arabia or Qatar, the hijra of India face bans on jobs, housing, health care, and even free travel. Under the ancient caste system of India the hijra they are considered to be nearly of an untouchable level, and relegated to slum communities at the edge of cities.

Ignorant Westerners come back with a rosy picture of hijra, as they often sing and perform at weddings, are present as buskers on trains and buses, hold street performances and festivals, and participate in cultural festivals. But when the music stops, they return to their slums and desperate poverty.

Over the last few years India has made some small but significant efforts to improve the lives of the hijra, most recently giving them third-gender identification cards to allow them to participate in the electoral process. Now the Indian government will be running a series of newspaper and television advertisements to highlight the problems and rights of the hijra. Documentary maker and transgender activist Priya Babu is responsible for the content of the advertisements, and has this to say about the effort.

“We decided that we must make society understand the issues of the transgender community before embarking on a framework of schemes,” Babu said.

“People need to understand that in their everyday lives they make comments and statements that, even if made in jest, could be really embarrassing for people with alternative sexualities. They have to understand that people like us are not abnormal. They can be family-oriented, religious, normal human beings who love, hate, cry and laugh like anyone else.”

Babu added: “I believe that tastefully done (ads) in the public service videos, which people will watch in their own homes with their children and parents, will help change mindsets to a degree.”

You may read more at the link below.

Transgender ad campaign.

Indian Hijra form The Seatbelt Crew

SeatbeltCrewI couldn’t resist this lighthearted news…essentially, a group of hijra (third-gender Indians, who are similar to but not exactly the same as transgender persons) has been contracted to perform a skit at traffic lights to remind drivers to buckle their seat belts. There is a short video clip which is definitely worth watching.

A Group Of Transgenders At A Traffic Signal Did Something Amazing You Must Never Forget.

Countries Introduce Gender-neutral Policies for Transgender Persons

India_Transgender
Some bloggers have been noting several recent advances in transgender rights around the world, and have been declaring that these countries are so much more advanced than the United States. But one really must take the whole picture of how transgender people are treated, not just one or two factors. Yes here in the good ol’ U-S-of-A we are lagging behind in several areas of transgender acceptance – but we also do have a basic legal structure and set of Constitutional protections which many countries which seem much more open to transgender persons appear to have.

For example, my friend Shoshana sent me this link to advances made recently in India, where Indian’s Supreme Court has in a landmark ruling recognized transgender people as a third gender. Quoting:

“It is the right of every human being to choose their gender,” it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.

It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities.

But remember, homosexuality is still a crime in India, and so this brings into play a troubling issue – are transgender persons only allowed to have sex with men and women, but not other transgender persons?

Hijra_BBC
And note that the transgender persons of India, many (but not all – this is important) of whom are hijra, are not exactly living happily there. Even a cursory study of the lives of the hijra finds that they are still and may well be for decades an oppressed underclass. Also from the BBC article:

Their fall from grace started in the 18th Century during the British colonial rule when the Criminal Tribes Act of 1871 categorised the entire transgender community as “criminals” who were “addicted” to committing serious crimes. They were arrested for dressing in women’s clothing or dancing or playing music in public places, and for indulging in gay sex.

After Independence, the law was repealed in 1949, but mistrust of the transgender community has continued. Even today, they remain socially excluded, living on the fringes of society, in ghettoised communities, harassed by the police and abused by the public. Most make a living by singing and dancing at weddings or to celebrate child birth, many have moved to begging and prostitution.

Stepping back to the CNN article on the subject (linked below), they report that several countries have passed laws to protect the rights of transgender persons, including Australia, Argentina, Uruguay, and Portugal. Meanwhile, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have also worked hard to improve transgender rights. So yes there is a lot of progress here, but the United States has been advancing rapidly as well on innumerable transgender fronts. I like to tell the audiences I speak to that transgender rights have advanced more in the last 5 years than in the last 500, and I feel that might even be underselling the situation somewhat.

It still can really suck to be transgender in America, but it sucks less than ever before.

Countries introduce gender-neutral policies for transgender community – CNN.com.

Two Steps Backwards (and one Update) for Same-Sex Marriage

IndiaCourt
Same-sex marriage is an issue which is closely linked with transgender civil rights, as somewhere from 33-70% of transgender persons identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Just in the past week there have been two significant defeats for same-sex marriage in the world, which I thought I would report on.

First, in India their Supreme Court has upheld a colonial-era law which criminalizes homosexuality by a 10-year prison term. The Court essentially said there was no constitutional protection for homosexuality, and that lawmakers were the ones to decriminalize it. This brings up an interesting question, in that given the hijra of India often identify as “third gender”, I wonder if a lower court will find that a hijra (who is typically an XY male) can marry either a man or a woman.

Second, in Australia we have their Supreme Court going out of its way to overturn a same-sex marriage law passed in the Australian Capital Territory. Basically, this case is a “states rights versus national rights” issue, and the Court decided here that there was no over-riding civil rights protection for same-sex marriage, and therefore the federal law banning same-sex marriage takes precedence.

Finally, in more positive news, Ireland appears to be headed for a vote on same-sex marriage in 2015. It’s going to be a close vote by most news reports I’ve read, with the conservative religious rural areas strongly against. The media campaigns have started, and this is a sweet video spot which is running in Ireland now.