Indian flag

India’s new transgender rights bill is moving in the wrong direction

The Indian government is currently in the process of passing a piece of legislation that would drastically affect the lives of trans and gender diverse people in the country. The Transgender Persons Bill was passed by India’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, on Monday 17th December 2018 in spite of multiple protests by the community against the law. There are multiple issues with the Bill including how it defines who a trans person is, the medicalised process of gender recognition and the impact it will have on the livelihoods of trans people.

The Bill originally defined a trans person as someone who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned at their birth and who is neither “fully” male or female, a “combination” of both or neither. After outrage from the community, this has thankfully been amended but the current definition is still worrying. Instead of simply using “someone who doesn’t identify with the gender assigned at their birth,” the Bill lists multiple identities such as trans men and trans women, intersex and genderqueer people and people with socio-cultural identities such as hijra. The danger is that this could be interpreted to protect only those identities mentioned specifically, rather than being taken to be inclusive of all gender diverse people.

This definition is not the only problematic part of the Bill. Although it introduces a method for legal recognition of a change of gender, the pathway it would provide is very medicalised and sets up a two-tier system that prioritises people who have medically transitioned and undergone bottom surgery. For those who cannot provide evidence that they have had bottom surgery, their application to change their legal gender would go before a screening committee, similar to the Gender Recognition Panels that we are currently trying to reform in the UK.

Additionally, only people who have had bottom surgery could be recognised as male or female. If you were forced to submit your application to the screening panel, you would be recognised in a separate third category. This contravenes both current thinking and a 2014 Indian Supreme Court Judgement that trans people should have the right to self identify. A pathway for legal recognition should respect people’s autonomy while including a legal category of gender beyond the binary choices of male and female. While the Bill does include legal recognition outside of the binary, it enforces a dated and essentialist view of gender that would refuse to recognise many trans men and trans women as their authentic selves. It also puts a cost barrier in the way of many people who cannot afford surgery or lack medical insurance that would cover it, disproportionately affecting the most impoverished people in the community.

It is doubtful that many people would have the option of bypassing the screening panel pathway. The majority of trans and gender diverse people in India support themselves by begging as they are unable to find employment due to discrimination in society and the workplace. It is extremely worrying that the Bill will in fact ban begging specifically by trans and gender diverse people but it will not introduce any employment protections. If people are still facing rampant discrimination that stops them from finding work and they cannot support themselves as they currently are, by begging, how will they survive? This is why many are calling the Bill and this section in particular a death sentence for many in the community.

The LGBTQ+ community in India won a tremendous victory in 2018 with the decriminalisation of homosexuality. But as often happens, trans people are at risk of being left behind. The Bill has not become law yet and protests continue to be held against it, as they have been for over a year. There have already been breakthroughs, such as the changing of the first draft of the Bill’s definition of a trans person. We hope that this triumphant trend continues in 2019 so that trans and gender diverse people in India are granted the protection they deserve and a pathway of legal recognition that respects their dignity.

Advertisements

Policy Breakthroughs in 2018

2018 was a turbulent year for our community.

We faced challenges from the invigorated far-right but we also saw progress all over the world. It has felt discouraging at points to see a backlash in society after the ‘Trans Tipping Point’ in 2015. Yet we still saw incredible wins in a number of areas. When many loud voices in the media are shouting you down it can be easy to lose sight of the gains we have made as a community. So we’re leaving the negativity in 2018 and going into 2019 looking back at 3 breakthroughs in policy around the world  in the last 12 months:

  1. The Scottish GRA Consultation

Skimming over the media coverage surrounding the Gender Recognition Act Consultation in England and Wales, we’re going to focus on the results from the Scottish equivalent that were released in September. The Scottish Consultation looked at many of the same issues as Westminster’s such as making the process of legal recognition less bureaucratic, lowering the age limit for applications and making the process inclusive of non-binary people. But it was held a few months earlier, closing in March 2018. We haven’t received a detailed report on the consultation but the Scottish Government have released a very encouraging letter with a preliminary evaluation of the responses. Excitingly, a majority of respondents agreed with the Scottish Government’s proposals to demedicalise the process of legal recognition. There was also majority support to lower the age limit so young people aged 16 and 17 can change the gender marker on their birth certificate. Finally, almost two thirds of people were on board with the introduction of legal recognition for non-binary people!

2. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act

Pakistan passed one of the world’s most progressive pieces of legislation relating to trans rights in May. The trans community in Pakistan faces severe levels of discrimination with many people struggling to find employment. The government had previously brought in legal recognition of the khawaja sira, a gender-diverse community who have been part of South Asian society for centuries, with the introduction of an additional sex/gender marker on official documentation. The 2018 Act allows any trans person to not only self-identify under the additional gender marker, but also to self-identify as any gender. It has also established safe houses for trans people and created provisions for physical and mental healthcare for the community.

3. Non-Binary Recognition in the USA

In the face of the Trump administration’s attempted rollback of trans rights, there have been many positive policy changes at state level in the USA. People in Washington, Oregon, Maine, Arkansas and Colorado can now apply for identification documents that recognise people outside of the gender binary. Similar policies will be introduced in Massachusetts and California in 2019. At a federal level, Dana Zzym who brought a case against the Colorado State Government for its refusal to issue a driving license without an M or F marker, won a case against the US State Department with the judge ruling that the department’s refusal to issue a passport a passport without an M or F marker exceeded its authority.

In addition to the above progress in policy seen around the world, we’ve also seen a leap forward in trans representation in the media with trans characters in Supergirl and Emmerdale and the release of Pose featuring 50 trans characters, with the largest cast of trans actors for a TV series and a trans producer!

Our community has continued to see amazing progress in terms of policies, media and culture. We are supported by hundreds of thousands of allies around the world. If you look at all the ground we’ve gained over the last 12 months, there is a lot to be proud of and we can be hopeful looking forward to 2019.

From all of us at Gendered Intelligence, Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

New guidance for LGBTQI fans at the World Cup

New guidance for LGBTQI+ fans travelling to the World Cup in Russia

In the next few weeks, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will be held in Russia. Fans travelling to Russia for the World Cup can find guidance specifically for LGBTQI+ people in the Football Supporters’ Federation’s Free Lions Guide. The guide is a collaboration between FSF, the FA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. A number of LGBTQI+ organisations, including Gendered Intelligence, were consulted on the content of the guide.

To assess the risks for travelling to Russia for the World Cup, it is useful to know more about the situation for LGBTQI+ people there.

Five years ago the LGBT propaganda law was passed which prohibits the promotion of “non-traditional” values to children. The bill is purposefully vague and its use is highly unstandardised. At its extreme, it could be used to effectively ban the queer rights movement and any expression of queer identity in public. There are also no anti-discrimination laws or specifics protections for the community so while being LGBTQI+ isn’t criminalised and people aren’t persecuted against in the vast majority of the country, life can be extremely difficult.

The understanding of what “non-traditional” could mean is crucial for understanding the impact of these laws and policies on people’s lives. For example, there are mechanisms for trans people to change their names, however, if a trans man wanted to change his name to one regarded as “traditionally masculine” there would be a slim chance of his attempts being successful. Whether or not he succeeded would be determined by the officials overseeing the procedure and be subject to their views. Likewise, applications to change one’s legal gender vary depending on the court overseeing the case. To change one’s gender, a medical diagnosis of “transexualism” is required but this is also one of the “mental disorders” that can be used to deny someone a driver’s license. For non-binary people, there is no form of recognition available outside of the gender binary.

In addition to the issues at the state level, the mainstream view of the general public is much more hostile to the community than in the West. However, this does vary considerably by region and thus, so do the experiences of LGBTQI+ people from different parts of the Federation. St Petersburg is the most liberal city in Russia and there are LGBTQI+ venues, although like in the West, most are aimed are cis gay men. On the other hand, the situation in the North Caucasus and Chechnya in particular is completely different.

While the Chechen government’s persecution against (perceived) gay cis men has been well documented, it has affected people of all gender and sexual minorities. Trans women have been subject to similar levels of violence as gay men. From the society’s perspective, they are seen as one and the same and denied their womanhood. As is normal around the globe, their stories have received much less coverage in the media. Queer cis women have also been targets of violence and persecution, however this is much more likely to come from within their own family in the form of honour-based violence rather than from the authorities. This is a different experience to most gay men and trans women who have been targeted more heavily by the regional government. There is no readily available information concerning the experiences of trans men and non-binary people.

As always, trans voices are going unheard and there is a danger that the experiences of trans people in Russia, and the hardships they face, will be forgotten amid the excitement of the World Cup. Instead there must be continued pressure on the Russian government to lift the propaganda law and properly investigate the atrocities perpetrated in Chechnya. While interest from the general public has waned, there is ongoing effort to change the situation such as lobbying from Amnesty International and work to support and evacuate LGBTQI+ people from Chechnya by ILGA-Europe and the Russian LGBT Network.

All those attending a game in Russia will receive a copy of the FSF’s Free Lions Guide guide with their tickets and it is also available here.

To see the latest update from Amnesty International on the Chechen Purge click here.

To support ILGA-Europe or the Russian LGBT Network click here or here.

What’s it like being a trans man in Pakistan?

While gender recognition reform is on the cards in the UK, a historic trans rights bill has received approval in Pakistan.

The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017 will guarantee self-declaration of gender without the approval of a doctor or psychiatrist. Transgender people now possess the same rights as every other citizen under the Pakistani constitution.

Gendered Intelligence spoke to Pakistani activist and trans man Mani about the current developments in legal protection and what it’s like to be a trans man in Pakistan.

The media reported that you are the first trans man in Pakistan to legally change your identity card. You have made history! How was the process of changing your identity card?

Yes, I’m the first transgender man to legally change his identity card and the process was not very easy; sometimes it was so hard to deal with.

I’m sorry I can’t share the whole process because if it gets disclosed, people will start misusing it and then the authorities will be alerted and maybe start asking people to go through a more difficult process, which I don’t want.

At this point in time I’m in the process of changing another trans man’s identity card and have just changed one more gender marker for a trans man. I’m following a one at a time method so things will go smoothly, but you can’t imagine that even following this method we are still facing challenges.

Briefly, I will say that I challenged their policy and launched a case against them and after a long struggle I won and got my card in my preferred gender.

Khawaja sira* and trans women in Pakistan have been prominent in campaigning for –  and achieving – rights such as the ability to change legal gender (since 2010) and recognition of a third gender. Trans men are no so visible in the public eye. What is the situation for trans men in Pakistan?

So only khawaja sira identified persons got legal gender recognition after 2010 – not even trans women.

Yes, we have very low visibility of trans men in Pakistan because being born in a female body in country like Pakistan is not so easy. Families of trans men in Pakistan are overprotective towards us and that’s why we don’t have liberty to do something for our own selves. Trans men are scared to come out openly because of fear attached to society, but I’m trying hard to find more and more trans men, which is not an easy task.  I know few trans men and most of them are living with their families, while I also know very few trans men who are independent, but life is not very easy for the trans men who are living alone with a female identity.

(* Khawaja sira are Pakistan’s traditional ‘third gender’ community. They have been at the forefront of fighting for legal recognition. Under British colonialism, khawaja sira communities in South Asia were dehumanised and criminalised – the effects of which can be felt to this day. In the past decade, khawaja sira activists have won the the right to inherit property, be counted in the census and obtain ID cards that list them as third gender)

In December, the Senate Functional Committee on Human Rights approved Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017. What difference will the bill make to trans people in Pakistan?

So the Bill has been approved by the Senate and still needs to be approved by National Assembly so fingers crossed for it!

Once it gets passed, the situation will be totally different from the current situation. If it gets passed in its current form then trans people will not need any medical documents to have access to education, health etc, but it will take time to be implemented as it is.

(† At the time of our interview, the Bill had not yet been passed by the National Assembly)

What would you like trans people in the UK to know about being trans in Pakistan?

Of course I want everybody to know about the situation of trans people in Pakistan. Maybe I sound biased, but the issues and challenges faced by trans men are worse. I have explained some issues above, but the issues which are most challenging in my opinion are financial issues. Trans men don’t like doing a job which forces them to come to work in women’s clothes. Another thing is that families don’t allow them to go out and earn money, which affects their medical transition and it is affecting their mental health very badly.

What are you looking forward to in 2018?

I’m looking for a more progressive society in 2018 and not only for khawaja sira and trans women people but for trans men too. I’m hoping that the Bill will bring good changes in society.

NB: This interview has been edited for clarity.

Photo credit: Faizan Fiaz