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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.

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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!

Gender Recognition Act 2004 in Scotland

What does Scotland think about gender recognition?

The Scottish Government have released an update following their recent consultation on the Gender Recognition Act 2004 which closed in March 2018. The letter published on their website includes a brief analysis of the results to some of the key questions posed to the public. Gender recognition is a devolved area of law in Scotland and reforms to the GRA 2004 are an ongoing conversation in both Westminster and Holyrood.

The first results from the consultation are positive and suggest that a significant number of people are in favour of making gender recognition less restrictive, to include young trans people under 18 and non-binary people.

Over fifteen and a half thousand responses were received, including submissions from 162 organisations covering a wide range of interests from trans and wider LGBTQ community groups, women’s groups and religious bodies. Excitingly, a majority of people who responded supported the Scottish Government’s proposal of a demedicalised model of gender recognition that does not rely on the approval of a panel of “experts”.

Under this model, Scotland would introduce reforms similar to those seen in Ireland and Canada where people do not need evidence from a medical professional to change their legal gender. The model that we would be most likely to see in the UK would be statutory declaration, where people would sign a legal document in front of a witness such as a solicitor.

There was also an encouraging result for young people aged 16 and 17. A majority of submissions agreed that these young people who are old enough to marry, join the army and vote in Scotland, should also be able to change their legal gender.

For children up to the age of 16, less than a third of respondents said they should remain excluded from being able to have their legal gender changed, with this figure rising to just over a third for children under the age of 12. Almost a quarter of people thought a capable child under 16 should be able to apply to change their gender and a similar number of people thought children should be able to apply with parental agreement.

Finally, almost two thirds of respondents agreed that non-binary people deserve legal recognition in Scotland. This would also mirror reforms seen in places such as in Australia, New Zealand and parts of the USA. A similar figure also thought the Equality Act 2010 should be amended to include all non-binary people in its protections against discrimination. Currently, the protected characteristic is ‘gender reassignment’, not gender identity, which was written to cover people undergoing a medical pathway of transition and is therefore not inclusive of all trans people.

The results of the Scottish consultation are an encouraging indicator that there is an appetite to reform laws to better include trans and non-binary people in parts of the UK. 14 years ago, the GRA 2004 was one of the most progressive pieces of legislation for trans people in the world. The results from this consultation show that spirit of inclusion is still alive and that change is possible.

There are only a few weeks until the English consultation closes. It is so important that trans people, their families and their friends make sure their voices are heard. We have a once in a generation opportunity to make legal gender recognition easier, more affordable and demedicalise the process.

If you haven’t yet submitted a response but are finding the process a little confusing, we will be running a drop in on the 6th October where you can fill out the consultation with support from our staff and volunteers. We also have online guidance to help you respond to the key questions.

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