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A deeper look into Kerala’s comprehensive transgender policy

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Courtesy: Youth Ki Awaaz
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By Swarnima Bhattacharya

New Delhi: During its first International Conference on Gender Equality, Kerala launched the country’s first transgender (TG) policy, placing itself at the vanguard of positive change in terms of gender and sexuality. The Minister for Social Welfare KM Muneer handed over the first copy of the document to noted TG activist Akkai Padmashali during the inaugural event.

This follows from a Supreme Court directive of 2014 which recognises transgenders as the ‘third gender’, and calls upon all the states to frame policies, schemes and legislations which would foster inclusivity and sensitisation. What is laudable about the step taken by Kerala is that it has done much more than putting into place a cosmetic dossier of good intentions.

More Than A Few Necessary Provisions

Most importantly, taking off from what the Supreme Court ruled, the policy recognises and upholds the transgender people’s right to self-identify and cross-dress. The policy also reiterates the SC ruling that the dehumanising term ‘Third Gender’ be replaced in official parlance by ‘Transgender’. Provosions will soon be made for TG people to make corresponding changes in all their official I-cards, where they can assign themselves any gender they choose to. This addresses some of the basic questions of identity the TG community battles with, regarding nomenclature and self-perception.

The beneficiaries of the policy are all groups of transgenders, including trans men, trans women and intersex individuals. Their right to equality, to live without violence and their freedom of speech and expression.

The policy views the TG community as educationally and socially backward, and paves way for reservations and inclusions in education, employment, housing schemes. Suitable amendments and provisions have been asked to be made in the Indira Awas Yojana in order to include TG people.

Similar amendments have also been sought in laws governing domestic violence, especially Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, where only women have been recognised as the victims. Changes have also been sought in the Juvenile Justice Act in order to address violence on “gender non-confirming youth”.

In fact, the phrase “gender non-confirming” appears at several places in the document, which is heartening, as it displays an acceptance of the nuances of gender fluidity. In fact, the policy places a high premium on educating the parents about “gender non-confirming children”.

The policy directs schools to sensitise its teachers, students and non-teaching staff on gender and sexuality by enlisting the help of NGOs and Community Based Organisations (CBOs). Such collaborative projects on awareness and sensitisation have also been encouraged in police training institutes and programs.

Besides setting up information and crisis prevention centres, a 24-hour helpline will also be set up with the help of NGOs and CBOs working in the field. In order to facilitate ease of access in public spaces, public washrooms shall now have separate booths transgenders, along with those for women and men.

In order to bring about a more holistic rehabilitation, the policy seeks to make provisions for a monthly pension for destitute transgender people. Legislations are sought to be framed which will include their rights regarding marriage, partnership, live-in arrangements and parenting. This is all more praiseworthy because it places the TG people in the realm of normative social living.

Many Hits, Few Misses

While Kerala’s transgender policy touches upon several aspects of gender dysphoria, many TG activists bemoan that discriminatory acts such as 377 still exist.

“It’s boiling down to ensuring dignity for transgenders but how can we have that as long as we are having Section 377? We are also awaiting the Transgender Bill which is to be tabled in the parliament in December,” Akkai  Padmashali said at the International Conference on Gender Equality. Under Section 377 any sexual activity that cannot produce a baby is viewed as “unnatural” and punishable.

Therefore, while an open mind has been kept in terms of gender, the grey areas in the expression of sexuality for the non-heteronormative is a subject that is still met with silence and discomfort at large.

Despite that, most gender activists have hailed the move made by the Kerala administration as the first constructive step, along with the Transgender Education Scholarship.

MK Muneer said that two years ago, when the process of formulating the policy went underway, he was told that there were no transgender people in Kerala. Today, a fairly well-rounded policy for the TG community not only safeguards their interests but also dispels the invisibility, silences and pariah-dom surrounding the “gender non-confirming”.

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Is US military looking forward to recruiting transgender people?

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US military will recruit transgender people Wikimedia commons
US military will recruit transgender people Wikimedia commons

Transgender people will be allowed for the first time to enlist in the U.S. military starting Monday as ordered by federal courts, the Pentagon said on Friday, after President Donald Trump’s administration decided not to appeal rulings that blocked his transgender ban.

Two federal appeals courts, one in Washington and one in Virginia, last week rejected the administration’s request to put on hold orders by lower court judges requiring the military to begin accepting transgender recruits Jan. 1.

A Justice Department official said the administration will not challenge those rulings.

“The Department of Defense has announced that it will be releasing an independent study of these issues in the coming weeks. So rather than litigate this interim appeal before that occurs, the administration has decided to wait for DOD’s study and will continue to defend the president’s lawful authority in District Court in the meantime,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Pentagon study, not court appeal

In September, the Pentagon said it had created a panel of senior officials to study how to implement a directive by Trump to prohibit transgender individuals from serving. The Defense Department has until Feb. 21 to submit a plan to Trump.

Lawyers representing currently serving transgender service members and aspiring recruits said they had expected the administration to appeal the rulings to the conservative-majority Supreme Court, but were hoping that would not happen.

Pentagon spokeswoman Heather Babb said in a statement: “As mandated by court order, the Department of Defense is prepared to begin accessing transgender applicants for military service Jan. 1. All applicants must meet all accession standards.”

Jennifer Levi, a lawyer with gay, lesbian and transgender advocacy group GLAD, called the decision not to appeal “great news.”

“I’m hoping it means the government has come to see that there is no way to justify a ban and that it’s not good for the military or our country,” Levi said. Both GLAD and the American Civil Liberties Union represent plaintiffs in the lawsuits filed against the administration.

Wikimedia commons
Wikimedia commons

‘Costs and disruption’

In a move that appealed to his hard-line conservative supporters, Trump announced in July that he would prohibit transgender people from serving in the military, reversing Democratic President Barack Obama’s policy of accepting them.

Trump said on Twitter at the time that the military “cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Four federal judges — in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Seattle and Riverside, California — have issued rulings blocking Trump’s ban while legal challenges to the Republican president’s policy proceed. The judges said the ban would likely violate the right under the U.S. Constitution to equal protection under the law.

Pentagon memo

The Pentagon on Dec. 8 issued guidelines to recruitment personnel in order to enlist transgender applicants by Jan. 1.

The memo outlined medical requirements and specified how the applicants’ sex would be identified and even which undergarments they would wear.

The Trump administration previously said in legal papers that the armed forces were not prepared to train thousands of personnel on the medical standards needed to process transgender applicants and might have to accept “some individuals who are not medically fit for service.”

The Obama administration had set a deadline of July 1, 2017, to begin accepting transgender recruits. But Trump’s defense secretary, James Mattis, postponed that date to Jan. 1, 2018, which the president’s ban then put off indefinitely.

Rolling back Obama era

Trump has taken other steps aimed at rolling back transgender rights. In October, his administration said a federal law banning gender-based workplace discrimination does not protect transgender employees, reversing another Obama-era position.

In February, Trump rescinded guidance issued by the Obama administration saying that public schools should allow transgender students to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity. (VOA)