It’s never been easy being a sexual minority in Pakistan but transgender citizens, known here as eunuchs or “hijras,” are getting a surprising amount of judicial protection and newfound civil rights.
Last month, the eunuchs celebrated their most recent victory when they were allowed for the first time to register to vote identifying themselves as a third sex - transgender. In the past, state-issued ID cards listed individuals only as male or female.
On Wednesday, in the august halls of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, a group of "hirjas" - biological men who identify psychologically as women - gathered for the latest hearing on the enforcement of a constitutional-rights case brought in 2008 concerning "the humiliation of eunuchs." In their flowing, brightly colored salwar kameezes and headscarves, the small delegation drew sideways glances from lawyers and visitors alike as they conferred in the marble corridor before being summoned into the courtroom.
"Police used to beat us and take money from us," said Almas Bobby, the leader of the transgender community of Rawalpindi, a large city near the capital. "It was painful for us. Now we go to the police station and they respect us and they are afraid of us. They take our cases first. Now they feel we have rights."
Bobby, 40, said she was the first to receive an identification card with the new designation.
The court's general orders to the government are that, if qualified, a transgender person will be given preference for a civil service job. They also receive a form of affirmative action: a eunuch with a 10th grade education is accorded the same qualifications as a non-transgender person with a bachelor's degree, according to one attorney working on the case.
The court has been monitoring the progress of the case through periodic hearings, about 20 so far.
Bobby's parents are dead and remaining family members are disapproving. Such scorn is not uncommon.
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