Transgender Visibility Day: A long road ahead, but some are making a difference
- Started by Project Accelerate, a programme raising awareness on HIV and AIDS, Mitr Clinics support and address the needs and issues of members of the transgender community by engaging in conversations and activities built on trust.
The International Transgender Day of Visibility was being observed for the first time on Thursday since the Covid-19 pandemic spread its tentacles and derailed the campaign across the world.
With an annual awareness day observed around the world on March 31, the Transgender Day of Visibility was dedicated towards celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender nonconforming people while raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve trans justice. It was first observed by activists in several parts of the world, including in Ireland and in Scotland , in 2014.
The day gained global prominence in 2021 when US President Joe Biden officially proclaimed March 31 as a Transgender Day of Visibility, urging Americans to “join in the fight for full equality for all transgender people". With this, Biden became the first American president to issue a formal presidential proclamation recognising the Transgender Day of Visibility.
In India, despite having one of the largest populations of transgenders in the world, the LGBTQIA+ people face an uphill task of acceptance from society and are often exploited by their own community. Statistics suggest transgender people’s experience of social ostracisation, mental and physical abuse and sexual assault is at an alarming level, at times even in their close spheres.
The Census of India in 2011 puts the number of transgenders in India at roughly 5 lakh. However, a significant population among them have been living on the fringes of society, shunned because of their gender identity issues. Lack of adequate support from the government and civil society organisations prompt many of them to leave their homes and education only to live on streets or join groups of transgenders, to earn a measly livelihood by singing and dancing or by begging.
A study on the rights of transgenders in India by National Human Rights Commission bears testimony to economic depravity of transgenders even in today’s age. According to the study, close to 92 per cent of transgenders are deprived of their right to participate in any form of economic activity in the country, with even qualified people being denied employment.
Several media reports attesting a recent study by the Indian Journal for Psychological Medicine indicate that 31 per cent transgender persons in India end their life by committing suicide, and 50 per cent of them have attempted suicide at least once before their 20th birthday.
Inclusivity in workspace and economic growth remains a far-reaching milestone for transgenders at a time when access to safe healthcare is still an uphill task. India’s healthcare system is clearly not gender inclusive.
But there’s silver lining in the cloud.
There are organisations that are coming forward to bridge India’s healthcare gap for marginalised communities. One such facility is 'Mitr Clinic', India's first-ever clinic that works exclusively for the transgender community and run by them.
Started by Project Accelerate, a programme raising awareness on HIV and AIDS, Mitr Clinics support and address the needs and issues of members of the transgender community by engaging in conversations and activities built on faith and trust.
Located in Hyderabad, Pune and Thane, these clinics aim to innovate and strengthen health and socioeconomic services for transgender people in India, providing them affordable, accessible, non-discriminatory, and comprehensive healthcare services.
“Trans people are extraordinary, strong, intelligent, persistent and resilient and one has to be. The Covid-19 virus is less dangerous than the transphobic virus that continues to threaten the sustenance of LGBTQIA+ people. We at Mitr Clinic are passionate to change the perspective of the society,” said Dr Prachi Rathod, a medical officer at Mitr Clinic in Hyderabad.
A brainchild of Simran Bharucha, director of transgender health at Program Accelerate, they specialise in general health services, gender affirmation, and legal and social protection. Mitr Clinics help and solve the needs and issues of transgender population by engaging in conversations and activities built on empathy and friendship.
“I am the boy that was born as a girl, and I have to prove to myself every day that I’m man enough for the world. Being transgender is not just a medical and surgical procedure, it's discovering who you are. Mitr Clinic supports not only health but also guide with correct information and guidance on transition. Today is the day that I celebrate my true self and I remind society that gender should be recognised from mind and not determined between your legs,” Prem Lotikar, a community mobiliser at Thane-based Mitr Clinic, who prefers the pronoun him, said.
During the pandemic, Mitr clinics started a toll-free number, where clients could connect telephonically or virtually to discuss their medical needs with peer counsellors. The clinics also provide lifesaving medicines to clients through door-to-door services, along with Covid-19 relief support such as dry rations and nutrition support to the community.
Safe Zindagi is a part of Program Accelerate, funded by USAID and John Hopkins University, that has been working with the National AIDS Control Organisation (Naco) since 2019 to advance progress towards the UNAIDS 95-95-95 goals to achieve epidemic control in India.
Programmes like Accelerate assist Naco in addressing gaps in programming and outreach among at-risk populations, including People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and four key population groups -- female sex workers, men who have sex with men, transgender persons, and people who inject drugs.
There are others like Safe Zindagi, too, trying to bring focus on rights of transgender people ahead of the International Transgender Day of Visibility. The United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has launched a first-of-its-kind campaign highlighting the rights of trans children. Called ‘Unbox Me’, it is a creative exploration of the theme of secrecy, and hiding, that most such children go through but one that transgender children go through in a psychologically debilitating way.
The UNAIDS initiative will travel to schools across India spreading the message to teachers, students and parents.
As activists advocating the cause of gender equality join the force for a just a fair world around the world, only a change of perception from the elementary level can bring justice for the members of the transgender community.