A crisis of inclusivity: Spare a thought for transgender students

There are an estimated 25 million transgender people globally.
There are an estimated 25 million transgender people globally.

Summary

  • Those who identify as LGBTQI+ deserve better. We must respect chosen names and pronouns, provide gender-neutral facilities, strengthen legal protections and establish feedback mechanisms. Their upliftment will be a long haul but the principle of equality demands that we act.

India’s democracy is famed globally not just for its size, but for its diversity. There are sections of people, however, who suffer the effects of centuries-old practices that deny them their right to equality. One such community at the receiving end comprises individuals who identify as LGBTQIA+.

While doing our internship at Basera Samajik Sansthan and living with transgender people for 15 days, we observed much variation in how they chose to describe themselves. A transgender woman, someone assigned the gender ‘male’ at birth who identifies as female, might describe herself as a “transwoman", “male-to-female" or simply “female," and vice versa. Some do not identify as either male or female, opting to go beyond the gender binary.

In India, transgenderism is well known as a sub-culture. Yet, mainstream awareness about the community is very low, which worsens their social oppression. A transwoman working for a global lifestyle brand recounts how co-workers would often ridiculed her appearance. Customers would also pass snide remarks and avoid her billing counter. 

She was deeply disheartened, she says. In another instance, a transgender individual secured a job at a renowned pathology lab. On her first day, the organization invited the media to celebrate its recruit and showcase its commitment to diversity and inclusion. It was good news for all transgenders in need of regular jobs. However, after seven months, the company asked her to leave, citing an alleged contractual term that was never documented. 

Unlike the fanfare on her first day, her dismissal got no media attention. Diversity for the lab was only performative, she says, aimed at brownie points instead of genuine inclusion. This incident highlights the reluctance of employers to accept transgender individuals. Similar cases of discrimination are found in educational settings.

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Data suggests that the literacy rate among India’s transgender population is significantly lower than the national average. This disparity extends to education, with transgender students dropping out of school. Many of them face a hostile environment within institutions. Bullying, harassment and the targeted use of derogatory language create a climate of humiliation and anxiety. 

These experiences take a toll on their well-being, contributing to depression, a major factor leading young people to leave school prematurely. Despite their strong desire for education, they find their academic goals thwarted. This highlights the need for rapid progress in creating safe and welcoming learning environments for all.

There are an estimated 25 million transgender people globally, and they are nearly four times more likely to suffer from conditions like depression, anxiety and the ills of substance misuse than cisgender individuals. The former often encounter barriers to enrolling in higher education due to discrepancies between their birth certificate’s assigned sex and their gender identity. 

As a result, many are unable to pursue university education. In India, low educational qualifications and job discrimination have led some to turn to prostitution for income, with increased vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases. Government policy interventions for transgenders include the National Youth Policy, which recognizes transgender youth as marginalized and calls for support for the LGBTQ+ community. 

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Then, there are Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Rules and Ayushmaan Bharat TG Plus Scheme, among several other welfare schemes. The way forward would be to establish specialized schools for vocational training and guidance, promote transgender culture, integrate transgender-related topics into academic curricula and explore new modes of engagement that can dismantle barriers and foster inclusive classrooms. 

We must also respect people’s chosen names and pronouns, provide gender-neutral facilities, ensure confidentiality, offer financial assistance, strengthen legal protections and establish feedback mechanisms. Support for transgenders in pursuit of education and employment, of course, must be a priority.

Vision statements and guidelines apart, very few educational institutions in India have established inclusive environments for LGBTQ+ students. Gender-inclusive policies are imperative for a substantive change to be achieved. To this end, it is crucial for everyone to acknowledge the right of transgender students to determine their own gender identity. The transition processes of officialdom that involve gender and name changes should be smooth.

It is time to set up committees dedicated to addressing gender minority concerns. From privacy issues to protocols, there is much ground to cover. Further, state governments should implement appropriate laws to regulate institutions and ensure compliance with inclusion guidelines. For truly effective law-making, opinions need to be sought from within the transgender community and taken into consideration.

Community participation is a very important factor for overall progress on gender inclusion—so that everyone in the country can live a life of dignity.

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