On the occasion of Pride Month it is typical for various media outlets to get in touch with LGBTQQIA persons to ask us about the state of queer and transgender rights. Since Gauri Lankesh media is not a typical money-driven, superficial publication, but a media institution trying to get a real sense of the situation on the ground to sincere readers, I will try to write a realistic picture of the situation. Everything about the LGBTQIA community tends to be sensationalised, while the ground reality of the community barely changes.
The lockdown has created an even more grim picture of reality for the community. There has been widespread loss of livelihood for trans community. Traditional trans persons in Hijra and Kinner communities are already assigned forms of labour under Brahminical patriarchy which are stigmatised by mainstream society, and these forms of labour from badhai toli/mangti and dancing to sex work have all been shut down during the lockdown.
Police who have always been an enemy of transgender persons, have been enforcing the lockdown less as a public health issue and more as an excuse to enact violence towards working class and marginalised communities who need to take to the roads for their livelihood. Their violence towards transgender persons has magnified and they have used the lockdown as an excuse to fully shut down sex work and begging – completely shutting off the transgender community from any source of livelihood. Transwomen working in weddings or bars found a near total restriction of these events or of the number of attendees of these events. Transmen working in food trucks or driving cabs also faced severe economic crises with the lockdown clamping down a lot of distress-based self-employment. With the widespread discrimination faced by transgender persons in formal or even informal sector employment, distress self-employment has been the only means by which these communities have sustained themselves.
Many transgender and queer persons were forced by economic conditions to live either with their biological families or with abusive partners, and many people therefore experienced increased abuse under the lockdown. Many queer families had to separate from each other and live in places where their genders and sexualities were not affirmed. In addition many transgender persons experienced growing physical dysphoria, that is a feeling of distance, or lack of identification with one’s body. Isolation and a lack of distraction led to several transgender persons needing to access gender affirming therapy, hormones and surgery. However, with Covid-related hospital protocol, most trans people were not able to access gender affirming care when we needed it the most, worsening the state of everyone’s mental health. What is most heartbreaking however, is the treatment that trans and queer people who were HIV+ and caught covid faced while trying to access care. Hospital after hospital denied them treatment and the death toll was high.
The corporate world also gets in touch with speakers for their institutional programs on LGBTQQIA pride around this time of the year – June. Although pride month this year was particularly difficult under the lockdown, in general pride month involves a lot of media and corporate outlets extracting free labour from transgender persons in explaining the concept of pride to everyone, while the world around them barely changes in terms of the structures that make life difficult for the communities. Without anti-discrimination laws, without social security and livelihood, without healthcare, without civil rights, and with growing anti-LGBTQQIA legislative measures, the LGBTQQIA communities soldier on through life hoping that self-respect can make up for the social shame that is directed at us.
Bittu K R is an Associate Professor at Ashoka University and a transgender activist against caste class and gender.