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India's Trans Bill Is Being Heavily Critiqued by the Trans Community

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Human Rights Watch as well as local activists have pointed out the many issues with the legislation.

A proposed bill in India's Parliament is seeking to provide protections for transgender people, but many within India's LGBTQ+ community say that the bill will do the exact opposite.

Last August, the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's parliament, passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2019. The bill, which was originally introduced last July, has been an issue of contention with the transgender community who say that it will strip away their rights.

"The Transgender Persons Bill should be a remarkable achievement for a long-persecuted community, but the current draft fails on the fundamental right to self-identify," Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement "It's crucial that the law be in line with the Supreme Court's historic ruling on transgender rights."

The bill, according to critics, will violate the rights of trans people including self-determination, which was guaranteed by the country's Supreme Court in its landmark National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) judgment. and equality, by punishing violence against trans women with shorter prison sentences. Verbiage within the bill doesn't guarantee protections from discrimination in terms of gender identity, which could eventually lead to unequal access to both educational and employment spaces, in direct opposition the 2014 NALSA judgement.

According toHuman Rights Watch the bill mandates a two-step process. First it requires a trans person to apply for a "transgender certificate" which will allow them to apply for a "change in gender certificate," thus signaling to authorities to change their legal gender to male or female.The second step requires gender affirming surgery and documentation by a medical authority. Some have pointed out that the current language of the bill leaves it unclear whether those who have been approved for the change in gender certificate will still be able to receive assistance under programs meant for the trans community.

To make matters worse, the bill legally classifies all intersex people under the definition of trans, despite the clear distinction in identity and experience, thereby conflating sex and gender. Transgender people's gender identity is different from their assigned gender at birth (AGAB). Intersex people who identify with their AGAB would therefore not be trans, although some intersex people do identify as trans.

According to HRC, not only does the bill violate the Supreme Court ruling, but is also contrary to "international standards for legal gender recognition," including those of multiple United Nations agencies, the World Medical Association, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health which calls for separation of legal and medical processes of gender reassignment for transgender people.

The only real benefits of the bill is the removal of a contentious provision that criminalized begging by transgender people and a provision that mandated district screening committees, but trans activists such as Gee Imaan Semmalar ofSampoorna India say that those changes are only cosmetic.

"They have removed only two main portions - they have removed the district screening committees and the begging provision - that is the only real change we see in this version. But both are cosmetic changes," he said. "The begging clause they have removed but they have retained the clause about 'enforced and bonded labour' and other such acts. They can broadly interpret it in any way that they want. And around 22 states in India have the Anti-Beggary Act and they can anyway enforce this. Just removing the phrases does not mean that it is an improvement on the previous Bill. The way they have passed the Bill - quickly, without discussions and on a day when Article 370 is also being revoked - is wrong."

On Friday transgender and gender non-conforming Indians took to Twitter with the hashtag #StopTransBill2019, asking for LGBTQ+ people and allies worldwide to help raise awareness.

"The trans community believes that the current Bill being discussed in the Rajya Sabha makes a mockery of their personhood, community, rights and only adds to everyday humiliation and violation. Please join the twitter storm and help us #StopTransBill2019," one user tweeted.

While the bill has passed India's lower house it's still being discussed in the Rajya Sabha, India's upper house, with some members requesting the bill be referred to a select committee.

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