Transphobia 

Understanding the Plight of Immigrant LGBTIQ+ in Europe

In collaboration with:

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The EU based, Organization of Progressive Pakistanis (OPP) and New Women Connectors, jointly invited researchers, academics, activists, writers, journalists and students to discuss existing and rising transphobia in different parts of the world, especially in Europe. The motive was to bring into light the biological, social, cultural, religious, emotional, psychological and economic aspects of the victimization a Transgender person faces due to distorted perceptions, beliefs and ensuing behaviours, policies, structures and systems. Both OPP and NWC, being committed to the humanist ideals such as equality, diversity, rights and freedoms, took this initiative to break the silence through respectful and peaceful dialogue on the sensitive issue declared as taboo in most parts of the world. The event was moderated by Waheed Bhatti, a core group member of OPP and Anila Noor, Executive Director of New Women Connectors. 

 

A highly qualified, experienced and passionate panel, consisting of Lilith (a transwoman and activist), Dr Laine Munir (senior researcher, legal expert and anthropologist) and Tina Dixson (senior academic and activist) shed light on biological, social, legal, economic, emotional, cultural and religious aspects of the issue. The panellists discussed the plight of Transgenders in Pakistan, South Asia, Europe and other parts of the world including Australia to demonstrate that rejection, prejudices and utter discriminations originated from patriarchal family, religious beliefs, sharia notions, education systems and cultural norms that translated into individual behaviours and state/legal policies.

Lilith shared her personal experiences as Transwomen while insisting on the fact that despite differences in intensity and gravity, the Transgenders faced similar issues in every country and society of the world, which are primarily engendered by patriarchal notions of gender and power. She said dualistic approaches of black and white, male and female, good and bad, rejected every other reality as aberration, deviation, conspiration, disease or sin. She said state and legal set in Europe were comparatively considerate to them, but they did not live with the state, rather they live in a state with people having the same stereotypes. She insisted that patriarchal power dynamics could be weakened only at individual and family levels. She did not expect any positive change unless negative profiling in curriculums and mocking in creative cultural expressions is stopped.

Dr Laine Munir shared her research on Pakistani society mentioning many positive legal and societal developments especially after 2009 when Transgenders got their right to be documented and voted without compromising or hiding their sexual or gender reality. She said while Pakistan was one of the most progressive countries towards Transgenders but there existed a huge gap between legal provisions and negative societal behaviours, discriminations and victimization including torture, sexual abuse, mocking, humiliation, rape and murder. She said there was no reliable database of their true population and total disregard in the job market. She said traditional spaces in the society given to “Khwaja siras” available to Mughal culture and later Pakistani society had also lost.

 Tina Dixson talked about her experiences and observations regarding Trans persons in Australia especially when they seek asylum. She said core issue was lack of belonging, fear of accepting oneself in an environment of existing and rising xenophobia and racism. She pointed out the problem of lack of awareness and training for decision-makers all the tiers of state and society, which resulted in faulty data collection. She discussed practical problems faced by Transgender asylum seeks such as inadequate translation services, unsafe housing, harassment, violence, discrimination, limitation in job markets and general societal behaviour of rejection. She said LGBT people represented all cultures and societies. We all need to work to end this phobia existing against women rights or refuge rights or transgender people. She said it is not about tolerance or inclusion rather it is about your right to dignity and if we are really serious about human rights, women rights or diversity issue, it is not possible without safeguarding rights of the transgender people.

During the QA session, Dr Ishtiaq discussed the point raised by Dr Laine Munir about whether the law should be reflective or aspirational. He said that the law should motivate and educate the people. He gave the example of abolition of the death penalty in Europe even against the cultural norms and will of the people. While criticizing cultural and religious notions against marginalized populations in India and Pakistan, he said the hope of betterment will come only from secular and democratic approaches based on equality and rights.

Replying to a question of why Transgenders were compelled to beg on the streets or to resort to prostitution and dance even if they did not want? and a comment that Iran facilitates the surgery at the state level, Lilith said that Transgenders were limited to few jobs and professions because of the same stereotype concepts prevalent in the society. The society cripples their potential and chances, starting from the family who disowns them feeling embarrassed. She said Iranian policy reflected the same mentality. They facilitate surgery in order to compel them to be male or women. She said nobody should be compelled to undergo surgery. Responding to another question Lilith said stepping up (a transwoman becoming male) was more acceptable than stepping down (a transmale becoming-woman). She told a Transwoman is killed every two days around the world.

Responding to a comment about the pathology of the transpersons, Waheed Bhatti from OPP said that it is not a disease, it is not by choice, it is not to take a pill to be healthy again. Our purpose today is to create awareness. We must challenge these norms and concepts. Gender identity is not something for others to decide, it is a personal decision and we only got to respect that with dignity,….They are more than normal, they are wonderful people, like any of us, as equal human beings entitled to all the rights and freedoms.

Report writer: Shiraz Raj

© 2018 by OPP, The Netherlands