Figure 1: Transgender activists, community youth, lawyers and feminist activists gathered to celebrate passing of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 from the Parliament of Pakistan
Lahore, Pakistan: On May 8th, the National Assembly of Pakistan passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2018 marking a landmark moment regarding transgender rights in Pakistan. The proposed law enables trans people to be recognized as they perceive themselves and register with the government institutions as transgender. It also provides them basic rights and prohibits discrimination by educational institutions, employers, in trade and health services, and when using public transport and buying or selling or renting a property they because of their gender identity, leading Pakistan daily Dawn reported.
The Bill was earlier passed by the Senate and awaits being signed into law by the President of Pakistan. A historic legislation, the community rejoiced the approval of the Bill from the Parliament protecting their rights.
At an informal gathering in the city of Lahore, Naz Pakistan hailed the passing of the Bill as a positive development towards rights of transgender community in Pakistan. The event was attended by LGBT community and allies, transgender activists, feminist organizers and others marking the day as an important milestone in the transgender rights movement in Pakistan signaling the potential for emergence of a new era of acceptance and empowerment of queer communities.
Martijn Beerthuizen, the first secretary political affairs at the Netherlands Embassy, congratulated the community on this important development and met with LGBT youth at the gathering discussing challenges faced by gender and sexual minorities in Pakistan. The Secretary Political Affairs, who graciously joined the event from Islamabad, appreciated the efforts of the activists that went into this Bill and talked about the significance of supporting community-led advocacy ventures for meaningful change. Commenting on the recent expression of regret from British Prime Minister on the legacy of homophobic colonial laws exported by the British empire, Dr. Qasim Iqbal, Executive Director Naz, highlighted that the attitudes towards LGBTI communities are drastically changing globally as seen from such remarkable developments in such different parts of the world. Honored by the Common Wealth Equality Network in London for his activism in Pakistan, Iqbal recalled the events from the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting for the attendees and his lobbying work with the UK parliamentarians and diplomats regarding supporting LGBT causes in Pakistan.
Ali Saleem, popular talk show host known famously by his on-screen drag persona Begum Nawazish Ali, joined the celebrations with the community and emphasized the need for protecting the rights of gay youth. He said this should pave the way for a newer more tolerant generation that respects people regardless of their gender or sexuality. He congratulated the activists who worked on the Bill and expressed excitement for future initiatives.
The evening was filled with lively discussion and debate among activists and allies who worked on the Bill regarding its implications. “This Bill is quite a progressive piece of legislation and it’s surprising that something like this could be passed from Pakistan. However, laws can only go so far if implementation at policy level is not tackled,” said Mariam Jameel, trans activist and part of Naz team, who helped draft and lobby the legislation. “We need to work with government departments and utilize the framework of this law to reform existing policies in our favor and that is really going to be an uphill task. The real work for change starts now”. The intense conversations around the dinner table over the legal nuances and strategies for policy reform between transgender activists and feminist lawyers, who drafted and lobbied the Bill, were joined in by young members of the community who followed the debate with intrigue expressing their passion for learning from their peers. Sabiha Rizvi, legal expert and feminist activist, remarked on the hurdles that came in the way of the Bill in the form of the role played by conservative elements within the state and the opposition from conservative religious party JUI(F) at a later stage instigated by particular actors associated with organizations that sought to sabotage the Bill. A passionate lawyer, who was also invited to the Senate with transgender activists to table the Bill in August 2017, appreciated the efforts of community activists who claimed their space in the entire legislative process and passionately defended themselves in front of the parliamentarians.
Qasim Iqbal, Executive Director Naz, addressed the gathering late in the evening. He congratulated the activists in the Naz team who were part of the task force that worked with lawmakers and policy experts during the entire process to draft and lobby the Bill. He appreciated the inclusion of voices of transmen in the Bill and commended Mani AQ of Naz Pakistan for not only his work on the Transgender Persons Bill but also for leading a successful battle for recognition of his identity by the Pakistani state through suing the National Database and Registration Authority and thus becoming the first transgender man in Pakistan to legally obtain an identity card according to the gender he identifies as. Iqbal went on to praise the efforts of all the activists and allies who were instrumental in getting the Bill passed. He also remembered the late Shiv Nanda Khan OBE, founder of Naz Foundation and a pioneer for LGBT rights, for his massive contributions to the LGBT movements in South Asia; his work as an activist and his visit to Pakistan in the early 1990s and doing a research on HIV and stigma in local communities. “He would have been damn proud if he could see how far we have come today”, exclaimed Iqbal. He concluded his remarks by expressing his joy over the great developments taking place in Pakistan and determination to continue working for protection and rights of LGBTI communities. The activists in the gathering greeted him with applause and thanked him for his tireless work and his instrumental role in setting the base for a movement for gender and sexual minorities in Pakistan. “You have made spaces for us where we exist as ourselves now, you have given us the tools to fight the good fight”, Zainy a young member of the community passionately added.
The evening continued with expression of merriment and joy from the community. The celebrations were filled with a spirit of hope and a newly found determination for a better future heralded by this important victory.
*Some names have been changed for safety of people.