LAHORE: The first school for the transgender community was launched at an event at the Alhamra Open Air Theatre, Gaddafi Stadium, on Sunday.

The school is being launched by an NGO called Exploring Future Foundation (EFF), which has attempted its first project.

“We will be providing skill based training and curriculum to the transgender community that has enrolled with us,” said Moizzah Tariq, the managing director of the NGO.

“Most of them have shown interest in sectors of the fashion industry including learning about cosmetics, fashion designing, embroidery and stitching while some have also shown interest in graphic designing and culinary skills. Having gained information from them first we designed our courses for them.”

Asif Shahzad, the owner of the school, said there are 30 people enrolled in the school.

“I was moved after seeing the bomb blast in Indonesia in 2016 at a transgender school,” he said. “It was the only such school in any Islamic country in the world. After that we decided to provide them education and bring them to the mainstream.”

The plan is to provide a diploma course so that the students will be able to either work or set up their own businesses, and the NGO is to facilitate them with both procedures.

The school, ‘The Gender Guardian’, has no age limit and is located on main DHA. Classes will begin on Monday (today).

“We are trying to convince them of leading better lives, and also try to tell the rest of society that they are also human beings, and that they should be treated as humans,” said Shahzad.

The event was supported by transgender activists Zara Changezi, Khursand Bayar Ali, Neeli Rana and others from Khwaja Sirah Society, and recently the first transgender newscaster Maavia Malik. Gurus (leaders/patrons) and others from the community were also present at the event.

The event started off with musical concert including performances by Annie Khalid and Falak. Afterwards theatre performances took place.

Notanki Productions Creative Director Khursand Bayar Ali whose play Umeed was performed, said the play was primarily about the main issue of HIV affecting the community.

“They must know the ins and outs of the problem, and we have also tried to sketch a situation where affected transgenders are shunned by society and need counseling. There’s a message for everyone in this.”

Noor who plays a lead character in the play is herself a patient of HIV and says that people must know the exact ways in which HIV virus is spread because misconceptions cause transgenders to be ostracised.

“Society feels it is only a sexually transmitted disease and they reduce us to mere sexual beings, when in fact it is also spread through incorrect syringe use, or through infected blades etc.” she said.

“There are many who refuse to eat with, or talk to HIV patients and stay physically away from them. As for the transgender they too need to understand that they must take their medication as it is a disease that can be controlled even if it can’t be cured.”

Maham, another actor, said she was afraid of coming out at home, and her family had no idea that she was in a woman’s getup, and the problem lay in lack of acceptance. “My father does not talk to me and I am often bullied by older siblings, but my teachers have played a role in my life in helping me accept my own identity and this self-realisation has made me feel more comfortable. Still society should be more accepting of people.”

Shahzad said they were trying to get the word across through educational institutions that their initiative must be supported by everyone.

Lahore and its surrounding areas have a population of roughly 30,000 people who are counted among the transgender community.

Published in Dawn, April 16th, 2018



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