THE question of the ‘compatibility’ of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2018 with ‘Islamic values’, which has been contested in a long-running case being heard by the Federal Shariat Court, should be laid to rest. The petitioners in the case had moved the court to strike down two important provisions in the law: the question of who is to be considered a transgender person, as well as an individual’s right to be recognised according to their perceived gender identity. The court subsequently invited a number of people, including representatives from the transgender community, to join the proceedings and plead their perspectives on the matter. The move, though commendable for giving an equal voice to all stakeholders, has also considerably prolonged deliberations. This has meant that all those who will be affected by the case’s eventual outcome continue to live under a shadow.
The law in question marked a major milestone in Pakistan’s journey to enshrine the rights of individuals whose gender identities are at odds with their biological sex, either due to an accident of birth or castration, etc. However, the petitioners and like-minded individuals have argued that granting people the right to self-identify as male or female is ‘against religion’ and ‘opens the door to homosexuality’. This is a similar argument to the one brought forth by the Jamaat-i-Islami in a bill presented to the Senate earlier. It sought the formation of a medical board that would control who could seek a gender change rather than leaving the matter to individuals’ personal identification. These arguments reflect an unfortunate and misinformed view of what it means to be transgender. Further, equating gender non-conformity with homosexuality is deeply problematic, as being transgender has nothing to do with an individual’s sexual orientation. The move to block transgender individuals’ right to self-identify speaks more about the insecurities of those who wish to do so than any rational desire to prevent abuse of the law. The deep distrust of transgender persons evident in the petition and those supporting it is one of the root causes behind the community being as marginalised as it is today. We as a nation must learn` to stop ostracising people based on their deviances from widely held norms. It is hoped that good sense will prevail in this case, and the transgender community will be allowed their long-denied right to identify and be treated as equal citizens.
Published in Dawn, September 22nd, 2022