The Gender Beat: India’s Transgenders Lack Access to HIV Treatment; LGBTs in Bangladesh Remain in Fear

A round-up of what’s happening in the worlds of gender and sexuality.

A transvestite holds up a rainbow coloured umbrella during the 15th Gay Pride Parade in Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo June 26, 2011.

A transvestite holds up a rainbow coloured umbrella during a gay pride parade. Credit:Reuters/Nacho Doce

Months after militant attack, LGBT community in Bangladesh remains in fear 

Over seven months after Xulhaz Mannan, the editor of Roopbaan, Bangladesh’s first magazine for the LGBT community, and fellow activist Mahbub Rabbi Tonoy were killed by Islamist extremists at the former’s residence, the LGBT community remains in hiding. According to a recent Reuters report, more than a dozen people from the community have since even fled from the South Asian country.

In October, Bangladeshi gay rights activist Shakhawat Hossain wrote in an article for The Wire that the movement for LGBT rights in the country – where gay sex is illegal and is punishable by a maximum of life in prison – isn’t that big or organised. Until recently, the movement was pretty much underground and was led by a handful of people, including Mannan and Tonoy.

In 2014, with the launch of Roopbaan, the subject of gay rights emerged from the shadows and became a subject of interest in the media and on social media, but since Mannan and Tonoy’s death, “The whole community has been sent back to the closet,” a gay activist in exile told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on condition of anonymity.

The attack, claimed by the regional arm of the al Qaida, was the first of its kind against the LGBT community in Bangladesh.

“We had been very visible over past two years. A huge number of young people came up and volunteered for our work. After this one incident… the whole community collapsed,” the activist said. “This one incident broke the sense of security. The whole community is so scattered and scared.”

In a Reuters article, Alisa Tang wrote that those from the community who had fled abroad are now beginning to reconnect, however, those who are still in Bangladesh continue to be in hiding of their sexual identity.

“What happened is brutal,” the activist added. “They martyred the whole movement. I feel sad, but I also feel furious, more determined. We have to do something to challenge this brutality.”

HIV-positive transgenders lack access to treatment in India

A recent study conducted by medical journal Lancet found that nearly two-thirds of the transgender community in India do not have access to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases.

A Times of India report that focuses on statistics in Karnataka, claims that in the state, just over 20% of the HIV-positive transgenders are undergoing anti-retroviral therapy. These low rates exist despite the fact that the HIV/AIDS Bill makes this treatment a legal right for all HIV patients.

Far from getting treatment, several members of the community are even hesitant about getting themselves tested for HIV, despite hospitals providing this facility.

“There is an assumption that only those who are sexually active or sexually promiscuous need to get the test done. Transgenders are judged not only by hospital staff but also their peers,” Shama Karkal, director of a health resource centre that works with the transgender community, sex workers and gay men, told Times of India.

As far as treatment is concerned, the Modi government’s move to demonetise Rs 500 and Rs 1000 currency notes has only made matters worse. An HIV-positive transgender told Times of India, “It has become very difficult to meet medical and travel expenses. I recently had to undergo a uterus operation, which was an expensive procedure. The tests and follow-up visits have drilled a hole in my pocket and scrapping of the Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes has only made it worse.”

Telangana birth and death certificates to include ‘third gender’ option

A New Indian Express report said that the Telangana government has issued an order for inclusion of transgender or third gender option in birth and death certificates.

LGBT activists have, however, claimed that whether a child is transgender is something that cannot be determined soon after birth. Sex can be known at birth, but gender, they said is based on a person’s opinion.

West Asia: Women disfigured by conflict face widespread stigma from society 

Besides the physical and emotional wounds that women are enduring in the conflicts in West Asia, their scars and disfigurement tend to become a stain that leads to a lifelong stigma.

According to a Reuters report, health workers in Amman claim that several women – both young and old – are shunned by society due to these scars, are divorced by their husbands or are even deemed unfit for marriage and motherhood.

“People make me feel disabled, like I’m not a whole person who can be depended on,” said Ahzan, who lost her leg in an explosion in Baghdad while she was out shopping.

Ten years after the bombing, Ahzan, now 43, remains single and childless, wrote Lin Taylor.

A clinical psychologist, Yafa Jaffal, who is treating her for depression said that convincing women whose face get severely disfigured faces to move on is a tough task.

“Many of them have trouble dealing with their children after the injury … because sometimes the children don’t recognise them,” Jaffal told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“This is so difficult for a mother – to say ‘hello’ to your child and they reply, ‘No you’re not my mother’.”

It is also not uncommon for husbands to divorce their wives or marry a second wife after their wives face physical scarring.

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