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BREAKING BARRIERS: EMPOWERING TRANSGENDER EQUALITY THROUGH GENDER-NEUTRAL PUBLIC FACILITIES

INTRODUCTION

The past several years have seen a rise in awareness and acceptance of transgender rights, particularly in India. People who have gender identities, gender expressions or behaviors that are different from those usually linked to the sexual orientation that they were given birth are referred to as transgender.[1] These individuals may self-identify as male, female or non-binary, challenging the binary nature of gender broadly. Transgender people experience a variety of issues and are entitled to protections for freedom, equality and dignity. These rights comprise the capacity to speak about their gender identity without concern about prejudice or violence, having accessibility to educational and medical services, safety from discrimination and legal recognition of their gender identity. Transgender people face unique challenges and prejudice in many facets of life, including having access to gender-neutral public spaces. In this blog, we’ll examine the value of transgender rights as well as talk about how India needs to build more gender-neutral public spaces while also underlining the remaining challenges.

TRANSGENDER RIGHTS

People who identify as transgender are those whose gender identity does not correspond to the sex assigned to them at birth. They frequently encounter prejudice, social embarrassment, and violence as a result of their gender identification. For equality and to guarantee that transgender persons have the benefit of the same resources and opportunities as cisgender people, transgender rights require being respected.

The legal environment in India regarding transgender rights has developed over time. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, which was presented in Lok Sabha on July 19, 2019, was very essential for the advancement and recognition of transgender individuals in Indian society.[2] The Supreme Court’s groundbreaking decision in NALSA v Union of India[3] upheld transgender people’s rights and led to the passage of the Act. It recognized transgender people as the ‘third gender’ and confirmed their freedom to self-identify as such. This acknowledgment paved the path for the protection of transgender rights and the resolution of challenges they encounter in society, such as access to public facilities. The court carefully considered the issue and determined that under Article 15[4] of the Constitution, which forbids prejudice based on ‘sex’, one’s gender identification falls under the purview of the fundamental right to “dignity” under Article 21.[5]

THE CHALLENGES OF ACCESSING GENDER-SPECIFIC FACILITIES

Restrooms, changing rooms, and shelters are frequently constructed with binary gender divisions. This leads to numerous issues for transgender people, who may experience discomfort, embarrassment, and even assault while using facilities that do not match their gender identification.

In terms of the availability of public services, work and education, they experience prejudice. They are mistreated by the populace as well, which increases their propensity to struggle for social justice. As soon as their individuality is recognized, society drives them to depart their immediate family home since they are unable to fit into the typical class or group. Transgender individuals receive uninvited scrutiny from the general public. Additionally, STDs, mental disorders, the misuse of hormone-related drugs, substance abuse, problems getting married and adoption concerns are more common in these people. Transgender women may encounter discrimination and bullying when using women’s restrooms, as a society usually fails to acknowledge their gender identity. Similar issues may arise for transgender men trying to use the loo. This prejudice-fostering system deprives transgender people of their fundamental human rights.

THE NEED FOR GENDER-NEUTRAL PUBLIC FACILITIES

In a gender-neutral space, everybody is accepted irrespective of identification. Men’s and women’s locker rooms, public toilets, sex-separated hostels, playing fields etc. are examples of gendered spaces. These gendered environments often function as sites of physical and symbolic exclusion as well as prejudice. Gender-neutral environments not only support persons with non-conforming identities but also simplify life for women and others with physical disabilities.[6]For transgender persons to feel included and protected, public spaces must be gender-neutral. Gender-neutral facilities are accessible to people of all gender identities and offer a warm and inviting environment for everyone. By taking a gender-neutral stance, India may make significant strides in expanding transgender rights and promoting an inclusive society.

Irrespective of gender identification, gender-neutral spaces provide a safe and secure environment for everybody. They can help to lessen the intimidation, hostility, and uneasiness that transgender people often encounter in settings that are reserved for people of a particular gender. Gender-neutral facilities embrace the diversity of society and promote inclusivity. They criticize cultural norms that uphold strict limits on gender and recognize everyone’s rights and identities. By creating gender-neutral facilities, transgender people may prevent prejudice and the mental strain of having to choose from facilities that do not match their gender identification. Gender-neutral facilities are compliant with Indian law, which involves the Supreme Court’s recognition of transgender rights. It guarantees that the rights to privacy, dignity, and equality of transgender individuals are not compromised.

PROGRESS AND INITIATIVES IN INDIA

India has taken several steps to support facilities that are gender-neutral and transgender rights. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act of 2019[7] seeks to provide legal recognition and protection for transgender persons.[8] It calls for separate restrooms and other facilities for transgender individuals to be provided by colleges and universities, hospitals, and other public bodies. Numerous organizations and activists are consistently pushing for gender-neutral services and increasing awareness of transgender people. In 2018, the Tata Institute of Social Sciences emerged as the sole undergraduate institution in India to establish a gender-neutral dormitory. On the TISS campus, gender-neutral restrooms are also being built.[9] Ashoka University, which tried to play around with putting gender-neutral restrooms on its grounds, also noticed a similar tendency.[10]The Delhi government has ordered that transgender people have their dedicated restrooms in all of its divisions, offices, district authorities, municipality corporations, state-owned enterprises and the Delhi Police.[11] There are currently hundreds of municipalities, school districts and 18 states that defend the right of transgender individuals to use bathrooms and none of them has witnessed an increase in incidences of persons harming others or faking being transgender to gain access to facilities.[12]

Various organizations have made an effort to foster a liberal environment that encourages expression without the discomfort of division and isolation by offering such neutral spaces. In addition, these locations may help create safer environments, especially all-gender restrooms, and changing areas, which see more foot traffic and are often more visible, making them less likely to draw predators. Multiple-person all-gender bathrooms, based on research, do not experience issues, harassment or violence. In addition, developing such spaces will aid in educating the public and dispelling misunderstandings regarding gender identities, gender roles and other issues. Additionally, there continues to be work that needs to be carried out. To bring change, present rules and regulations must be put into practice. Public education campaigns, sensitization campaigns, and government staff capacity training can all contribute to accelerating progress in this area.

CONCLUSION

Transgender rights, as well as entry to facilities of any gender, are necessary for a just and inclusive society. India has come quite a distance in accepting transgender rights, but there is still a long way to go before full equality and inclusion are achieved. By approaching public facilities from a gender-neutral perspective, India can provide secure environments that uphold transgender people’s rights and identities. Continued attempts should be undertaken to dispel prejudice against transgender people by educating the general public and raising awareness. India won’t be able to recognize the individuality and potential of any of its citizens, regardless of gender identity, until it develops an inclusive society. To uphold the principles of equality, dignity and respect for all Indians, individuals, groups, and the government must collaborate.

It needs to be highlighted that this change involves more than simply bodily changes; additional research is needed to understand the factors that render this adjustment difficult for people on an emotional and cognitive level. Additionally, because our beliefs and attitudes frequently reflect our physical environments, adequate infrastructure changes would greatly aid our attempts to build a society that is both inclusive and equal.

Author(s) Name: Gurdev Singh Tung (University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun)

Reference(s):

[1] ‘Understanding transgender people, gender identity and gender expression’ (American Psychological Association) <https://www.apa.org/topics/lgbtq/transgender-people-gender-identity-gender-expression> accessed 21 June 2023

[2] The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019

[3] National Legal Services Authority v Union of India [2014] 5 SCC 438

[4] Constitution of India 1950, art 15

[5] Constitution of India 1950, art 15

[6] ‘Paving one of many ways to inclusivity – Gender neutral spaces’ (Breakthrough, 27 June 2021)  <https://inbreakthrough.org/gender-neutral-spaces/> accessed 25 June 2023

[7] The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019

[8] Ajay Singh Solanki, ‘India’s new law on the protection of rights of transgender persons’ (International Bar Association) <https://www.ibanet.org/article/0F3AE21B-0170-4BF7-95DD-45B07EF1CAF6> accessed 25 June 2023

[9] Pallavi Smart, ‘Mumbai’s TISS may soon have gender-neutral washrooms, 5 years after introducing inclusive hostel’ (The Indian Express, 3 May 2023) <https://indianexpress.com/article/cities/mumbai/tiss-mumbai-may-soon-have-gender-neutral-washrooms-8574895/> accessed 25 June 2023

[10] Rasika Gopalakrishnan, ‘Gender Neutral Residences: A Guide For Creating Safer Spaces’ (Feminism India, 09 January 2020) <https://feminisminindia.com/2020/01/09/gender-neutral-residences-guide-safer-spaces/> accessed 25 June 2023

[11] Etti Bali, ‘Trans-people welcome the decision for separate toilets, but need gender-neutral toilets’ (Hindustan Times, 23 Feb 2021) <https://www.hindustantimes.com/cities/delhi-news/transpeople-welcome-the-decision-for-separate-toilets-but-need-gender-neutral-toilets-101614059375436.html> accessed 25 June 2023

[12] ‘Transgender People and Bathroom Access’ (National Center for Transgender Equality, 10 July 2016) <https://transequality.org/issues/resources/transgender-people-and-bathroom-access> accessed 26 June 2023