But finding jobs and homes are a challenge

R. Jyothi Prakash is a second year student in a private engineering college. “I am a transgender. My parents have no clue about my identity. But I have told my teachers and classmates and they have accepted it”, she says.

“If I tell my parents about my identity now, they may not accept me and I might have to walk out of my home. I am hiding my identity for the sake of my education. I want to complete my course or I might end up in the streets and be exploited”, Jyothi fears.

According to Bharathi Kannamma, a transgender activist, there are 1500 transgenders in Madurai. “Only 300 of these have declared their identity”, she told The Hindu.

Most of them conceal their identities due to parental pressure, fearing rejection by their families.

“Adequate education and employment opportunities for transgenders will help them come out and declare their true identity’’, she says.

Ms Bharathi says the transgenders in Madurai face no social ostracism or discrimination in public places. “Madurai is a heaven for us. The police officials are extremely helpful and understanding. We are treated like any other people in public places”, she says. Ms Bharathi’s nomination for the 2011 mayoral election was rejected on technical grounds. Her voter’s identity card identified her as a male, whereas she wanted to contest the election as a female. But Ms Bharathi is undeterred by the setback.

“Miracles cannot happen overnight. I have now set the record straight and I am planning to contest the parliamentary elections. I want to take up a career in politics. I want to work for the welfare of everybody and not just for my community”, she says confidently.

But transgenders are not commonly preferred as tenants.

“People in a few areas like Mathichiam, Munichalai and Thiruparankundram are willing to rent their houses to us. Others think twice because they associate us with sexual activities. When they are convinced that we are students, who are serious about our studies, they accept us”, says Srinidhi, a human resources management student.

“The temples do not discriminate against transgenders. They are free to worship in the temples like any other devotees”, says P. Jayaraman, Joint Commissioner and Executive Officer of the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.

However, the transgenders are happy that they are not discriminated against in places of worship. Theological institutes in Madurai have transgender students, says Glory Deborah, programme administrator of Russ Foundation, an NGO.

“It all depends on the way we (the transgenders) behave. People like me are not discriminated against in public places and in the temples. I did not have much difficulty in getting a house in the Bank Colony after I explained that I was interested in education. All the people in my community should be educated so that they will not be exploited”, she says.

Swapna, an MA journalism student, says that her family (except her father) has accepted her identity. “They could not find a place to stay because of me. I occasionally visit my brother and my mother, but I live alone in Tiruparankundram”, she says.

What remains a cause of concern are the hurdles to education and employment faced by people like Ms Bharathi who has completed their education before coming out in the open with their true identity. “I concealed my identity till the death of my parents so that they would not be embarrassed”, Ms Bharathi said. Ms Srinidhi completed her B.Sc Chemistry with the records showing her as a male, before declaring her transgender identity in public. She is pursuing her MBA in distance education. “I am planning to start a business, with the aid of the district administration”, she says.

A few private organisations and NGOs in Madurai do employ transgenders, says Ms Bharathi.

Mrs Glory says that she has employed people from the transgender community in her organisation. “I have counselled the family members of several adolescent transgenders, who are unable to digest the fact about the identity of their children. To help them not be exploited, we provide them with jobs”, she says.

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