It’s been three months since she started searching for a place to stay, but Priya Babu, a transgender and activist, has still not found a house.
“It is very hard for transgenders to find a place to live. Very few people want to rent accommodation to us. They make all sorts of excuses, saying the broker has made a mistake, or that the house is already rented out,” she says.
Sometimes, landlords quote a rent so high, they have no choice but to refuse, she says. Many transgenders say this is a constant problem and has driven many to either pay very high rents or live with strict conditions from landlords who say they cannot entertain their friends at home.
They say house owners are worried about how neighbours will react and local residents are generally unsupportive.
“Conditions such as not having people over, night curfews, and sweeping and washing the house every day, are imposed, my friends say. Most of us do not earn very much, so it is very difficult,” says a transman who lives with his family.
Also, it is next to impossible to find accommodation in a ‘posh’ area, they say. “We generally get accommodation only in places such as Vyasarpadi, Porur or Saidapet. In the districts, however, it’s not so bad,” says Ms. Babu.
Asha Bharathi, a transgender, says that while it is relatively easier to find houses in areas where transgenders have already lived, renting outside of these pockets is extremely difficult.
Transgender activist Kalki Subramaniam too has previously spoken of the difficulties in finding housing in the city.
A.J. Hariharan, secretary, Indian Community Welfare Organisation, however, says the scenario has improved considerably over the past 10 years.
“Earlier, they used to live mostly in the slums, but now a lot of house owners are coming forward to let out their houses, especially those in the Rs. 5,000-Rs. 7,000 range, to transgenders. With increased awareness, and a lot of success stories emerging from the community, there has been a change in attitude,” he says.
Real estate agents in central and north Chennai say they have not been approached by transgenders yet, adding, they may stand a better chance if they are educated.
The Chennai Corporation recently announced it would soon set up a short-stay home for transgenders in Anna Nagar, where they will be permitted to stay for 30 days.
Estimates indicate there are between 30,000 and 40,000 transgenders in Tamil Nadu.
'Welfare Board out of action'
In 2008, Tamil Nadu was lauded as being the first State in the country to set up a transgender welfare board.
The board was supposed to help with housing and jobs, among other things.
However, activists say, it is now barely functioning.
“It was hailed as a model when it was started but it is not functioning now,” says Ms. Jeyarathnam.
R. Jeeva, founder of Transgender Rights Association, says she has tried to speak to officials about it several times, but there has been no response.
“There is a need to revamp the board,” says A.J. Hariharan, secretary, Indian Community Welfare Organisation, adding similar efforts are needed for the betterment of the community.
Social welfare department officials were unavailable for comment.