Over the last 10 years, during his innumerable attempts to find a stable job in the city, P. Selvam always carried a dental certificate that declares his age to be 27 years.
This was to indicate to employers that he was not a runaway child seeking employment.
“It has never been enough though. They ask me why I don’t have a moustache or a beard or why my voice is like a woman’s,” said the transgender (female-to-male), who has switched at least 12 jobs in the last four years after he ran away from his home in Theni to escape the stigma attached to the transgender community.
“I quit when the questions get too much to handle. I don’t have many options at work either since I could not finish school,” he said. Now a volunteer with Nirangal, a human rights NGO, Selvam is convinced that only equal rights for all sexual minorities can guarantee them a better life.
And, he is not alone in this quest. This month, over 600 persons from 20 organisations that work on LGBT (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender) issues will come together, under the banner of Chennai Rainbow Coalition, to organise a series of activities marking the fifth edition of the Chennai Rainbow Pride.
The events that began on June 8 will go on till July 15 and include cultural performances, film festivals, sensitisation workshops, parents meets and panel discussions on workplace diversity.
The LGBT pride march will be held on June 30. (For more details, visit http://chennaipride.net.)
The activists, this time, are focussing on long-pending demands. For instance, the lack of clarity in inheritance rights has been a sore point for a long time.
“Transgenders are often thrown out of their houses and even getting an apartment on rent is very difficult. We need equal rights in education, employment and housing,” said Dinesh Kumar, a field worker and advocacy expert in transgender issues.
Sudha, a volunteer with Tamil Nadu Aids Initiative, said that abandonment by families was also the reason why many were forced to take up begging and prostitution.
“More consideration from families would go a long way in curbing incidents like the harassment of passengers by transgenders that was recently reported on trains,” she said.
Most State governments, Mr. Kumar said, had not responded to the advisory issued by National Legal Services Authority asking them to grant the same rights to transgenders as all citizens.
“Tamil Nadu has been a pioneer in initiating welfare schemes for the communities. We urge the State government to respond to the instruction and implement it, and extend the schemes to all sexual minorities,” he added.
“Promises from the government such as a social welfare board and initiatives such as free counselling facilities and a community centre would prove vital in helping the community,” said Rupesh Reddy of Chennai Dost.
Bhavana, a transgender working with Sahodaran, said the attitude of the police needs to change too. “The police think we are upto some crime even if we are standing at a tea shop or coming out of a movie, especially a night show.”
It also helps to start awareness initiatives early, said activists.
“Schools and colleges are sites of violence and abuse. Many LGBT persons in fact refrain from continuing education due to such discrimination,” said G. Suresh, a city-based professor.
Talking about the city and the month-long celebrations, L. Ramakrishnan, one of the conveners of the event and director of Saathii, said the events in Chennai were unique as they not only celebrated diversity in sexuality but also sought to highlight serious advocacy issues.
“And while in other cities, class segregation among the participants and organisers is common with each section organising a different event, here, everyone comes together with a fair sense of purpose,” he added.
For Selvam, the event will also be a cry for help.
“Male-to-female transgenders have strong community support. But people like me are far more vulnerable,” Selvam said.
“My friends often tell me it is risky to participate in public events. But what drives me is the hope that someone will notice my struggle and help me get a surgery or at least a job,” he added.
“I have been taking injections that will help me grow a moustache and a beard. I hate it when employers keep asking me to prove I am a man,” said Selvam, who aspires to be an office boy in an IT company.