Hostility Towards Transgenders Growing Online And Offline

Hostility Towards Transgenders Growing Online And Offline
Norms and attitudes towards the indigenous transgender community have not changed much despite the hectic efforts of the past few years in the legal and legislative areas. At the same time, the hostility towards them has been consistently rising. Lazy mainstream media, harsh reactions on social media and the conservative mindset of people are further complicating the lives of the transgender community of Pakistan.

This was discussed as a group of media persons, lawyers, social media activists and people who are transgender gathered at the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) to discuss the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018, which guarantees them at least some semblance of equality by enabling them to choose their gender identity as they perceive it.

The discussion, titled Tackling Misinformation Around The Transgender Persons (Protection Of Rights) Act 2018, focused on how clerics and legal experts in the country misinterpret the proposed law.

Lawyer Saqib Jillani said that the opponents of the law fear that the provision to choose or change one's gender how they perceive is contrary to the natural order and thus un-Islamic. Moreover, he said that they fear that the law could encourage same-sex marriage – so much so that the positive aspects of the act remain "hidden through propaganda".

He added that due to the strong opposition to the law, "we are unable to present a counter-narrative. Only a few people are fully aware of the complex details in the act."

Jillani went as far as to say that even the Federal Shariat Court (FSC) has been 'blinded' by the misinformation surrounding the law, declaring key provisions of the act as un-Islamic.

"The FSC claims that the law promotes homosexuality. In actuality, the legislation contains no clause permitting homosexual intercourse or same-sex marriage. It is such a far-fetched argument."

Where it gets worse, he said, is that the FSC maintains that people who are transgender are just patients of a treatable disease, 'gender dysphoria'. But this is something which even the World Health Organisation does not recognize as a disease anymore.

The participants of the discussion also reviewed media practices in covering issues of people who are transgender. They were of the view that the media has failed to adequately highlight this issue.

Senior journalist Badar Alam noted, "It's one-sided reporting. Media is focusing on the less important facts, showing that a few thousand people who are transgender can spoil the whole nation through this bill. There was no fact-checking."

He added that transphobia is quite rampant, and its propagation via social media was colouring public perception. "Religion is being misrepresented on the Youtube channels for increased reach and going viral."

Shmyla Khan, Director of Policy at the Digital Rights Foundation, said that in the past couple of years, members of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and social media influencers have been spreading misinformation on the topic. She added that their viewpoint appears to garner significant traction online.

"An environment is being created to influence legislation. Social media algorithms also serve to make such videos go viral," she stated.

Members of the transgender community present at the discussion asserted that there is an urgent need for an organized and concerted movement to create awareness about the positive aspects of the act.