Written by Amitava Sarkar (preferred name – Amrita), Co-chair, IRGT
“Please help, somebody please help!” Despite my shouting, my two friends and I drew no attention from passersby. We were surrounded by at least 10 men who were beginning to get violent. This happened in Kolkata, a metropolitan city of India, also known as “City of Joy,” though sometimes it becomes “City of Horror” for trans people like us.
Goddess Durga is the Goddess of Power, and she is worshiped in India and other places of the world, but in Kolkata she is celebrated with special zeal. Temporary temple-like structures (called Pandals) are created in and around the city, where she is worshipped by visitors from different parts of the state and country, and sometimes from outside the country as well. This incident took place in front of a huge crowd visiting one of these Pandals in South Kolkata. It was very difficult to rescue myself from that situation, but ultimately I was able to run away while the men were busy clearing space to torture the three of us. I remember that as I was trying get free, no one from the large crowd that had gathered came to our aid despite our pleas for help.
This is just one example of violence that took place in a public space, in a metropolitan city, and in front of huge crowd. One can easily imagine how frequent these experiences are for trans people, and how difficult it often is for transgender woman to escape from these acts of violence. Other kinds of violence (mainly gender-based) against transgender women take place everywhere—within families and by intimate partners, at educational institutes and work places, and when trying to access health services. Data show that in 2016, 21 transgender people died from violence-related causes; however, I believe the number is much higher, because I can recall what is happening just in my own country. There was an “honor killing” of a trans women a couple of months ago, and one can imagine that many similar incidents are taking place around the world but are not documented.
The way out is to work at two different levels—building the capacity of the community to advocate for themselves and continuing effective advocacy initiatives for stakeholders and policymakers. My journey toward this goal started when I met JoAnne Keatley (co-chair, IRGT) for the first time in Mexico during the 2008 AIDS conference. After observing the handful of trans women represented and the limited coverage of trans issues in such an important and international conference, we discussed the need to build a global-level platform for trans advocacy. Finally, we are here today with IRGT, a global network of trans women and HIV, comprising 18 very active members from different parts of the globe who are leading trans activists and doing commendable jobs for our community.
IRGT seeks to safeguard the health and human rights of transgender people and is able to conduct this work through a variety of important partnerships. With LINKAGES we are working to:
- Mobilize and sustain advocacy by trans communities for service improvements in the response to HIV and AIDS
- Foster trans leadership skills to create a new generation of articulate, tech-savvy advocates who can present their constituencies’ needs to government, health care workers, and police
- Provide technical support and tools to inform national policy, program design, and management for trans populations
Apart from this, IRGT is one of the 10 member organizations supported by Robert Carr Civil Society Networks Fund, to form the Consortium of Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) & Transgender Networks. This consortium is a coordinated effort to address the factors that affect MSM and transgender health and human rights, leverage our respective complementary strengths as advocacy and technical support providers, strengthen community responses via consolidated mechanisms for information exchange, and raise awareness through media outreach.
IRGT has received another important award from ViiV Healthcare for implementing training workshops for trans women and organizations spread across various parts of the globe. The project will conduct training of trainers with eminent trans leaders to help build the capacity of trans-led organizations.
Several other recent developments have raised the visibility of trans rights, many with the support of LINKAGES. This past summer, IRGT organized the first-ever trans pre-conference event in Durban, South Africa during AIDS 2016. IRGT also helped lead the development of the TRANSIT, global guideline on implementing HIV and STI programs for trans people, and has published studies about issues faced by trans women, the most recent of which is entitled, “Most Impacted Least Served: Ensuring the Meaningful Engagement of Transgender People in Global Fund Processes.”
My message to my community is this: identify your strong, positive qualities and begin using them for the development of yourself and our community. Believing in an alternative gender or sexual identity is not a crime. Don’t hide your talents and your identities; instead try to come out in true spirit to better serve yourself and your community. From my own experience I have realized that we have to make our own space and we have to support each other. Let’s stand together to take our movement forward for a better and more trans-friendly world, free from violence.
To learn more about IRGT please visit – http://transglobalactivism.org/