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Trans Indians protest proposed rights bill

by Heather Cassell

Hundreds of transgender Indians and their allies protested this week outside the Ministry of Social Justice against Parliament's reintroduction of the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill 2016.

Transgender activists say the bill criminalizes them rather than protects them.

The current bill inaccurately defines "transgender" and lacks many protections and provisions granted by India's Supreme Court and a House panel report, according to experts.

Advocates for transgender rights are upset that the Union government decided not to adopt recommendations made by the Parliamentary Committee Report in November. Instead, the government chose to move forward with the bill in its original form and introduced it this week.

"Our ministry feels that the bill made by us is good and there is no need to change it," Thaawarchand Gehlot, the minister of social justice, told the Indian Express last month.

Angered, transgender activists launched social media and letter campaigns directed at the prime minister's office, leading up to Monday's national demonstration in New Delhi.

Protesters chanted "Awaz do hum anek hain" (My body, my rule,) as they marched toward the Parliament House dressed in traditional saris and carrying colorful signs in multiple languages, reported the Times of India.

Another campaign launched last month by transgender activists opposing the bill has garnered support from 73 human rights organizations within India and 43 organizations around the world, according to the Express.

"The very definition of 'transgender' in the bill as neither male nor female, etcetera, is scientifically inaccurate and undignified," Gee Imaan Semmalar of Sampoorna, India's largest intersex and transgender network, told the Express. "It's wrongly based on the concept of ardhanaari in Hindu mythology."

Ardhanaari is the androgynous form of the Hindu god Shiva, who is half man and half woman, according to lore.

Semmalar added that the bill also mandates a physical screening by district level panels, which goes against India's Supreme Court 2014 judgment that recognized and mandated government-led changes to integrate transgender individuals into Indian society.

Chennai-based transgender activist Grace Banu noted that the bill was silent on several aspects outlined by the court judgment and the House panel report.

"These include reservations for government jobs and educational institutions, recognizing intersex as different from transgender persons, stress on health care, [and] decriminalization of sex work and begging and the provision of livelihoods," she pointed out.

The World Professional Association for Transgender Health agreed. Last month the organization asked the Indian government to withdraw the bill and replace it with one that reflected more closely the "terms and spirit" of the court's ruling.

Karthik Bittu, an associate professor at Ashoka University, said that the bill is silent on matters of relationships and family and that punishment for violence against transgender individuals is dramatically less than the typical punishment for sexual assault.

Sexual assault convictions usually get up to seven years in prison. Under the bill, such convictions for sexual violence against gender-nonconforming individuals stands at six months to two years for the same crime, Bittu explained.

Other issues with the bill are that it subjects transgender and nonbinary individuals to Section 377, which criminalizes homosexuality; bans begging, which is a primary source of income for transgender people; and requires transgender individuals to live at home or in an institution, according to the Times of India.

Weddings begin in Australia
Two lesbian Australian couples tied the knot over the weekend, becoming the first to wed under the country's new same-sex marriage law.

Those weddings were followed by two other lesbian couples who wed Sunday and Monday.

Weddings weren't expected to begin until January 9, after the mandatory 30-day notice period was over, but authorities in Melbourne, Perth, and Sydney waived the rule because of distance and the health of some of the women.

The first two couples to marry under the new law turned their commitment ceremonies into wedding ceremonies, reported ABC News.

Family members were already arriving from overseas to witness the nuptials of Lauren Price, 31, and Amy Laker, 29, from Sydney, and Amy and Elise McDonald from Melbourne.

Amy and Elise both already shared the same last name prior to being married.

The other two couples faced life-threatening cancer.

Together for 40 years, Anne Sedgwick and Lyn Hawkins from Perth tied the knot December 17. Hawkins, 85, is battling the final stages of ovarian cancer.

Cas Willow, 53, and Heather Richards, 56, married in Melbourne December 18. Willow is being treated for breast cancer, which already spread to her brain, according to reports.

LGBT radio station launched in Tunisia
Shams Radio, believed to be the first LGBT radio station launched in the Arab world, reportedly went live December 18.

The radio station, which has the tagline, "Dignity, Equality," was founded by Shams, an LGBT rights group, with support from the Dutch Embassy, reported Agence France-Presse.

Last week, Hans van Vloten Dissevelt, the Netherlands ambassador to Tunisia, tweeted a photo of the launch event in the North African country.

Bouhdid Belhadi, the station's general director, told AFP the goal of the station is to "sensitize" the Tunisian people about homophobia and to "defend individual liberties."

Homosexuality is illegal in Tunisia, a predominantly Muslim country. Men could face sentences up to three years in prison for same-sex acts. Young men are regularly detained and prosecuted, reported AFP.

Tunisia's LGBT community began to come out during the Arab Spring in 2011.

Despite receiving more than 4,000 threats, Belhadi and others aren't deterred.

"Our editorial policy is to talk about rights and individual freedoms in general, but the focus will be on the LGBT community," Belhadi told AFP.

Local activists will produce shows daily from the morning until midnight, with programs focused on politics, economics, and social issues.

UK mulls putting LGBT questions in census
LGBT Britons might be able to check off their sexual orientation and gender identity on the 2021 United Kingdom census.

In 2016, the Office of National Statistics, which monitors social changes and population growth every decade, noted the Government Equalities Office's observation of the lack of information, particularly among the transgender community. The national statistics office agreed that it hadn't ever asked about the LGBT community before, saying that it previously considered the information "not suitable," reported Pink News.

Representatives at the agency became more enlightened following a report that stated information about LGBT individuals living and working in the U.K. might be less accurate than the national census.

Most of the statistical data about the LGBT community is gathered from Public Health England from its interactions with health care providers, according to the gay news outlet.

U.K. residents are required to complete the online national census in 2021.

However, concerns about privacy and flaws in the form could cause problems.

Currently, one person completes the form for the entire family. Experts fear that will lead to underreporting by LGBT people. Issues within the form include a lack of categories to allow for LGBT people to self-report.

The national statistics office is currently working on how to best include questions about LGBT people, including eliminating the gender question, while maintaining privacy laws, reported Pink News.

Got international LGBT news tips? Call or send them to Heather Cassell at Skype: heather.cassell, or oitwnews@gmail.com .

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