Transgender persons need more comprehensive support

Isolation centre set up for transgender persons

The coronavirus pandemic has brought fresh economic hardship for transgender persons. The community also faces lack of testing and quarantine facilities in the country. In the ongoing dismal situation, an isolation centre for transgender persons has been set up on self-help basis.

The disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic might also increase result in a greater spread of AIDS and other diseases among transgender persons because many of them may be forced into sex work due to joblessness caused by the corona lockdown in the country as there are no weddings, gatherings and dance parties any longer where they can earn their livelihoods to feed themselves.

There is no government-run shelter home for transgender community in the entire country so far, let alone isolation centres to provide for them in case they catch a coronavirus infection.

Currently the pioneering isolation centre, set up in Islamabad, can accommodate 10 people at a time. Those lodged at the centre are also given medicines, for which they collect donations. They are also supported by funds set up under the Corporate Social Responsibility rule of Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan.

The lockdown and subsequent joblessness have resulted in an increase in the incidence of sex work in the community.

Farzana Khan, the KP president of TransAction Alliance Pakistan, says that while their community was already facing social problems, the lockdown has aggravated the issues. “The AIDS prevalence rate among the transgender persons has been 7.5 percent but the ongoing lockdown and joblessness may increase the risk of AIDS and other diseases among them,” she says.

While the lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic has affected all segments of the society, the transgender community says that hunger has become a bigger threat for their survival than the coronavirus.

Farzana says that many members of their community have been expelled from the rented rooms because they were unable to pay the rents.

“Several businesses are now allowed to work for certain hours during the lockdown, but when it comes to our work, gatherings have been banned completely. This is why even if we evade coronavirus, hunger will kill us,” she says.

Farzana also says that many of the owners of buildings where transgender people have lived are also unfair and take every opportunity to exploit them. She says that a building owner normally charges someone Rs 5,000 per single bedroom, but the same room is rented to a transgender person for Rs 10,000. “This is because they know that people from our community are not welcome in every street and market. It is their way of exploiting us,” she added.

She regrets that members of their community are not accepted by their native families and many are expelled from homes as their parents and families consider their habits “abnormal”.

“I used to be restricted to my home in my childhood and my family would not take me to gatherings at my relatives’ homes as my features would be considered ‘abnormal’. Finally, I decided to leave home and later I took shelter with a guru, an experienced member of transgender community taking care of community members,” Farzana says.

Qamar Naseem, a rights activist and chief executive of a non-government organization Blue Veins, said a major issue faced by the transgender community is that they have problems regarding separate isolation, quarantine centres and corona testing.

“The transgender community is the hardest-hit as gatherings that provided them opportunities for work opportunities are no longer occurring amid the ongoing lockdown. The incidence of forced sex with them has increased. Many of them have borrowed the money they need on exploitatively high interest rates,” he says.

He says transgender people also have limited channels of information, which is why many of them lack awareness about precautions and SOPs on coronavirus. “The lack of identity cards is also a major issue. Among other things it deprives them of relief assistance promised by the government. Street musicians too have suffered due to the lockdown,” he adds.

The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar and a PhD candidate. He tweets @peoplefriendly

Transgender persons need more comprehensive support