India Interior

Pride of place, at last

Vinson Kurian | Updated on August 10, 2019 Published on August 10, 2019

Different strokes Staff and board members of Queerythm

Kerala has set up short-stay homes for the LGBTQ community

“If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.” Thus spake Mughal Emperor Jehangir when he visited Kashmir, the northern-most part of the country, in the 17th century. Three centuries down the line, an estimated 25,000-strong transgender (TG) community of Kerala is only too willing to extend the callout to the extreme southern State, thanks to its policy support for the third gender.

Keen to share information is Prijith PK, President of Queerythm, a community-based organisation in Thiruvananthapuram. It is through Queerythm that the State Social Justice Department looks to implement its latest initiative — a short-stay home or a care-home for the LGBTQ community members, in the State capital.

No other State offers as many welfare schemes to the community, in sector after sector, claims an excited Prijith. In education, there are scholarships and financial assistance for stay in hostels. All arts and science colleges have two seats reserved for each course. As for continuing education, separate courses have been announced as a part of the Saksharata Mission with free scholarship facility.

If you take health, a number of schemes are available, including financial assistance of ₹2 lakh for surgery (sex reassignment surgery), post-surgery care, and a plan to allot the Arogya health card.... steps only a progressive State like Kerala can think of, asserts Prijith.

“We are the envy of our own counterparts in other States,” Prijith says in an interview. “We get to know how privileged we are when our representatives go out to take part in community conferences in other States. We’re held in awe, something we feel when we interact with the community members there..”

Though Kerala was the first State to unveil a ‘Transgender Policy’ as far back as 2015 to end the social stigma the community faces, members were complaining that they are still not welcome at hostels nor accepted as paying guests, forcing many to spend nights at bus stands or railway stations. The recent death in distress of a transwoman, Shalu, near a bus stand in Kozhikode had shocked the community and raised widespread concerns about the safety and security of members.

‘Thanal’ (Malayalam, for shade), the short-stay home in Thiruvananthapuram, is the first such facility for trans men not only in the State but also in the country. Prijith says it housed eight inmates until recently. “Now, there is only one. The others were given counselling and sent back with parents.”

The short-stay home or care home is a part of ‘Mazhavillu’ (rainbow), an umbrella project initiated by the Kerala government as part of its transgender policy. In fact, the State Government plans to set up five such homes in Ernakulam, Kozhikode, Kottayam and Palakkad. As of now, only two are operational in Thiruvananthapuram and Ernakulam.

The short-stay home takes care of accommodation, food, medical care and even legal assistance for inmates for a maximum of three months. Each centre can accommodate up to 25 individuals. The Thiruvananthapuram facility was initially intended as a post-surgery care home. Later, individuals reporting specific distress conditions began to be admitted.

Enhanced sensitivity

Queerythm plans a community library at the Thiruvananthapuram care home, for members of Queerythm and also members of the community from outside. “Going forward, we want to make it into a queer study centre or a learning hub. Those who are willing to donate books are most welcome..”

A key offshoot of the policy to set up the care homes is that it has created 35 additional posts for the TG community. After all, only community members are given jobs at each home. In the existing Thiruvananthapuram centre, six such staff members are working — three trans men, three trans women, plus a counsellor. So, there are seven posts at each care home, Prijith points out.

Explaining the institutionalised support system of the government, Prijith says the State Social Justice Department has set up a TG cell working under it. Four community members are working in the cell, with Shyama S Prabha, Secretary, Queerythm, having been appointed as the State Project Officer.

It is after a member of the community took over charge that matters close to its heart have come to attract proper attention and prompt response. “So, access to the Government is much better now,” says Prijith.

The main objective of the TG cell is to support the functioning of the state transgender justice board and district transgender justice committees, according to a spokesperson of the Social Justice Department. The larger aim is to bring the transgender community into the mainstream of society by providing skill training so that they become self-reliant.

Published on August 10, 2019
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