Marriage between TG and MSM: On the rocks?

Shobha Shukla - CNS
The complexity in addressing sexual orientation and gender identity in the HIV response has marginalized the issues and needs of transgenders (TGs). While HIV programming in the Asia and the Pacific has scaled up considerably, TGs do tend to get subsumed under the MSM (men who have sex with men) category. Calls to separate programming and resource allocation to address their specific needs and concerns are growing louder.

According to Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, a hijra (TG) from India who runs Astitva – An Organization for Support & Development of Sexual Minorities, TGs are the only sexual minority that are so very evident and yet treated as invisibles by mainstream society. They often face greater problems in accessing health care, education and jobs as compared to MSMs. If they become HIV+ their problems are compounded. Working under the same umbrella, their problems are overshadowed by those of MSMs.

“It is not an unhappy marriage but perhaps one that might have gone wrong and is in need of some counselling,” Lakshmi believes. “Both partners of the marriage need to be treated with dignity and enjoy equal rights. We do not want the marriage to end in a divorce but we do want the MSMs to respect the fact that TGs are a different entity altogether.” We need to work as equal partners in our whole activism. We do not want to break this partnership but we do want to have our own space and our own budget to run the family.

Shale Ahmed of the Bandhu Social Welfare Society of Bangladesh agrees that MSMs and TGs are different groups, with different needs, issues and concerns. But there are also some areas of common interest, such as advocacy issues around stigma and discrimination where both can work together. “But sexual and reproductive health issues of TGs are very different from those of MSMs and have to be dealt with separately,” he said. “But still we can coexist.”

Rani Ravudi, from the Survival Advocacy Network of Fiji, demands that TGs should not be deprived of the right to life nor subject to violence because of their gender identity. They should be respected for what they are and enjoy all legal rights. States should design all facilities and services to meet needs of all its citizens regardless of their gender identity.

Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founder of the Association of TG in the Philippines, believes that both MSMs and TGs are marginalized and fighting for the same cause: human rights. So that makes for a happy marriage. Of course TGs do have different needs to address from MSMs, and so the issues have to be combined together carefully.

Pavitra, a TG from Nagpur in India, does not want a marriage between the two as it spoils life for both of them. “MSMs are able to access health issues much more easily than TGs,” she argued. “Doctors don’t want to examine hijras, so very often they do not go to seek health care.” We can reduce this through advocacy and creating awareness and by having more interaction between general population and TGs to mainstream them with society, she concluded.

Shobha Shukla, Citizen News Service – CNS
November 2013

Note: This article was first published in 11th ICAAP INSIGHT, the official daily conference newspaper of 11th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (11th ICAAP) in Bangkok, Thailand. This newspaper was managed by Inis Communication and CNS.