‘Eligible To Fly in UK, USA but Not India’: Trans Pilot To Take DGCA to Court

When Adam Harry opened up about his gender identity on Instagram, his parents stopped supporting him financially.

4 min read
Hindi Female

(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of transphobia. Reader discretion advised.)

"Ever since I was a child, it was my dream to become a pilot. Today, I am one – but I am a pilot who is not allowed to fly. Like a bird, whose wings are clipped off forcefully. Simply because some people are uncomfortable with the person I am," 23-year-old Adam Harry from Kerala told The Quint.

Harry is India's first transgender trainee pilot. He is also a victim of transphobia.

In 2020, Harry, who identifies as a transgender man, received the Kerala government's support to undergo training and become a commercial pilot. He took a medical test in 2020 in order to join the course, but the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) denied him permission.

Two years later, on Friday, 8 July, the Thrissur native will be filing a writ petition in the Kerala High Court, against the DGCA which claims that he is "unfit to fly" due to hormone therapy.

'Parents Stopped Supporting Me'

Harry travelled to South Africa's Johannesburg in 2016 to pursue training at Skylark Aviation Academy to become a pilot. However, when he opened up about his gender identity on Instagram, his parents stopped supporting him financially.

He tried to complete his studies in Johannesburg while also engaging in part-time work, but he was forced to return home due to lack of support.

"Things got bad for me when I returned because my parents refused to acknowledge my gender identity. I was abused verbally, and was forced to undergo a so-called conversion therapy. I was locked inside a room for a long, long time. Finally, I managed to escape my house in 2019."
Adam Harry to The Quint

In Ernakulam, he took up various jobs – from food delivery to working in restaurants – to support himself. It was here he met a journalist, who covered his story and put him in touch with the Social Justice Department.

While he reached out to them to start a juice shop, the Kerala government offered him scholarship to pursue his pilot training with the Rajiv Gandhi Aviation Academy under the transgender persons' welfare fund.


'Physically, Emotionally Draining'

In 2020, Harry joined the institute – but had to undergo the Class 2 medical test to be eligible for a student pilot's license. He was forced to take the test as a female person – the gender he was assigned at birth – as DGCA's medical examination form did not include options for non-binary genders.

"I was told that there were only two categories to choose from – male and female. There was no option for him to give a test as a transgender man. So to make sure I cleared the test, I stopped my hormone therapy for six months. This was draining for me physically and emotionally. Any trans person can tell you this is not easy. But despite everything, my testosterone level was high and I did not clear the test."
Adam Harry to The Quint

“They said due to gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I am not fit for flying,” he said, adding that the officials at Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Bengaluru, were transphobic. Harry was also forced to undergo a psychometric test – something that is not sought from all pilots.

"They were reeking of transphobia. They told me that if they give me license, it would put many people at risk. I will anyway have to quit my hormone therapy to clear the exam under the female category. What is the point if I am not allowed to fly in India? My doctor has clearly advised me against it."
Adam Harry to The Quint

What His Writ Petition Seeks

Harry has decided to take the DGCA to court as the institute is planning to return the government scholarship – as he is not undertaking flying lessons but only on-ground classes.

"What is the point of it if I don't get license to fly in the country? I have never flown a plane in India. But I am eligible to fly in USA or South Africa, or the UK. But what is the point? Why are they discriminating me against my fundamental right to get a job?" he told The Quint.

"I want the DGCA to stop comparing bodies. Bodies of cisgender people to that of trans persons. Instead, look at a person's qualification. Don't snatch away someone's professional dream, because some other person is uncomfortable," he added.

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