(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of transphobia.)
Aviation regulator, Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), on 10 August, issued guidelines for medical examiners to assess fitness of transgender persons who have applied for commercial pilot licence.
The was made possible by 23-year-old transgender pilot from Kerala – Adam Harry after he spoke about how he was declared "unfit" for flying on the grounds that he was receiving hormone replacement therapy.
In this episode of News and Views, we speak to Adam Harry, India's first transgender trainee pilot, whose fight against transphobia has paved the way for a more inclusive workspace.
Here are some excerpts from the conversation.
"The first moment when I heard about DGCA's guidelines, I thought it was a historic moment. It is the first time in India that the civil aviation authority is coming up with a circular, which includes circular for the transgender community. I consider this not my victory, but victory for my community."Adam Harry to The Quint
"Ever since I was a child I dreamt of being a pilot – this thought first came to me when my father gifted me a toy airplane. Later, when my father used to work abroad, I used to visit him or pick him up from the airport. My parents did not expect me to become a pilot," Harry added.
Harry came out to himself in class nine, after he read about the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) verdict.
"I knew I was different, but I did not realise there was a term for who I am, and how I felt. I thought I was strange, but the judgment made me realise I was not. I had a tribe, and people who are like me. I realised I am not alone. Even teachers thought I was different, and used to make me sit separately," he told The Quint.
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. They were ashamed of my 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 and beaten up. I even ended up in hospital. Finally, I managed to escape my house in 2019."
Between 2019 and 2020, Harry took up a number of jobs, from working at a juice stall to teaching at a aviation institute for no money. During this period, a local news reporter helped him reach the Kerala Social Justice Department, who eventually helped him obtain scholarship for training.
He took a medical test in the same year to join the course, but the DGCA denied him permission citing that he was "unfit to fly" due to hormone therapy.
"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."
“They said due to gender dysphoria and hormone replacement therapy (HRT), I am not fit for flying,” he said, adding that the officials at the Institute of Aerospace Medicine, Bengaluru, were transphobic. Harry was also forced to undergo a psychometric test – something that is not sought from all pilots.
The Changed DGCA Guidelines
A month after Harry came out with his story, a Change.org petition and multiple news reports, the DGCA framed new guidelines that a transgender applicant's fitness will be assessed on a case-to-case basis following the principles of assessing their functional ability and risk of incapacitation.
The transgender applicants, who have been taking hormone therapy or had a gender reassignment surgery within the last five years, will be screened for mental health status, it mentioned.
"The applicant shall submit a detailed report from the training endocrinologist containing the details – duration, dosage, frequency of dosage, changes made, hormone assay reports, side effects, etc – of hormone therapy the applicant has been taking," it noted.
An applicant who is on hormone replacement therapy, or undergoing gender reassignment surgery, will be declared medically unfit for at least three months, it added.
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