Third Gender: What Danica Roem’s Victory Means for LGBTIQ Rights 

There’s poetic justice in a transgender person defeating a transphobe in Virginia, US.

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Danica Roem is the first  openly transgender person to be elected into the United States Legislature.
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There are times when karma catches up with you in the form you least expected. At least, that’s what’s happening in Virginia in the United States of America, where republican Bob Marshall has been dethroned from his chair as the Member of Virginia House of Delegates by Danica Roem.

Bob was in this position for 25 years. The fun fact, that calls for all the opening of the rainbow bottle of champagne, is that Bob was the one who introduced what was dubbed as the anti-transgender “bathroom bill” that restricted bathroom and changing facility to persons as per their gender assigned at birth. And Danica Roem is a transgender person, whose gender assigned at birth was ‘male’. Now she is a female.

Here’s her election campaign video :

Bob’s “Physical Privacy Act”, as it is christened, is largely identical to North Carolina’s House Bill 2, which allowed only those who were assigned ‘male’ at birth to use the male restroom and the ones who were assigned ‘female’ at birth to use the female bathroom. It means that if you were a male and now identify as and are a female, you will still have to use the male bathroom or vice versa for those who were born female and now are male.

The bone of contention for people who voted in favour of house bill 2 was religious freedom, and security for their children. The American constitution, like ours, grants fundamental rights for its citizens, and transgender rights are fundamental rights, just as freedom to practice any religion.

However, along with progressive scientific America and the rest of the world, I also wondered how being transgender curbs religious freedom when the fundamental attribute of religion is to respect all people for who they are. And how on planet earth does someone being transgender cause any threat to any child?

There is a theory that men will enter women’s restrooms saying that they are transgender women and attack them, though there has been no research for such conclusion to be drawn. So basically republicans offered a bill to combat a problem that doesn't even exist in the first place.

While this happens in America, transgender discrimination is universal. Transgenders are subjugated everywhere. That’s why Danica Roem’s victory is not just of American but international importance. She happens to be the first person who is openly transgender to be elected into United States Legislature. In her victory speech, she wasted no time in rebuttals or basking in the glory. She simply started with what she would fix. As she says “discrimination is a disqualifier”, the euphoria is audible even as people stood transfixed by the words of this transgender.

Time will tell if this transgender is able to fix things. For now, it is time for celebration for everyone, but especially all those LGBTIQ rights persons who pitched in their support and saw their victory in her victory.

When it comes to transgenders in public office in India, we have much to be proud of.

Way back in 1998, Shabhnam Bano, popularly known as Shabnam Mausi, was the elected member of the Madhya Pradesh State Legislative Assembly. More recently in 2014, Madhu Bai Kinnar, a transgender person from the hijra community and the dalit community, became a mayor. However, there were also two disqualifications from mayor roles: Kamala Kinnar and Kamala Jaan were both elected as mayors in 2009 and 1999, but their elections were annulled by the court. This was because the mayor’s seat was reserved for a “woman” and the court thought that they did not qualify as “women”.

When it comes to bathrooms, it is a big issue in the US. In India, on 3 April this year, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation under the Swachh Bharat Mission, issued guidelines that allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their choice. This guideline prefixed a note stating “Swachh Bharat Mission should make a conscious effort (to ensure) that they (third gender persons) are recognised as equal citizens and users of toilets.” Despite such a positive statement, little effort has been taken to fight prejudice at the grassroots.

Here’s a little social experiment for emphasising on #EqualToilets by The Humsafar Trust.

Post a legal battle and the passing of transgender persons bill, transgender persons are recognised as the “third gender” today. They are considered to be the third gender. However, a question that one of my transgender friends asked me has left me perplexed: “If we are third, who are the first and second?”

(Harish Iyer is an equal rights activist working for the rights of the LGBT community, women, children and animals. ‘Rainbow Man’ is Harish’s regular blog for The Quint)

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