Penang has started the ball rolling by setting up a committee to look into the welfare of the transgender community. COMMENT
The Penang state government’s appointment of a committee on July 5 to look into the welfare of the transgender community came has a surprise to many but it is in the right direction for other state governments and parliament to follow.
DAP assemblyman for Tanjung Bunga Teh Yee Cheu, who is the committee chairman, said it was the duty of the state government to represent all sections of the community.
State opposition leader Jahara Hamid (BN-Teluk Air Tawah) seemed to be confused between transgender and homosexual when she asked whether he state government supported same sex marriage.
Chong Eng told Jahara that while the proposal was sensitive to Muslims, it would address the rights of the minority group.
She said transgender people had issues which included the need for separate hospital wards, toilets and lock-ops.
However, both sides agreed to examine ways to protect the transgender community from continued bullying, exploitation and discrimination.
Transgender children are often verbally and physically abused in schools. “Effeminate” boys who might or might not identify as transgender individuals are forced into boot camps for “rehabilitation.”
Prejudice and discrimination continue to rear their heads in the lives of transgender individuals at workplaces.
Sometimes they are refused jobs simply because of their gender. Even if they are fortunate enough to secure a job, they are continually bullied and unable to move up the career ladder.
Those who cannot get jobs turn to the sex trade to survive, which puts them in even greater mental and physical risk.
Transgender people who sometimes have unique health care needs such as sex reassignment surgery or hormonal therapy are not being properly attended to.
Health care professionals are reported to be unknowledgeable, unskilled and even unwilling to attend to the needs of the transgender community.
Some transgender individuals are disowned by their family members and friends, leaving them without much love and care.
Others have a hard time to get a safe place to live in as they are refused accommodation due to their identity.
Moreover, the transgender community faces constant verbal and physical assaults from the public. The recent incidence of a transgender who was beaten with a metal rod and stabbed with a knife until her skull cracked open is just one example of a much common occurrence.
In prisons they are unfairly prosecuted and often physically and sexually assaulted by fellow inmates and prison officers.
What did the transgender community do to deserve all these horrific mistreatments?
Transgender individuals are also entitled to the same set of fundamental human rights as any other person. They are equally capable of contributing to their personal and community enhancement.
Penang has spearheaded a good start by setting up an official committee to address the issues of the transgender community.
Hopefully, the committee will hold fruitful discussions with the transgender representatives that can eventually lead to fair policy decisions.
Similar committees need to be set up in other state assemblies and the parliament as issues faced by the community demand nationwide attention.
Being part of organisations such as the Knowledge and Rights with Young people through Safer Spaces (KRYSS), Seksualiti Merdeka, Justice for Sisters and PT Foundation would be a good start to support transgender people.
Tamil Selvan Ramis is a FMT columnist