India’s Supreme Court officially recognized the addition of a “third-gender” category in a landmark ruling on April 15, bringing LGBT international attention in the media. Judges and lawmakers in the U.S. should pick up the pace.
On top of this legal recognition, India’s Supreme Court mandated the government to provide transgendered individuals with affirmative action in the workplace and in education, as well as other amenities, such as the addition of gender-neutral bathrooms. People who are transidentified, or hijras, have also been granted access to medical care.
Hijra is a common South Asian umbrella term used to refer to transgendered people and to anyone who does not necessarily identify as male or female. The term includes many non-conforming identities within the queer spectrum, such as gender-queer, gender-neutral, or gender-fluid. According to ABC, there is an estimated 5 to 6 million hijras currently in India, with an estimated 2 million who specifically identify as transgender.
Like many transidentified folks, hijras are subject to discrimination on a daily basis. Ostracized, many hijras live by singing and dancing, begging or prostitution, and are often denied service even in hospitals.
Although important strides have been made in our own country in the fight for LGBT rights, the U.S. fails to recognize more gender identities in its legislation. Currently, since federal data sources disregard sexual orientation or gender identity, an estimated transidentified demographic comes only from population surveys and are in no way definitive. It is estimated 2 to 5 percent of the U.S. population is transgender.
New South Wales, a state in Australia, also recently passed a law similar to India’s. The state now recognizes that a person may be other than male or female, permitting their registration as ‘non-specific.” The ruling will affect some states including Victoria and Queensland which have similarly-worded legislation to that of New South Wales.
Although the New South Wales ruling ought to be extended throughout all of Australia, this small step is a step nonetheless — one that has yet to be taken by a single state in our own country.
That’s not to say steps haven’t been taken in our country. Just last November, the U.S. Senate approved the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. In addition, the United Auto Workers Union 2865 filed a petition last October urging the need for a safer, more accessible workplace at the university, including the need for more gender-neutral bathrooms. Their grievance was met last Friday for the implementation to be across the UC system, bringing in a stride closer to home.
Although these successes are a part of a recent upsurge in human rights, neither of them come close to resolving a fraction of the queer community’s issues in the way of equality. Currently, only 17 states recognize the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, while the UC is only one of few universities that understands the necessity of gender-neutral bathrooms. Other problems include access to health care, which has and continues to be virtually inaccessible—a prejudiced and unwilling doctor often being the main obstacle.
Legally recognizing a third-gender category would allow the U.S. to make room for future and more substantial legislation not only for those who are transidentified, but for those in the broader LGBT sphere. City on a Hill Press supports the recognition of a third-gender in our country. Self-fulfilled gender identification is a fundamental human right.