asia pacific lgbtq rights
Photo Source: United Nations development Program
3 min read

Regressive recent LGBTIQ events

In what can best be described as yet another difficult week for LGBTIQA+ community and their allies, particularly transgender and intersex folk, leaders of the Western world continued to use members of the community as pawns in their political agenda.

Last week, Mark Latham, One Nation’s leader in NSW, labelled a program allowing children to self-identify their gender as “evil” at an election forum hosted by the Centre for Independent Studies.

Over in the United States, the world’s most influential nation in terms of media agenda setting, after months of litigation and confusion over the now infamous Trump ban on transgender troops, the Defence Department is establishing a new policy prohibiting transgender people to transition, should they wish to enlist and serve. People who have already transitioned or have started the medical process, are not allowed. The policy is likely to take effect from April 12.

With growing evidence of how such discriminatory attitudes and media rhetoric on it is contributing to negative mental health outcomes for members of the LGBTIQA+ community, perhaps it is time for us, in Australia, to take some cues from our counterparts closer to home – in the Asia-Pacific region, in terms of handling LGBTIQ+ rights.

Truth be told – doing away with ignorance

I say this because as an Australian citizen of Indian origin, identifying as a gay man, in the past few months, whenever I have attended LGBTIQ+ events in Melbourne – be it a leadership training program or the pride celebration of one of the big four banks, I noticed gay men in positions of power and privilege publicly say, “transgender people in South-Asia are in such a bad state, they have no visibility and jobs.”

There is little truth to this statement. In fact, when it comes to opportunities for transgender people, South-Asian countries like India, are way ahead of almost every western nation.

Most people in Australia might not know this but India was quite possibly, the first country in the world to appoint a transgender woman – Manabi Bandopadhyay, as the Principal of a College (equivalent to the Dean of a University’s Faculty in Australia).

Manabi Bandopadhyay
Manabi Bandopadhyay

This was around the same time a transgender woman, Padmini Prakash, was appointed the anchor of a daily news show on Lotus TV (in South India), following another transgender television host, who had her own talk show.

In fact, Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi, a renowned international transgender activist, actor and dancer hailing from India, visited Melbourne in 2017 as part of the Jaipur Literary Festival (Melbourne) and having travelled the world, she concluded that trans community had better rights in India than in Australia, which has sadly been afflicted intensely by the binary notion of gender, a remnant of British colonisation.

It is also important to note how media rhetoric in the lead up to decriminalisation of homosexuality in India late last year, was not divisive and harmful for the mental health of LGBTIQ+ people. The judges who passed the judgement emphasized on giving equal human rights to everyone, irrespective of their sexual or gender identity.

Looking East for inspiration

There is a lesson there for us in Australia.

It is too easy to dismiss our counterparts in South-Asia as being behind us in terms of LGBTIQ rights, but that would be a logical fallacy.

In fact, as evident from the achievements above, there is a lot of work still left to be done for Australia to match up to its South-Asian counterparts.

Of course, this is not to say that LGBTIQ+ people have it easy in India or other South-Asian countries.

Challenges of homophobia and transphobia exist, much like in Western societies.

But when it comes to finding inspiration – positive inspiration, for what concrete steps can be taken to empower LGBTIQ+ community members in Australia, it is time we start overcoming our inherent prejudices about South-Asian countries and look to them for examples.

Prashant Bhatia is a Melbourne based writer and mental health speaker. He has previously published on LGBTIQ rights in mainstream Australia media rhetoric, mental health reform in Australia and on public interest journalism. He was also second runner-up in Mr Gay Pride Australia 2019. 

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