India’s Supreme Court has given official recognition to transgendered people as a third gender. The Supreme Court argued that people have the right to choose their gender and have a right to identify themselves as neither male nor female. Beyond the important symbolic status of being officially recognized, the court’s decision will require the government to meet employment and education quotas for minorities.
The government will now have to treat transgendered people like any other minority. Since India is a massive and racially/ethnically diverse country with literally hundreds of minorities, the government has long used quota systems to ensure that everyone is getting an opportunity. Now, transgendered people will be included in the quota system, which could lead to marked improvements.
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Transgendered people previously denied access to resources in India
The official recognition should make it easier for transgendered people to gain access to resources. Campaigners who fought for official recognition have argued that transgendered people were often marginalized and forced to live in poverty. In public, transgendered people have generally been forced to choose between being male and female, even if they identify with neither.
The court noted that the issue of transgendered people was not a social or medical issue, but instead a fundamental question about human rights. As citizens of India, transgendered people should enjoy all of the rights and benefits as their fellow citizens.
The court noted that this fundamental equality was bounded in the Indian Constitution. Given the complex racial and caste relations in India, people were frequently marginalized in India throughout history for their skin color, family heritage, and other things. Ensuring fundamental, if not practical, equality was thus an important issue when India gained independence.
Transgendered recognition picking up across the globe
The ruling follows a 2009 ruling that overturned homosexual sex. India was not the first country to recognize transgendered as a separate identity. Nepal extended recognition in 2007 and last year Bangladesh also extended recognition.
In other countries, such as Thailand and Cambodia, the third gender has long been recognized and transgendered people are referred to by the completely separate term “kathoey”. This does not mean, however, that official recognition and rights have been extended.
The West, on the other hand, lags behind in transgendered recognition. Despite leading the world in many aspects of recognition for different races and also for recognizing equal rights for women, leaders in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere don’t appear ready to confront the transgender issue.