I wrote as part of the articles I was required to submit in the Jadavpur University Model United Nations 2016 as a member of the International Press.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community has faced discrimination and oppression throughout the millennia, with several key issues remaining unaddressed even today. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) journalist, Archita Mittra, reporting from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), explores some of them.
The Buginese people of Indonesia are an interesting ethnic group. Not only do they refuse to subscribe to the traditional male/female gender identities as determined by a patriarchal hetero-normative society, the Bugis identify five distinct and separate genders in their community. While their models of ‘oroané’ and ‘makkunrai’ are analogous to the accepted templates of the cis gender male and female, their remaining three categories of ‘bissu’, ‘calabai’ and ‘calalai’ are difficult to fit as per western LGBT models, and loosely correspond to gender-transcendent, trans-woman and trans-man identities respectively.
Meanwhile, in the world of international politics, delegates of various nations engage in a battle of wits. While the liberal Western countries repeatedly reaffirm the need for recognition and legalisation of LGBT rights, the conservative forces from the Middle East refuse to change their stance, citing their standard (and only) excuse that the religion of Islam condemns homosexuality on grounds of immorality. Thus, it is interesting to note that even though a small Indonesian sect recognises the World Health Organisation-endorsed view that sex is biological and gender a social construct, the Islamic population and its allies does not, making no room for the queer minority.
It must be noted that one’s sex depends upon an individual’s anatomy of the reproductive system and secondary sexual characteristics, while gender depends on what a particular society and culture delineates as masculine or feminine. A world that recognises gender diversity finds it natural for an individual’s gender to differ from that of his/her sex, supports cross dressing of transgender people, affords the right of transsexuals to go in for sex reassignment surgery if they so desire, and respects those who choose to be gender fluid and does not discriminate on one’s deviant sexual preferences. Also, alternative models of sexuality suggests that human beings cannot be categorised as ‘homosexual ‘or ‘heterosexual’, and that such categorisation may itself be a form of discrimination. The Kinsey Scale, in particular, points out that human beings have both homosexual and heterosexual tendencies which may change with time. Thus, although one’s sexual orientation must not be confused with one’s gender identity, both issues require to be addressed in order to protect the human rights of minority communities.
While same-sex marriage has been legalised in several countries, bias – on account of a conservative mindset – still persists, particularly directed at queer children. Statistics point to the fact that the LGBT youth are two or three times more prone to suicide attempts than their heterosexual counterparts, with one-third of the attempts actually culminating in suicide. Moreover, a 2011 GLSEN survey reports that 82% of the teenagers were bullied the previous year for their sexual orientation, with 61% never reporting any of the attacks. LGBT youth are also three times more prone to cyber bullying. Thus, anti-bullying legislation deserves worldwide attention to prevent the further loss of meritorious lives who could have otherwise served humankind in countless fruitful ways.
For the situation to improve, LGBT children require family support, with a focus on improved parent-child relationships which can be made possible by education and awareness programmes for conservative parents to be tolerant and accepting towards their offspring. Charles Pierce is quoted as saying, ‘I’d rather be black than gay, because when you’re black, you don’t have to tell your mother.’ Unless queer children are comfortable in discussing their sexuality and gender identities with their parents, societal attitudes are not likely to change. Moreover, racism issues should also be raised for surveys suggest that ‘LGBT people of colour are almost twice as likely to experience physical violence and 73.1% of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were people of colour.’
Furthermore, lesbian women also face the added oppression of patriarchy on account of their biological sex. In an Indian context, particularly during colonial rule where males had more privilege, a man could often engage in homosexual activities, albeit secretly, under the pretext of a heterosexual marriage to a woman who would be compelled to endure a sexually unsatisfying life unless she took charge – a situation immortalised in Ismat Chugtai’s controversial Urdu short story ‘The Quilt’. Female bonding – both homoerotic and homosocial – remain relatively unexplored in popular culture as compared to ‘bromances’, or male buddy flicks.
The subtle influence of patriarchy also manifests in societal attitudes towards cross-dressing. Liberal States do not look down upon women who dress in masculine attire, yet ridicule the men who put on feminine clothes. A feminist interpretation of the situation is as follows: patriarchy does not stigmatise the women, for they view it an act of the weaker/inferior sex (female) aspiring towards the stronger/superior sex (male), and vice versa. Thus, class hierarchies based on patriarchal ideas of hetero-normativity must be deconstructed in order to create a fair and progressive society.
Moreover, despite the fact that all human beings have an equal right to LGBT, there exists a significant disparity in health between heterosexuals and queer individuals. For instance, while 82% of heterosexual adults have health insurance, the number drops to 77% for LGB adults and even lower – to 57% – for transgender adults. Media agencies should also report the fraudulent aspect of several ‘conversion therapy’ programmes that promise cures for homosexuality via electric-shock and drugs on account of the fact that such programmes are not supported by adequate medical and scientific evidence.
In addition to gay rights, trans rights must also be equally recognised, given the fact that the majority of the trans community is extremely poor, abused and assaulted. In 2012, there were 2000 incidents of anti-LGBT violence. It is the need of the hour to severely criminalise hate crimes against the queer population.
Also, in several jurisdictions, a transsexual’s choice to change one’s name and sex is decided by the Court. The writer believes that the Court must not interfere in a transsexual’s choice to opt for sex-reassignment surgery or hormone replacement therapy as the health dangers/side-effects are best decided by a competent medical practitioner, and not the judiciary. Furthermore, efforts must be made to ensure such surgical operations are as inexpensive as possible given the fact that 68% of the LGBT youth have been kicked out by their families and are not likely to afford such medical procedures. Instead of parents coercing intersex minors into surgery, it is advised that such children are raised like normal offspring, choose their own gender identity and opt for surgery of their own accord.
Finally, the fight for minority communities is not complete without the recognition of gender fluidity and non-binary gender categories referring to individuals who identify with both or none of the traditional male/female roles, in light of the fact that gender is essentially a social construct and that individuals perceptions always differ.
Ultimately, sexuality and gender identity is an individual’s private issue, and unless one’s human rights are actively prioritised over one’s religious or cultural beliefs, the hope for a better future shall remain a Utopian dream.