An op-ed in Matters India by Virginia Saldhana, a prominent Catholic lay theologian and former secretary of the Federation of Asian Catholic Bishops’ Conferences’ Office of Laity, Family, and Women, discusses India’s Transgender Persons Law passed in November. Saldhana and others say the law falls far short of providing adequate protections for gender non-conforming people.
Among Saldhana’s concerns with the law are the lack of inclusion for intersex people and requiring certification by doctors and government personnel for trans people to access any transition-related health care or legal documentation.
The new law allows only trans people who have had gender-confirming surgery to access any of its limited protections. Saldhana believe that the legislation also fails to “view the reality of Trans persons from a secular lens which would be in keeping with the constitution of the country.” She spoke with several young trans leaders who described the humiliation and dehumanization they feel when being asked to submit to such scrutiny for their care.
Saldhana makes a direct connection between her Catholic faith and a drive to provide more positive treatment of trans people in Indian society. She writes:
“In India, we are all familiar with Trans persons. We come across them in public spaces, usually begging, because as they point out, no one is ready to employ them. This bill prohibits begging by trans persons. Without making society sensitive, and public spaces more friendly by changing attitudes through a process of education, how can the government expect these gender/sexual minorities to earn a decent living. They are human beings created by God just like everyone else. Should they be made to suffer for something that they are not responsible for? Neither are their parents! It is just something that does happens in nature.
“I told young Dan that I am sure that Jesus would not treat him the way he has been experiencing marginalization in his faith community. I left the protest wondering what I as a Catholic could do to make this substantial group of Trans persons experience the life in abundance that Christ came to offer all people.”
In speaking out against the oppression of trans people in her society and in the church, Saldhana is already working towards the justice she seeks to carry out. She correctly in asserts that the legislation does not adequately support trans people, and that the Catholic community could do much more to rectify this situation. Saldhana has long been an outspoken supporter of the LGBTQ community. In 2014, she wrote an op-ed for UCA news asking for the then-upcoming synod on marriage and the family to bring LGBT people “in from the cold,” and to incorporate their needs more fully into church ministry.
For other LGBTQ and allied Catholics in India, there are a number of ways to more fully support the rights of trans people throughout the country. Rainbow Catholics India was formed in October 2019 with the support of Cardinal Gracias, a close advisor to Pope Francis. Three years ago in Kerala, women religious were instrumental in creating India’s first trans-inclusive school and shelter, as well as incorporating education related to transgender issues in their Carmelite schools.
It is essential that both ordained and lay Catholics throughout India vocally support trans people. Where trans people face continued marginalization and discrimination, it is necessary to continue reaffirming their gender and personhood, especially in religious spaces. By raising the voices of those most impacted by this policy, Salhana’s report sets a strong example of advocacy that all can follow.
—Catherine Buck, New Ways Ministry, February 19, 2020