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29 LGBTQ Afghans arrive in U.K.

Rainbow Railroad part of evacuation effort

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

LONDON — A Canada-based group on Friday said it has successfully evacuated 29 LGBTQ people from Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad in a press release said the 29 evacuees arrived in the U.K. “as part of a joint” operation the organization carried out with the British government and Micro Rainbow and Stonewall, two U.K. LGBTQ advocacy groups. The press release notes they “will begin to resettle and rebuild their lives in the country” with the assistance of the British Home Office and other British government agencies.

“In Afghanistan, these 29 people faced grave and immediate threats to their lives because they are LGBTQI+,” said Rainbow Railroad in the press release. “Since the fall of Kabul in mid-August, Rainbow Railroad worked diligently on the ground with our partners in the region to provide safety for these 29 individuals, who we have now found a permanent pathway to safety out of the country.”

“This first arrival was the culmination of months of advocacy to the U.K. government, civil-society cooperation and partnership building which represents the best of what we can accomplish when we work in tandem with governments and civil society organizations,” added Rainbow Railroad

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan. Rainbow Railroad in its press release said it “helped dozens of LGBTQI+ individuals escape via the military airlift” that ended at the end of August.

Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country since the Taliban regained control of it are LGBTQ. Rainbow Railroad is among the advocacy groups that continue to urge the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in the country.

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Indian government withdraws teacher manual for Trans students

Conservative lawmakers, right-wing activists criticized document

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

NEW DELHI, India — The Indian government has withdrawn a manual to train and sensitize teachers in schools and colleges on Transgender or gender non-conforming students after conservative lawmakers criticized it.

The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), an autonomous organization of the Indian government to assist and advise the central and state governments on policies and programs for qualitative improvement in school education, last month released a training manual for teachers on the inclusion of Trans students in school. After it was released, the manual ran into controversy and faced resistance from the right-wing activists. Soon, the NCERT pulled the manual from its website, causing resentment among the trans and Indian LGBTQ community.

“When the news came out that NCERT is taking this step to make schools a safe place for the LGBTQ community in India, I felt so amazing and proud and was happy,” said Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra in Uttar Pradesh.

“It was the day after the news that they took it down because some minister questioned them, and they had to take this whole thing down, which disappointed and annoyed me,” Kallani added .

Back in 2014, Indian Supreme Court recognized Trans people as the third gender and said that it is the right of every human being to choose their gender.

Based on the Supreme Court’s judgment, the Indian government passed legislation in 2019, called the Transgender Persons Act. The NCERT acted upon this legislation and decided to formulate an instructing manual titled “Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap”, which was targeted to educate and sensitize teachers and students about different genders.

The manual highlights strategies to make schools sensitive and inclusive towards Trans and gender non-conforming students. It also includes the provision for gender-neutral bathrooms and uniforms, and sensitizing of non-teaching staff of schools was also included in it. The manual advocated discontinuing the practice of segregation of students into various school activities based on gender. The manual included inviting Trans people to speak on the school campus.

Soon after the release of the manual, Vinay Joshi, an RSS member (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, right-wing Hindu nationalist group), filed a complaint against the NCERT to the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR).

Joshi claimed that the manual is a “criminal conspiracy to traumatize students in the name of gender sensitization” and the NCPCR should take appropriate action against those who are responsible for it. The NCERT took down the manual from its website without any delay.

“The manual wasn’t for children, but teachers,” said Dr. L. Ramakrishnan, a public health professional and vice president of SAATHII.

Ramakrishnan was one of the members who contributed to creating the manual for the NCERT.

“We do not know if the manual is completely scraped or it will come out with some revisions,” added Ramakrishnan.

After multiple requests for comment to the director of the NCERT, Dr. Sridhar Srivastava, he remained silent. It must be noted that after the complaint was filed to the NCERT on the manual issue, two NCERT employees who were also involved in designing the manual were transferred to other departments.

“We are not happy about this, and we are still introspecting various ways in which we can still make it work,” said Mr. Rishu, a representative of Harmless Hugs, a platform that provides safe space for the LGBTQ community in India.

School students from across the country gave their reactions to the Washington Blade.

Priya Verma, 16, from New Delhi, the Indian capital, said that she is not happy with the NCERT’s decision.

“It is an important issue, people and classmates should know about this,” said Verma, a 10th grade student.

“When NCERT came up with this manual, many of the Transgender students had hoped for a change. Pulling out the manual shows the selfishness of the organization,” she added.

Yahnvi Kallani, a 14-year-old student from Agra, said when she read the manual, she was happy that the school would have a gender-neutral uniform. But since the manual is gone, she feels uncomfortable as she identifies herself as non-binary.

Muskan Vishwakarma, a freshman from the Gujarat state expressed her disappointment on the NCERT’s decision.

She said people in India lack awareness about the Trans community. Vishwakarma said people think it’s a sickness while it is not. To fix this problem, she said the government has to educate people, and it can happen through the schools.

Since the NCERT has pulled out the manual, she said the problem will remain untouched.

“Whatever happened, it was not up to good,” said Vishwakarma. “In classrooms, kids do not understand these things, and they end up bullying kids who look different or act different from them.”

Recently, 43 LGBTQ groups from different institutes in India and 700 people from across the country have signed a letter to the NCERT and demanded to bring back the manual on the NCERT’s website as soon as possible. The letter has also been addressed to the chair, National Commission for Protection of Child Rights, Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women and Child Development for necessary retrospection and actions, and the National Council for Transgender Persons (NCTP).

While many showed disappointment, some also expressed their hope with the NCERT. 

Manvendra Singh Gohil, an Indian prince who is the first openly gay prince in the world, spoke with the Blade about the issue.

“NCERT’s manual might be pulled out, but I am sure in days to come, it will be considered, and inclusion will be there,” said Gohil.

“We need to educate the political parties and the leaders, we also need to sensitize the parties no matter left or right,” he further added.

Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil (Photo courtesy of Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil)

Mumbai-based Tinesh Chopad, an advocacy manager at the Humsafar Trust, said the NCERT is a larger body, and it has a much larger reach in the country, if the manual can be retained again, it would be a good step.

“Most of the trans individuals face stigma and bullying at the school level as well,” said Chopad. “It was one step toward avoiding the bullying and discrimination Trans folks face daily.”

Mohit Kumar (Ankush)  is a freelance reporter who has covered different stories that include the 2020 election in the U.S. and women’s rights issues. He has also covered NASA, the European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency and loves to help people. Mohit is on Twitter at @MohitKopinion and can be reached at [email protected].

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Petition urges White House to protect LGBTQ Afghans

Taliban regained control of country on Aug. 15

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Two men in Kabul, Afghanistan, in July 2021 (Photo courtesy of Dr. Ahmad Qais Munzahim)

WASHINGTON — More than 10,000 people have signed a petition that urges the Biden administration to do more to help LGBTQ Afghans who remain in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country.

The Human Rights Campaign; the Council for Global Equality; Immigration Equality; Rainbow Railroad; the Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration and the International Refugee Assistance Project on Friday presented to the White House the petition that urges the administration to adopt “a 10-point action plan … to expedite and ease the refugee and asylum process for LGBTQI Afghans.”

The same six groups last month urged the Biden administration to adopt a plan that would “prioritize the evacuation and resettlement of vulnerable refugee populations, including LGBTQI people, and ensure that any transitory stay in a third country is indeed temporary by expediting refugee processing.” The groups, among other things, asked the White House to “speak out forcefully against human rights abuses by the new Taliban regime and any increased targeting of vulnerable communities, including LGBTQI people, and use existing mechanisms to sanction and hold accountable perpetrators of human rights abuse.”

The Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, on Aug. 15 and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute people if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the other groups that have continued their efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans since American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30. Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country are LGBTQ.

“We reiterate our call for President Biden to adopt the 10-point policy plan which will expedite and ease the refugee process for LGBTQI Afghans,” said Human Rights Campaign Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs JoDee Winterhof in a press release. “The 10,000+ people who signed our petition have demonstrated that they want the United States, long a beacon of refuge for those fleeing persecution, to take action to protect LGBTQI Afghans—a vulnerable group who risk oppression, even death, simply for who they are or who they love. Now is the time for action.”

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Transgender activist in Pakistan fights for change

Jannat Ali attended 2018 HRC summit in D.C.

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Jannat Ali at WorldPride 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo courtesy of Jannat Ali)

LAHORE, Pakistan — A pioneering transgender activist in Pakistan continues her fight for change in her country.

Jannat Ali—who describes herself as an “artivist”— is the executive director of Track T, a trans rights organization that is based in Lahore, the country’s second largest city that is the capital of Punjab province.

Track T in December 2018 organized Pakistan’s first-ever trans Pride march that drew nearly 500 people. A law that permits trans people to legally change the gender on their national ID cards and other official documents, allows them to vote and bans discrimination based on gender identity in employment, health care, education and on public transportation took effect earlier that year.

“That was an opportunity (for people) to celebrate their real true identities,” Ali told the Los Angeles Blade on Aug. 19 during a telephone interview from Copenhagen, Denmark, where she was attending WorldPride 2021. “People were shaking hands because we did it so beautifully.”

Jannat Ali, left, with Delaware state Sen. Sarah McBride at WorldPride 2021 in Copenhagen, Denmark (Photo courtesy of Jannat Ali)

Ali in March launched “Journey with Jannat”, an “inclusive infotainment show” with episodes on Instagram and YouTube. She is the first openly trans person to host her own program in Pakistan.

Ali in 2018 traveled to D.C. to participate in the Human Rights Campaign’s annual Global Innovative Advocacy Summit. Track-T last year received a $5,000 HRC grant.

“They changed my life,” Ali told the Blade, referring to HRC. “They helped me to fulfill my dreams in my life and make me be able to share my work.”

Pakistan’s Supreme Court in 2009 ruled in favor of recognizing trans people as a third gender on identity cards. The Pakistani government in July opened the country’s first school for trans people.

Section 377 of Pakistan’s colonial-era penal code that criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual relations remains in place. Ali told the Blade that implementation of the 2018 trans rights law— especially in the country’s tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan and in rural Pakistan — remains a problem.

“The government doesn’t (make it a) priority,” she said. “It’s a responsibility of other provinces to adopt or to amend it and present their bill in their own provinces.”

Ali said violence based on gender identity remains prevalent in these areas.

Alisha, a trans activist who worked with Trans Action in Peshawar, a city in Khyber Pakhtunkwa province that borders Afghanistan, died in 2016 after a man who reportedly raped her shot her several times.

Activists said staff at a local hospital delayed treatment because she was trans. The province’s then-governor ordered personnel to place Alisha in a private room, but she died a short time later.

“We are thankful to the governor,” a local activist told the Blade after Alisha’s death. “This was the first time that a government executive showed support.”

Taliban regaining control of Afghanistan ‘really sad’

Ali spoke with the Blade four days after the Taliban entered Kabul, the Afghan capital, and regained control of the country.

A Taliban judge in July said the group would once again execute gay men if it were to return to power in Afghanistan.

Some of the 50 Afghan human rights activists who Taylor Hirschberg, a researcher at the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health who is also a Hearst Foundation scholar, has been able to help leave the country are LGBTQ. The Toronto-based Rainbow Railroad and Immigration Equality are among the other groups that have continued their efforts to evacuate LGBTQ Afghans since American troops completed their withdrawal from the country on Aug. 30.

“I was really worried,” Ali told the Blade when asked about the plight of LGBTQ Afghans in Afghanistan after the Taliban regained control of the country. “I was really sad.”

Ali this week said she is now “in touch” with LGBTQ Afghans who have fled to northern Pakistan.

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