Four transgender people have been killed this week in Pakistan following an escalation in transphobic rhetoric by bigoted lawmakers and clerics, including one senator who referred to trans people as those who “keep one hole for urination.”
The senator, Fawzia Arshad, is a member of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, also known as PTI or the Pakistan Movement for Justice. Earlier this month, she introduced legislation to repeal trans protections in the country’s landmark Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2018 law.
The 2018 law granted trans individuals the right to be recognized by the government as their “self-perceived gender” and to change the gender markers on their government-issued identification document. It also granted protection from discrimination in workplace, education, healthcare, political, and housing settings, as well as in other public accommodations. The law also required the government to train government agencies about trans issues and to give business grants to trans entrepreneurs.
Arshad and other legislators have introduced amendments to change this law by replacing the word “transgender” with “intersex persons” and removing the right of such individuals to be recognized by their self-perceived gender. The legislators say such recognition is “against the spirit of Islam.” Instead, they say, such individuals should have their gender determined by their physical appearance or by a report of a medical board, the Pakistani news outlet Dawn reported.
The legislators also want to change parts of the law that require the government to help in caring for trans people, instead saying that their parents should be solely responsible for their well-being.
The religious legislators say that in protecting trans people, the 2018 law inadvertently pushed the public acceptance of homosexuality, which is illegal in Pakistan and punishable by between two years and life in prison.
“I ask Allah for forgiveness when this bill was passed,” Sen. Mohsin Uzair recently said, according to The Express Tribune. “Transgender persons are not eunuchs but homosexuals, so they cannot be protected.”
Arshad wrongly equated trans people with intersex individuals even though the two identities are different. While trans people have gender identities differing from the gender they were assigned at birth, intersex people have any number of biological features that fall somewhere between those typically associated with the male and female genders.
Some intersex people’s bodies can look and operate differently, but not all intersex people have differently configured genitals. In fact, many intersex people may not even know that they have intersex features without medical testing.
And Arshad confused many when she said that trans people are defined as those who “keep one hole for urination.”
“Fawzia Arshad’s proposal reflects how much these politicians don’t know about our communities. Who are they to talk about our rights?” said trans rights activist Shahzadi Rai to VICE World News. “They’re trying to snatch our constitutional empowerment, even after this law was created with everyone’s agreements.”
Several LGBTQ and feminist organizations have opposed the transphobic rhetoric in statements on social media. Advocates posted an upsetting video showing a man slapping and threatening a trans woman with a gun and another featuring people wailing as a trans woman is carried away in a coffin.
TW: Transphobic Violence & Murder
This is what the country's religious (@SenatorMushtaq) and non-religious rich elite class (@RealMariaButt) is doing to us Khawajasiras. They want to eliminate us completely. This is genocide. Transgender genocide in 2022 Pakistan.#JeenayDo 🙏 pic.twitter.com/HYC09pIfjR
— Hina Baloch (@surkhina) September 30, 2022
“We believe this is an act of political opportunism and indicates their struggle to find niche support, amongst their supporters,” the Sindh Moorat March, a pro-trans organization wrote on Twitter. “The false information… being systemically spread on social media … has resulted in a climate of increased hate speech, physical and gun violence, and threats and doxxing against the community and its leaders.”
We strongly condemn the systematic propaganda, hate speech, and violent attacks happening against the transgender people, which has long been marginalized, persecuted, attacked, and murdered. pic.twitter.com/ygRsBP0ol0
— Sindh Moorat March (@MooratMarch) September 23, 2022
The religious leaders’ transphobia is similar to anti-trans politicking happening in the United States. Republicans nationwide have passed laws requiring student athletes to sign affidavits confirming their biological sex assigned at birth. They have also claimed that trans allies want to mutilate the genitals of young trans children (though the types of gender-affirming procedures they are referring to are rarely, if ever, performed on trans minors).
As a result, hate crimes against trans people have spiked in the United States. A recent study by the law school of the University of California in Los Angeles found that trans people are currently four times more likely than cisgender people to experience violent rape or assault.