Pride & Prejudice: Building an equitable world for the non-binary

- Isabelle Tschan & Chiranjeev Bhattacharjya

June 27, 2024
Image credit: UNDP India/ Gaurav Menghaney


For Baha Homsla, a 20-year-old transgender woman from Jharkhand's tribal community, the word PRIDE means freedom. At Garima Greh (pride home), a government-supported shelter for transgender persons on Patna's outskirts, Baha finds a safe space to express her true self among her peers. They don’t judge, shun or jeer. 

For most transgender people or persons from the LGBTQI+ community across the world, the freedom to express and uphold their identity in society can be extremely daunting. When we visited Garima Greh run by a community-based organization DOSTANASAFAR in Patna, the capital of the state Bihar in Eastern India, the stories and experiences of the community move you. 

Baha slowly opens up to us. "The pain I experienced can only be understood by someone like me – from the LGBTQI+ community. My family confined me to a room, telling me to stay hidden from neighbours. Venturing out invited violence, so I had to run away," says Baha, who loves to dance.

Image credit: UNDP India/ Gaurav Menghaney

This is not Baha’s story alone. Globally, LGBTQI+ people bear the brunt of being different. From hidden biases to open discrimination, they struggle for acceptance in schools, hospitals, offices, and even at home.

The acceptance of non-binary individuals in society depends on where they live. In smaller towns, they often face more contempt. I had to change school multiple times due to incessant harassment,” says Anuj Pandey, who identifies as a gay man.

Image credit: UNDP India/ Gaurav Menghaney

While there are no official estimates for the LGBTQI+ population in India, a 2012 government affidavit to the Supreme Court put the number at 2.5 million. Experts, however, suggest it could be much higher—up to 135 million, nearly 10% of India's current population, based on the Kinsey scale. 

Over the years, India has been making strides in LGBTQI+ rights and has one of the more progressive legislations for transgender persons in the world. The Supreme Court recognized transgender people as a third gender in the 2014 NALSA Judgment, giving them access to driving licenses, ration cards, banking and property documents. In 2018, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalized same-sex relationships, was abolished. In 2021, the Madras High Court directed the government to eradicate prejudices against the queer community. 

The Government of India has taken critical steps to improve the lives of these vulnerable people. The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act 2019 and the SMILE Scheme, launched in 2022, create provisions for improved access to healthcare, education, skill development. For instance, transgender persons will soon start receiving Ayushman Bharat Transgender Health cards, providing free insurance coverage for various health services, including gender reassignment surgeries and mental health services.

Image credit: UNDP India/ Gaurav Menghaney

The Transgender Identity card being issued by the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment (MoSJE) is another positive step. Transgender persons, who often give up their birth names and live under a new name and gender, tend to face challenges in accessing services and welfare programmes using their old Government ID cards. With the Transgender identity card, they can get important documents like PAN card, ration card and driving license issued in their new names and can avail welfare schemes. For Baha, this ID card is more than just access to welfare—it affirms her identity. 

Despite these positive developments, there is scope to do more. Some members of the community are hesitant in getting their trans ID card. “If I am identified as a trans person on my government ID card, could it lead to more harassment?” said a community member on the condition of anonymity. 

These fears are legitimate and need to be addressed. We must work with the government and grassroot partners to advocate for the equal rights of the LGBTQI+ community. 

While the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage disappointed the LGBTQI+ community, it did recommend that Parliament address this issue and advised the government to form a high-powered committee to tackle stigma and discrimination—a step in the right direction.

Image credit: UNDP India/ Gaurav Menghaney

At UNDP, we are hopeful. We have spent the last two decades working closely with the Government of India for the rights of the LGBTQI+ community. We are dedicated to building an equal world for all - a world where people like Baha are not confined to their rooms, and Anuj doesn't have to keep changing schools. A world where every individual is free to pursue a life of their choice. 

Together, with the Government, UN and bilateral partners, private sector and academia, we are committed to supporting and amplifying LGBTQI+ voices, challenging stereotypes, and building a future where diversity is celebrated, and no one is left behind. We are allies, and you can count on us!

Isabelle Tschan is Resident Representative a.i., UNDP India, and Dr.Chiranjeev Bhattacharjya is Programme Analyst, Health at UNDP India

“The Transgender Identity Card will help Transpeople access healthcare, get ration cards to procure subsidised grain under the public distribution system, open bank accounts, get driving license – a long chain of documents that open up opportunities for them. But most importantly, it helps them get what they most want – an identity,”
- Reshma Prasad, founder of DOSTANASAFAR