In a landmark ruling, the India Supreme Court has officially recognized trans people as a third gender. The BBC reports:
"It is the right of every human being to choose their gender," it said in granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.
It ordered the government to provide transgender people with quotas in jobs and education in line with other minorities, as well as key amenities...
"Transgenders [sic] are also citizens of India" and they must be "provided equal opportunity to grow", the court said.
"The spirit of the Constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender."
The judges asked the government to treat them in line with other minorities officially categorized as "socially and economically backward", to enable them to get quotas in jobs and education.
"We are quite thrilled by the judgement," Anita Shenoy, lawyer for the petitioner National Legal Services Authority (Nalsa), told the BBC.
"The court order gives legal sanctity to the third gender. The judges said the government must make sure that they have access to medical care and other facilities like separate wards in hospitals and separate toilets," she said.
More, after the jump.
In the ruling, Justice KS Radhakrishnan wrote that recognizing trans people as a third gender is "not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue."
The BBC notes that in Indian society, the term hijra is used to describe transgender people, transsexuals, cross-dressers, eunuchs, and transvestites. They face heavy stigma due to their gender identity, with high rates of poverty and homelessness, and most reportedly make a living by singing, dancing, begging, or sex work.
Rights groups say they often face huge discrimination and that sometimes hospitals refuse to admit them. They have been forced to choose either male or female as their gender in most public spheres.
India is hope to an estimated two million transgender people.
This is a strange time indeed for LGBT rights in India -- today's historic ruling moved trans rights forward, but another Supreme Court ruling in December recriminalized gay sex by reinstating the country's colonial-era sodomy law. The law punishes gay sex by up to ten years in prison. Between 14% and 17% of the world's LGB population lives in India.
Last month it was announced that the full 28-member Supreme Court will reconsider that ruling.
Image via ILGA.
UPDATE: A copy of today's ruling is below, via BuzzFeed's J. Lester Feder.
Transgender Judgment Copy by jlfeder