Indian society has been intolerant of the existing diversity of sexual identities for a very long time, however, after years of struggle and debates, in 2014, the Supreme Court declared the transgender community as a legal third gender. Since then, India’s 'third sex' has made headlines on a number of occasions, for all the right reasons. We saw K Prithvi Yashini’s appointment as police officer and applauded Professor Manabi Bandopadhyay’s inspiring journey as she was made India’s first transgender principal, even while Kerala became the first state to legally implement a transgender policy to uplift the community out of the doldrums, once and for all. Suffice to say that these were big steps, especially in a country that has no lack of discrimination, be it based on gender, caste, or the incomprehensible criminalisation of homosexuality. The transgender communiyy has evolved from a small community that’s been clandestine about its customs and lifestyle to approximately 4.9 lakh members, hardly a ‘minority’ anymore, yet they still deal with prejudices and unwarranted hate on a daily basis.
However, it’s not fair to point a finger at society as a whole for the misgivings and ignorance of some. The LGBTQI community in the country has held strong through it all, and they've garnered increasing support from the ‘normal’ heterosexual populace, and have continued doing great work for the betterment of it’s members--raising awareness about health problems, psychological struggles and improving their position in society. One such group is The Mitr Trust, a Delhi-based LGBTQI charity, and they have a dream that you can help make a reality. Rudrani Chettri, activist and head of the Trust, has set up a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to launch India’s first transgender modelling agency, “run by transgender people, for transgender people.”
Chettri posted on the campaign page, “this is an effort by the transgender community to improve our social and personal image, and to raise awareness about the serious issues of discrimination and marginalisation that we face.” Having teamed up with fashion stylist Rish Raj, the agency will give a change to young transgenders to be models in mainstream media, a place where they’re given few opportunities, and serve as role models for other members of the community that live in fear and shame of who they are. “We want to become positive role models for others, so no one else has to grow up as we did, feeling like there was something wrong with them, and they were the only person in the world born like this.” The Mitr Trust and several other such organisations are facing a severe cut in funding that’s hindering the hard work they’ve put into bringing hope and change into motion.
The modelling agency aims to be a beacon of hope, and for some an opportunity at a new life away from the more standard sex trade that trans women and trans men get forced into all too often. The plan, as has been stated on the campaign page, is to host an open casting call for transgenders and give them the opportunity to get fashion advice from Rishi Raj and get their headshots. Five models will be selected from the auditions, who will get a portfolio made with a top professional fashion photographer. The models will pose for a good cause, they'll be on postcards that will contain information about the funding crisis too. The agency hopes to sell the postcards nationwide in order to shed light on the grave reality of organisations like theirs that are struggling to carry on due to lack of funding. The agency will not only raise money but give a platform to transgenders with modelling aspirations.
Internationally speaking, most of the world has been far more progressive about integrating LGBTQ people into everyday society by providing equal opportunities. Stunning transgender models like Andreja Pejić have walked the ramp and been part of fashion campaigns for a while now, while April Ashley's a transgender pioneer of sorts, who joined the industry as far back as 1961. Caroline “Tula” Cossey was both a Playboy model and Bond girl, and a sister brand of H&M, called & Other Stories, launched a campaign for its fall collection that featured only transgender models. Thailand’s Apple Model Management became the first in the world to represent transgender models at their agency in 2014, while Peche Di set up Trans Models, creating New York City’s first transgender modeling agency so the signs seem clear enough. Why shouldn’t the same be done in India?
The Mitr Trust aims to raise £5,000, that’s Rs.4,89,485, to fund various aspects of the project, and they’re also in need of web designers and a PR agency. A full breakdown of where the funds will go can be seen on the campaign page, apart from the money used for the agency, £1,500 of the money to be raised is needed to keep the charity running. The end date of the campaign is the 3rd of February. You can donate for this great project at the GoFundMe page, share the campaign, and you can contact them here if you or anyone you know can help with the other requirements. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the incredible work done by The Trust and help them, and other organisations like theirs, to continue running, while simultaneously carry on the tremendous work they’ve put into uplifting a community that’s been downtrodden for far too long. Let 2016 be the year of acceptance.
Words: Sara Hussain
Images by Nishant Shukla