Though years ago India passed a sweeping law giving transgender people rights—and prohibiting discrimination in education, employment, and healthcare—the Biden administration is spending American taxpayer dollars to counter stigma and prejudice against the transgender community in the south Asian nation with the world’s largest democracy. Uncle Sam will pay for workshops that will help employees and leadership at Indian companies create awareness about transgender persons and their rights. This includes setting up “Pride/Rainbow groups” within the corporations and inspiring them to cultivate a more inclusive work environment as well as develop active transgender employee recruitment plans.
“These workshops will aim to help corporations and businesses to better understand the needs of the TG community and encourage them to adopt policies and carry out activities that foster a work environment that is safe, nurturing, accepting, and inclusive for members of the TG community,” according to the U.S. government grant announcement. The document adds that “a longer-term outcome is that these corporations and businesses increase their hiring of members of the TG community and help their employees and the general public be more accepting.” The ultimate goal, according to the administration, is to “sensitize” the Indian corporations towards the rights of the LGTQI+ community and the transgender community specifically. This will cost U.S. taxpayers $50,000 and the money will flow through the State Department under public diplomacy programs.
The U.S. estimates that there are more than five million transgender persons in India and roughly 3,000 of them live in Hyderabad, a capital city in country’s southern region. Companies there and in Chennai, on the eastern side in the Bay of Bengal, are the initiative’s targets. “For centuries, TG persons have played important roles in the Indian society,” according to the grant document. “However, that did not translate into equal treatment as citizens in modern India.” The U.S. does acknowledge India’s effort to improve transgender rights, but says it is not enough. “While recent laws have, to a small extent, provided more rights to the community, they continue to face social exclusion and discrimination because of their gender identity and orientation,” the State Department writes. “Unlike other members of the LGBTQI+ community, TG persons can often be identified by their appearance, making them easy targets for social and economic discrimination and exclusion.” The agency cites a 2017 study that shows 92% of India’s transgender population is unable to participate in formal economic activity, mostly fueled by social stigma and prejudice.
The referenced study was completed two years before India passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill, however. The law prohibits discrimination against transgender persons in all areas, including healthcare, education, employment, housing, and services. It also punishes those who abuse transgender people with jail terms of up to two years. Language in the measure makes it clear that the legislation specifically bans the type of treatment the U.S.-funded workshops plan to target. “No establishment shall discriminate against any transgender person in any matter relating to employment including, but not limited to, recruitment, promotion and other related issues,” the law, which was passed on July 11, 2019, states. Embedded in the bill is a “statement of objects and reasons” explaining that the transgender community is one of the most marginalized in the country because “they do not fit into the general categories of male or female.” As a result, the transgender rights bill explains, they face problems ranging form social exclusion to discrimination, lack of education facilities, unemployment, and lack of medical facilities. Transgender groups have also reported instances in which they were hired and “had to quit after some months due to the attitude of coworkers,” the 2019 law states.