Transgender ad campaign

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  • Published 1.09.14

New Delhi, Aug. 31: India’s government will come out with its first ever television and newspaper advertisements on the rights and problems of transgenders, who endemically face bias and taunts in the country.

Officials said the ads, likely to hit the small screen in a month, are the government’s first step towards fulfilling a mandate laid down earlier this year by the Supreme Court, which asked it to protect the community’s rights.

Transgenders, commonly called “hijras” in India, are people whose identification of their own gender does not match the one assigned to them by society. The rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT) are a politically sensitive issue in India and have never been the subject of government ads before.

Sources said the campaign, to be run by the social justice and empowerment ministry, would feature several transgenders and focus a good deal on the widespread use of derogatory vocabulary against the community.

The content will be generated by Priya Babu, a documentary maker, writer and transgender rights activist who is part of a committee the ministry has formed to draft its policies for the community.

“We decided that we must make society understand the issues of the transgender community before embarking on a framework of schemes,” Babu said.

“People need to understand that in their everyday lives they make comments and statements that, even if made in jest, could be really embarrassing for people with alternative sexualities. They have to understand that people like us are not abnormal. They can be family-oriented, religious, normal human beings who love, hate, cry and laugh like anyone else.”

Babu added: “I believe that tastefully done (ads) in the public service videos, which people will watch in their own homes with their children and parents, will help change mindsets to a degree.”

Babu’s idea of the campaign is similar to that behind a group of ads launched in Canada earlier this year, called “The Me Inside”. The campaign includes print and video ads showing a male face and a female face with opposite-gender masks and the tagline: “Not All Prisons Have Bars. Support Trans Awareness.”

“Transgenders are trapped in a body that they feel doesn’t belong to them. Even after they have made the changes, they do not change as a person. One has to understand that,” said activist Laxmi Narayan Tripathi.

The directorate of advertising and visual publicity’s empanelled advertisement agencies will produce the ads, which will follow a tradition begun in the West.

In 2008, after a US government report found that LGBTs were being subjected to violent crimes, a non-profit organisation launched the “Think Before You Speak” campaign on television, radio and magazines to raise awareness about bias in America’s schools. It sought to teach the youth how “language can be hurtful”.

In 2012, Australia launched a TV campaign — No To Homophobia — that encouraged people to hold others accountable when they witnessed or were victims of homophobic behaviour.

On April 15 this year, India’s Supreme Court accorded legal recognition to transgenders as a “third gender” and ruled they were entitled to all the fundamental rights, reservation in jobs and education, and separate public toilets.