This shelter home for transgender in Chennai is on a mission to transform

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Express News Service

CHENNAI: To have a roof over one’s head can become a thing of such immense privilege. More so when every part of your identity is met with discrimination and dismissal. For people of the transgender community, this has been a long-suffered reality, relieved only when they step up to help their own.

Only now, they seem to have better means to offer help. One such upgraded means is the Garima Greh: Shelter Home for Transgender Persons in Kolathur. With almost no conditions or criteria, the place provides food and shelter to trans people in need — free of cost.

A provision assured by the Transgender persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, this shelter home is the first such place set in Tamil Nadu through the allocation from the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, says Jeeva, founder and director of Transgender Rights Association.

“This would serve trans men and trans women. A lot of them leave the family and their home behind but hardly get a good platform to start their life. Hence, they are often pushed into the direction of begging or sex work. It is to avoid these issues that this project was initiated by the Union government,” she elaborates.

Teach a man to fish

The shelter home, however, doesn’t just stop with providing them wi th shel ter and sustenance. It goes one step further and tries to ensure a means of living — a way to secure one’s livelihood — during their stay here. “If they have been educated, we try to arrange for jobs for them. Otherwise, we have several training courses — tailoring, beauty course, making jute bags, jewellery-making, soapmaking, candle-making, and computers. Once trained, we try to place them in a job where they can put this to use,” details Jeeva.While the Ministrystipulated limit on the number of people the home can train is 25, Jeeva says they try to do the best within that limited means. Resource people (depending on the course in demand and the number of people taking it) will be called in to offer the lessons, she adds.

Aiding dreams

Barely a month since it opened its door s to the community, the shelter home is already serving eight trans men a n d women. Jensy and K Sahana had been struggling to find accommodation, having lived in men’s hostels before finding their way here.“It was in a WhatsApp group that I heard about this. As soon as I reached out, they asked me to come here with my things immediately. It’s been five days and I’ve been going to college from here. And everything has been made available. Even thoughts of the family don’t come up; this has turned into a family,” shares Jensy. While she lost both her parents, it was trouble with her sister’s husband that pushed her out of the house. Now, she is pursuing PhD in English at Loyola College and hopes to give back to Jeeva and the shelter home in her own right.

Sahana, nearing the end of her MEd course, dreams of becoming a teacher at a government school, contributing what she can for society. Meanwhile, she has found a haven here and has even taken up embroidery classes offered at the shelter home. She will soon make good use of the Spoken English classes too. Maina, another beneficiary, could even stand to have her PhD course funded through the home (be s ide s the scholarship).

A place for everyone

Unlike these trans women, Gautham had come to the city from Thenkasi to simply acquire the Transgender Identity card, with which he can get the government’s corona aid of Rs 2,000 a month. He needed a place to stay for what seemed to be a week’s work. With no place to go and friends too uncomfortable to take a trans man home, he spent the first night in the city at Egmore railway station. It was then that he got to know about this shelter and moved in here. It’s been more than a week and he’s yet to get the card, but his stay here has only gotten more fruitful. A BSc Botany graduate, he couldn’t land a job primarily for his identity as a trans man. Here, he’s being trained in Computer Science and English to improve his prospects in the job hunt.

“While awareness about trans women is quite prevalent, not a lot of people know about trans men. While trans women are treated as men for their assigned gender, with us, they are seen as women who are lying about our identity. So, there is no acceptance. There’s no way to find a job back home. That’s why so many people come to Chennai,” he adds, offering the extra discrimination that comes to this set of people. The shelter is already home to many ambitions and second beginnings. Jeeva’s only wish is that more people make adequate use of these facilities. And more such centres, of course. Here’s hoping.



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