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In what’s being hailed as a huge human rights victory the Indian Supreme Court has passed a ruling recognizing transgender people as a third gender.

The ruling upholds that “it is the right of every human being to choose their gender” and recognizes the importance of self-identification.

Justice KS Radhakrishnan, who headed the two-judge Supreme Court bench said in his ruling, “Recognition of transgenders as a third gender is not a social or medical issue but a human rights issue” and that “gender identity is integral to the dignity of an individual and is at the core of personal autonomy and self determination.”

The support for transgender rights came after a plea was filed before the Supreme Court on behalf of transsexual and transgender (or “hijra”) communities in 2012.

While there are approximately two million transgender people in India, a majority of them are ostracized and have a difficult time making a living.

There is a great deal of discrimination against the hijra community, making it difficult for members to access education, jobs and in some cases basic healthcare.

The ruling also recognizes the transgender community as a marginalized community, making it so that the government must provide quotas for jobs and education for transgenders to help them rise out of poverty, as they do for other disadvantaged minorities.

One major facet of this ruling is that people will be able to self-identify their gender without submitting medical evidence, meaning that proof of sex reassignment surgery is not necessary to be recognized as male, female or third gender.

This advance in transgender rights comes after the progressive 2009 allowance by India’s Election Commission for transgenders to choose a gender other than male or female on voting ballots.

Unfortunately, while this ruling is a huge advance for transgender rights, it also brings to light continued concerns for the LGBT community.

In December 2013, India’s Supreme Court reinstated a colonial-era ban criminalizing homosexual relationships, inciting a public outcry.

Following this ruling supporting transgender rights many people who support the LGBT community hope that this step in the right direction will lead to the repeal of this ban, and further rights for LGBT individuals regardless of sexuality or gender.

– Cameron Barney

Sources: Washington Post, CNN, BBC (1), BBC (2)