There is a long history of gender nonconformity in the East, steeped in both culture and religion. But there is also little to no legal protection and social acceptance for some transgender communities, including those that were colonized by the West.
In Pakistan, a group of transgender Christians have formed their own church, the First Church of Eunuchs, a place where they belong as both a religious minority and a minority within their religion.
“This is a great step,” the church pastor Ghazala Shafique, one of few women pastors in the country, told The Associated Press (AP).
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Shafique was recruited by Neesha Rao, Pakistan’s only transgender lawyer and a Muslim, who sought to create a space for her transgender Christian friends whose churches would not accept them.
“I am a Muslim child and a Muslim transgender, but I had a pain in my heart for the Christian transgenders,” Rao told the AP.
A 2012 decision by the country’s Supreme Court declared equal rights for transgender citizens and, in 2018, Pakistan passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, allowing citizens to self-identify as male, female, both or neither according to their own preferences. But sodomy and same-sex sexual acts remain illegal in Pakistan under the Penal Code of 1860, developed under British rule, although the law is not always enforced. And transgender Pakistanis, like the rest of the LGBTQ+ community, still face high rates of violence.
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“First thing I want to say is no one should have to suffer as transgenders suffer. People treat us worse than dogs,” Nena Soutrey, a transgender woman, told the AP. “This church is important for us because we are free and happy sitting here, worshipping the God who created us.”
Still, while some Pakistani clerics afford transgender Muslims’ right to marry an inheritance under Islam, the Church of Pakistan, a united Protestant Church of Anglican, Methodist and Reform Churches, have not recognized the First Church of Eunuchs.
“They tell me there are theological issues,” Shafique told the AP. “I am still waiting to hear what those theological issues are.”
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