Transgender Day Of Remembrance In Times Of Boycott Threats And Mounting Online Hate
The gender-rights groups mark Transgender Day of Remembrance this year amid hate speech campaigns and conservative backlash becoming a norm in the digital domain, certainly emboldened by the rise of the far-right the world over.
The gender-rights organisations and the transgender community mark November 20 as the Transgender Day of Remembrance. The day is dedicated to victims of violence directed at trans persons. Even as there is a trickle of progressive developments, online hate continues to mount, particularly at a time when social media giant Twitter (rebranded as X) has gone slow on content moderation and has put blue ticks up for sale, allowing anyone with cash to amplify their voice. More often than not, it has resulted in erstwhile anonymous and fringe elements (read as trolls) becoming ‘verified’ users with increased reach for their hateful content — as India too has seen lately.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance began to be observed after the murder of trans-woman Rita Hester in November 1998. She was stabbed 20 times in her home in Boston, United States. Trans-rights advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, herself a trans-woman, organised a vigil for Rita the next year and started a website that evolved into making Transgender Day of Remembrance an annual event. The movement spread outside of the United States as well.
Organisations throughout the world, such as Groupe Activiste Trans in Paris, Human Rights Commission of Tel Aviv in Israel, and Diritti in Movimiento in Pescara, Italy, have adopted the day and usually mark it with remembering trans victims of violence and highlighting the issues of the community, including discrimination and harassment, according to The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD).
As hate speech campaigns become organised in the digital domain and conservative backlash becomes a norm, years of progress are at risk of being lost. For years, corporations included trans persons in their branding exercises and advertisements. Still, these companies are becoming the target of ‘cancel culture’ lately as conservative voices, encouraged by the rise of far-right politics the world over, are becoming much more mainstream and vocal. The case of Bud Light in the United States and Starbucks in India are just two examples.
Moreover, even as the expected trajectory would be to have more acceptance and understanding of the trans community and their issues over the years, several places have experienced backward slides, including conservative-ruled states in the United States. Lately, Hungary has ended legal recognition of trans persons and Russia has banned gender-affirmation surgeries and has banned the LGBTQ movement. Reuters in June reported that lawmakers in 37 US states have introduced at least 142 bills to restrict gender-affirming healthcare so far this year. In India, the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, 2019, falls short of expectations and takes the agency away from trans persons. The main issue is the identification of a trans person itself, with the law stating that the trans status of a person has to be affirmed by a District Magistrate (DM). In a country rooted in patriarchy and conservativeness with officialdom known to be unfriendly to the queer community, one wonders how one would find an ally in a DM.
“The 2019 Act gives the district magistrate (DM) the power to recognise a person as trans, while the NALSA judgment allowed self-identification of gender. The NALSA judgment had further said that any insistence on SRS (sex reconstruction surgery) was immoral and illegal. It stressed that self-determination of gender is integral to one’s personality and dignity. However, the 2019 Act specifies that to identify as male or as female, one must supply proof of surgery to the magistrate. Activists say this gives immense power to the DM, leading to the possibility of arbitrariness and misuse,” notes G. Ram Mohan in an article for The Wire, highlighting that the law appears to go against the spirit of the landmark NALSA judgement on trans rights of 2014.
The harassment of the trans community takes several shapes and forms. Sometimes, it is terming being trans as mentally ill and sometimes it is dubbing the promotion of trans rights as against religious values. This was all too apparent when coffeehouse chain Starbucks released an ad featuring a transwoman and conservative backlash called for a boycott. In the ad, a transwoman named Arpita meets her parents at a Starbucks coffeehouse. The father, who appears to initially have issues in accepting her transition, goes to the counter to place the order. Later, the Starbucks staffer announces “Three cold coffees for Arpita” and this brings tears to Arpita’s eyes as she realises she has her father’s acceptance. A Twitter user going by the name STAR Boy, with a blue tick, called it “pathetic”. Another user called Starbucks “groomers”. Users also pointed out that it was a Hindu family in the ad, suggesting the ad intentionally harmed Hindu sentiments. Several tweets were outright abusive. Radharamn Das of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) called Starbucks “proponents of demoniac civilization” in a tweet.
“Proponents of demoniac civilization. #BoycottStarbucks otherwise they will destroy your family and Bharat,” tweeted Das, a verified user identifying as Vice President and Spokesperson of ISKCON, a Hindu Vaishnavite movement.
Such overt hateful comments are not isolated incidents. In the United States, trans people were the top recipients of online hate, according to a report by Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Citing the survey findings, Axios reported, “The highest level of online hate and harassment reported was among transgender Americans, with three-quarters saying they had been harassed at some point and more than half saying they had been targeted in the past year. Nearly half of others in the LGBQ+ community (47 per cent) said they had experienced online hate or harassment in the past year.”
Yael Eisenstat, head of the ADL’s Center for Technology and Society, told Axios, “Mass shooters are finding inspiration in the misogynist, anti-LGBTQ+ and antisemitic content coursing through their feeds. And social media posts on mainstream platforms that target trans people have been directly linked to bomb and death threats against hospitals that provide gender-affirming care.”
It is in such a climate that the trans community marks the Transgender Day of Remembrance 2023. At Outlook, we have covered the many issues faced by the trans community, including the conservative backlash to progressive movements, the corporations standing up with them, and a range of other societal issues. In the wake of the backlash at Starbucks, we reported how several progressive ads have attracted the ire lately and how corporations have embraced progressive advertisements over the years.
In Outlook’s 11 September 2023 issue, we explored the representation of trans persons in popular culture. In her piece, Editor Chinki Sinha wrote about the missing representation of trans persons in Indian popular culture. Abhik Bhattacharya wrote about the misrepresentation of trans persons on the screen. In his piece, Devdutt Patnaik wrote about the mentions of trans persons in Indian sculptures. Snigdhendu Bhattacharya wrote about the legal challenges that the trans community of India faces over fundamental issues like adoption and inheritance.
Courtesy : Outlook India
Note: This news piece was originally published in outlookindia.com and used purely for non-profit/non-commercial purposes exclusively for Human Right