A bill that will ensure fundamental rights to Pakistan’s transgender citizens has stirred up a controversy, as religious groups argue that if passed the law will legalize same-sex marriages and homosexuality in the country.
The claim is false.
The Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act, passed by Pakistan’s lower house in 2018, is currently in the Senate. If passed, the law will prohibit discrimination against transgender people in schools, workplaces and public spaces, as well as ensure their right to vote, inherit property and run for public office.
Yet, it has kicked up a row.
Senators from religious political parties, the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam Pakistan (Fazl) insist the bill is against Islamic tenets and should be immediately amended.
Separately, the right-wing Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan has submitted a resolution in the Sindh Assembly against the passage and implementation of the bill. While the Jamaat-e-Islami’s student wing has held several study circles in colleges against the bill, calling it a “dagger in the Islamic republic.”
On September 16, two hashtags also began trending on social media #Ammendtransgenderact and #Amendtransgenderact. Both hashtags have to date accumulated over 5,000 tweets and videos with several thousand views.
Social media users and conservative politicians accuse the bill of permitting gender-reassignment surgeries, same-sex marriages and cross-dressing. They also claim that since 2018, when the bill was passed by the national assembly, over 23,000 people have changed their genders.
The claim that the bill will allow men to change their gender to female and women to male on official documents is incorrect.
The Act clearly defines a “transgender person” as one who is “intersex” with a mixture of male and female genital features or a eunuch assigned the male gender at birth but undergoes castration or a trans person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth.
The Rules to the Act further clarify that a transgender person will have to approach the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) for a change of name or gender on identity documents, as per their self-perceived identity. And NADRA will only alter their gender from Female to the category “X” or Male to the category “X”.
“X” symbolizes the third sex in Pakistan, a classification specially created for the trans community on the orders of the Supreme Court in 2009.
The Act or the Rules do not allow men to change their gender to female or vice versa on their CNIC, passport or other travel documents.
The claim that the bill will permit same-sex marriages and gender-change surgeries is false.
There is no mention in the Act or the Rules of marriage or gender-affirming surgeries.
Several social media users further argue that since 2018, 23,000 people have changed their genders, as per their wishes. Geo Fact-Check could find no data or evidence to support this claim.
In fact, Jamaat-e-Islami’s Senator Mushtaq Ahmed, who has been vocally opposing the bill, had asked the interior ministry in November 2021 for the total number of applications received by NADRA, for issuance of gender-change certificates between July 2018 and June 2021.
To which, then interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed clarified that NADRA does not issue gender change certificates. “However, gender is modified [on official documents] due to medical reasons or on request of Transgender persons,” he added, as per documents seen by Geo Fact Check.
He further provided a breakdown of 28, 723 trans people whose gender had been changed by NADRA on the dates specified above.
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Banner photo: Pakistanis march at a rally for World Aids Day in 2013.— AFP