In 2022, let’s create gender-responsive learning spaces

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In 2008, when I (Aqsa) had to choose my medical specialization, I chose a subject that could be followed without staying in a hostel. As a transgender woman I was only offered a male hostel which was not acceptable. I was lucky enough to be able to complete my higher education, but not everyone can. A decade later, Nivedhiya Anand, a tribal, intersex and transgender student from Kerala dropped out of school, where she was housed in a boys’ hostel, due to mental harassment.

NALSAR University Hyderabad’s recent announcement of creating a gender-neutral space in its hostel has been buzzing for the right reasons. This, along with gender-neutral restrooms and a proposed policy on inclusive education for sexual and gender minorities, is the result of honest conversations with students.

Two recent cases deserve particular attention when it comes to the accommodation of transgender students in university residences. Yashika, a masters student at Panjab University, frustrated with the university for not being able to provide her with hostel accommodation, had to apply to the High Court of Punjab and Haryana, which issued an opinion at University. In another PIL, filed in the Karnataka High Court, Trinetra Haldar Gummaraju, a medical student from Manipal University, filed a lawsuit against the state government after she was denied accommodation in the girl’s hostel even when she had legally changed her gender to female on her ID card. The university insisted that she undergo sex reassignment surgery before being allowed into the girls’ home, denying her the right to self-determination, as provided for in the Supreme Court’s 2014 NALSA ruling.

Even as inclusive spaces are created, we need to be mindful of intersectionality within queer communities. First, the presence of such facilities should not restrict the legal right of transgender men and women to be housed in either male or female homes, just as the presence of gender-neutral toilets should not be used to prevent men and transgender women to use male or female toilets. women’s toilets. Second, these spaces must be accessible to people with disabilities. Additionally, while such facilities give much-needed visibility to queer people and their issues, they can also expose the community to queerphobic attacks. The university administration must pay particular attention to the safety of homosexual students on campus.

While infrastructure is key to creating safe and inclusive places, we cannot underestimate the importance of changing mindsets. There is a need to raise awareness among students, teachers and staff in all educational institutions, from primary schools to universities, about understanding and acceptance of queer and transgender people. India has taken a step in the right direction by enacting the Transgender Persons Act, which speaks of a trans-inclusive education system in which transgender students learn with other students without fear of discrimination, neglect or harassment.

The National Education Policy 2020 talks about providing equitable and quality education for transgender students. Although this is a progressive view, it misses students of other queer identities. Such an omission is not only dangerous but can also be fatal, as in the case of a teenage DPS student, Faridabad, who committed suicide, after being bullied by other students for his sexuality.

Creating safe educational spaces also requires that we change queerphobic curricula. It took a reprimand from the Madras High Court for the National Medical Commission to issue a directive to medical schools, professors and textbook authors to remove queerphobic content from books and pedagogy.

NALSAR’s action should inspire other educational institutions to consult with stakeholders, especially queer-identifying students and staff, to undertake holistic changes to create queer-affirming campuses. Infrastructure, policies and programs need a thorough overhaul to create learning spaces that are not only gender neutral, but gender positive. In 2022, we owe it to our sexual and gender minorities.

This column first appeared in the paper edition of April 5, 2022 under the title “Un campus pour tous”. Shaikh is Associate Professor, Community Medicine, Jamia Hamdard, Delhi and Shukla Studies at Campus Law Center, University of Delhi

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