PAKISTAN’S FIRST TRANSGENDER LAWYER BRINGS FIGHT TO THE COURTS
Lawyer Nisha Rao maneuvers among the throng of black-coated attorneys clustered near Karachi’s city courts searching for her client. But Rao, 28, is not just another lawyer running for a meeting. As Pakistan’s first transgender lawyer, she has carved a path from the streets to the courtroom and her example is inspiring other transgender people in the conservative Islamic Republic.
“I am proud to have become Pakistan first transgender lawyer,” Rao told Reuters. Life is hard for transgender persons in Pakistan, where the Supreme Court only allowed them to claim a third gender on their national identity cards in 2009. The parliament just passed a law in 2018 recognizing transgender people as equal citizen and protecting them from discrimination and violence.
Treated as outcasts, since many of them actually belonged to lower castes, many transgender persons are victims of sexual assault and resort to working as wedding dancers or begging to make a living. Rao also ended up begging on the streets after running away from her middle class home in the eastern city of Lahore when she was 18 with two other transgender persons.
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Arriving in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, the elder transgender people she sought refuge with advised her to beg or become a sex worker to survive. She begged for 10 years, but she earned enough to pay for her law classes at night. Rao is also setting her sights at becoming the first transgender judge in Pakistan.
Unknown to many, Rao, whose name was spelled Neesha in a story written by the Associated Press (AP), was instrumental in the organization of the First Church of Eunuchs, the first Christian church with transgenders as congregants and the first to be headed by a woman minister, Ghazala Shafique. She belongs to the Church of Pakistan, a united Protestant Church of Anglican, Methodist and Reform Churches. Rao, a Muslim, encouraged Shafique to organize the church and even attends services weekly. “People treat us worse than dogs,” transgender Nena Soutrey lamented, even in mainstream churches she attended. “This church is important for us because we are free and happy sitting here, worshipping the God who created us.”