TRANSGENDER PAKISTANIS ESTABLISH A CHURCH OF THEIR OWN
Pakistan’s Christian transgender people, often mocked, abused and bullied, say they have found peace and solace in a church of their own. Shunned by other churches, they can raise their voices high here, Kathy Gannon reported for the Associated Press (AP).
The church, called the First Church of Eunuchs, is the only one for transgender Christians in Pakistan, who comprise 1.6 percent of more than 213 million people. “Eunuch” is a term often used for transgender women in South Asia, though some consider it derogatory. The church’s pastor and co-founder Ghazala Shafique said she chose the name to make a point, citing at length verses from the Bible saying eunuchs are favored by God. Pakistan has officially recognized transgenders as the third gender. In Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, on the Arabian Sea coast, it sits in the shadow of towering brownstone cathedral, where the congregation says they don’t feel welcome. “People looked at us with eyes that are laughing at us,” said Nena Soutrey, a transgender woman whose life has been a tragedy of beatings, bullying and abuse.
The church is set up in the courtyard outside Shafique’s home. Brightly colored carpets give warmth to the cement yard. Pale blue plastic chairs, many of them dirty and cracked, serve as pews. It’s located in the same sprawling compound as the cathedral, protected by high walls and a steel gate. But there’s no mistaking that the humble church belongs to them: A giant six-foot billboard emblazoned with a large cross proudly announces in English, “The First Church for Eunuchs.” An Urdu translation underneath uses the term transgender Pakistanis more often use for themselves, khwaja sira.”Shafique, a rare female pastor in Pakistan, was first approached about starting the church by an unexpected advocate, a Muslim — Neesha Rao, Pakistan’s only transgender lawyer. Rao tells with pride how she begged on the streets for 10 years to put herself through law school.
Shafique belongs to the Church of Pakistan, a united Protestant Church of Anglican, Methodist and Reform Churches. So far, her efforts with the hierarchy to get her church recognized have been rebuffed. “They tell me there are theological issues,” Shafique said. “I am still waiting to hear what those theological issues are.” She is sharply critical of clerics who would rather their transgender congregants were invisible or stayed away all together and of parents who reject their transgender children. “First thing I want to say is no one should have to suffer as transgenders suffer,” said Soutrey, between her tears. “People treat us worse than dogs,” she said, 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.”