The first school for transgender people opened in Lahore, Pakistan, on Sunday, in another surprising step for LGBT rights in the strictly Islamic country.
Dawn reports that administrators inaugurated the school during an event at the Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore, considered one of Pakistan’s most liberal and progressive cities. Classes will begin on Monday morning for around 30 pupils.
“We will be providing skill-based training and curriculum to the transgender community that has enrolled with us,” said Moizzah Tariq, whose NGO Exploring Future Foundation (EFF) managed the launch.
“Most of them have shown interest in sectors of the fashion industry including learning about cosmetics, fashion designing, embroidery, and stitching while some have also shown interest in graphic designing and culinary skills,” he continued. “Having gained information from them first we designed our courses for them.”
The school’s owner, Asif Shahzad, added that he hoped the new school would bring the idea of transgender schooling “mainstream” in the Islamic world. He said the Pakistani school was inspired by the establishment, and subsequent shutdown, of a similar transgender Islamic education facility in Indonesia.
In 2016, authorities in Yogyakarta shut down the Islamic Al Fatah School for transgender students following “accusations of alcohol, karaoke and other activities” that led to complaints from local residents. Before the government shut it down, it received visits from dozens of members of the Islamic Jihad Front (FJI), a local organization, who insisted they needed to know whether “deviant activity” occurred at the school. The school continued to operate for some time despite not having a license.
“We are trying to convince them of leading better lives, and also try to tell the rest of society that they are also human beings and that they should be treated as humans,” Shahzad said of his school in Pakistan.
The school accommodates people of all ages and provides students with diploma qualifications that will allow students to find employment or start their own businesses.
The school’s opening event was attended by some of the country’s most prominent transgender activists, including the transgender newscaster Maavia Malik and the actress Zara Changezi, and featured a play that explored the effects of HIV on the LGBT community.
LGBT rights in Pakistan remain heavily restricted under the country’s Islamic law, with the official punishment for consensual same-sex relations being the death penalty, although this law is not often enforced.
In many cases, those found accused of sodomy are often violently targeted by Islamic lynch mobs, who also regularly take to the streets to demand stricter adherence to Sharia Law.
Such mobs also typically target Christians, who are deemed as violating blasphemy laws and typically remain at the bottom of the country’s social casting system.
However, transgender people still enjoy civil protections under the law following a landmark court ruling in 2009 designed to protect them from discrimination and harassment.
Transgender rights have advanced considerably since that ruling, and last year the country’s Senate committee passed the “Transgender Person (Protection of Rights) Bill 2017” that provides them with full protection under the law.