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Global Roundup: Bangladesh's 1st Trans Mayor, Controversial anti-LGBTQ Ruling in Thailand, World Tennis Association Supporting Peng Shuai, New Trans Leadership in Canada, Breaking Stem Barriers
Compiled by Inaara Merani
A trans woman has made history with her election as the mayor of a small town in Bangladesh. Nazrul Islam Ritu won in a landslide election in Kaliganj, Jhenaidah District in the Division of Khulna, with close to 10,000 votes, She has said that her election is demonstrative of the growing acceptance of the hijra (trans) community.
The glass ceiling is breaking. It is a good sign. The victory means they really love me and they have embraced me as their own. I will dedicate my life to public service. - Nazrul Islam Ritu
Ritu, who uses both male and female pronouns, was born into a large Muslim family but fled her rural hometown of Trilochanpur as a child and took refuge at a commune of transgender people in the capital Dhaka. She returned in her 20s and later became popular in the community after she helped build two mosques and made donations to several local Hindu temples.
The South Asian nation is home to an estimated 1.5 million Hijira – trans people who don’t identify as male or female – who have been officially recognised as a third gender since 2013. From 2018, Hijira were allowed to use the third gender option when registering to vote.
Many trans people living in Bangladesh suffer harassment, violence and abuse because of their gender identity. Trans people in Bangladesh also face huge barriers to employment, with many turning to begging or sex work to survive.
However, trans rights have been gradually strengthened in recent years. Last year, the first Islamic college for trans Muslims opened in Dhaka, with 40 people enrolling on the first day.
The Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) has said it is suspending all tournaments in China after tennis star and Olympian Peng Shuai came forward last month and alleged that she had been sexually assaulted by China’s former Vice-Premier, Zhang Gaoli. In the aftermath, Peng disappeared from the public eye for weeks, her statement deleted.
She has only has had a few direct contacts with officials outside China since and told Olympic officials in a November 21 video call from Beijing that she was safe and well.
However, the WTA has said that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has not done enough to ensure the safety of Peng. In the month since Peng came forward, WTA boss Steve Simon made repeated calls for China to carry out an investigation, but to avail as there has been no progress in her case and it was erased from the Chinese media.
Unfortunately, the leadership in China has not addressed this very serious issue in any credible way…While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe, and not subject to censorship, coercion, and intimidation. - Steve Simon, WTA boss
When Peng came forward on November 2, her post was quickly deleted and has since been blocked from discussion on China’s censored internet. Both Zhang and the government have yet to comment on these allegations. As a result of the IOC’s inability to adequately hear Peng’s story and support her, the WTA made the bold decision to suspend games in China until a full and transparent investigation into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation is made.
The WTA has been clear on what is needed here, and we repeat our call for a full and transparent investigation – without censorship – into Peng Shuai’s sexual assault accusation. None of this is acceptable nor can it become acceptable. If powerful people can suppress the voices of women and sweep allegations of sexual assault under the rug, then the basis on which the WTA was founded – equality for women – would suffer an immense setback. I will not and cannot let that happen to the WTA and its players. - Steve Simon, WTA Boss
Thai activists rallying for LGBTQ+ rights (LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP via Getty Images)
On Thursday night, Thailand’s Constitutional Court ruled in favour of granting the LGBTQ+ community greater rights, but ruled against same-sex marriage, dealing a crushing blow to the LGBT+ community.
This resulted in Thai citizens taking to Twitter to express their outrage. The hashtag #ศาลรัฐธรรมนูญเหยียดเพศ (The Constitutional Court is discriminates based on sex) began to trend, as users pointed out how Thailand presents itself as a safe haven for the queer community yet it still believes marriage can only be between a man and a woman. Many also pointed out how the LGBTQ+ community was being used as a source of income in ways that did benefit the community at large.
All eight judges that ruled on the bill are men. Thai Twitter users questioned their ability to make such a decision without fully understanding the purpose and meaning behind this law. If Thailand legalizes same-sex marriage, it will become the second Asian country, behind Taiwan, to take a stance in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
Source: Xtra Magazine
Astrophysicist and policy writer Amita Kuttner was recently appointed as the interim leader of the Green Party of Canada. Kuttner is the first openly trans or non-binary person to lead a major Canadian political party.
They will remain interim leader until a permanent leader is appointed. The race will take place within the next six months. Kuttner has said they do not not want to pursue the permanent role but instead to focus building the party and its image after a series of troubling years. They also want to highlight trans excellence.
Kuttner has said the transphobia they have faced is “shocking.”
The transphobia I faced—it was shocking to me. And it was mostly during a leadership race. Before that, the stuff that was there was very unintentional—microaggressions and some actual aggressions, but mostly because people are just clueless. But once I launched into the leadership contest, there was some really strong hate out there. And this included people saying things to my face. It was people saying very dehumanizing things directly to my face like, “You’re not real” and just refusing to use my pronouns or calling me an “irrelevant woman” and stuff like that. . - Amita Kuttner
Kuttner’s goal is to structure the leadership race which will result in a strong and capable leader; this will come mostly through community-based work such as fundraising. They want to highlight trans joy and show the Canadian population the contributions that the LGBTQ+ community can make, and also show the LGBTQ+ community that they have a voice.
And that may be just because party leadership is one of those things, but a lot of the feedback was, “Well, we don’t think the country’s ready for you.” And my response was: that’s not your decision. - Amita Kuttner
The reason Kuttner does not want to run for the permanent position is that they want to push for full transformation rebuilding. They want to rebuild the Green Party from the ground up, while simultaneously contributing to policy work. They are making history as the first trans person to lead a political party and will continue to do so as they carry out their duties.
It’s hard to describe, but there’s this aspect to all the changes and all the apprehensions I have about it that’s about going out there and being seen and getting that affirmation of being seen as my real self, in clothes I want to wear. And it can be harder to find sometimes, especially when family denies understanding us. But this is such an opportunity to be able to get out there and talk about all these things that are important, and to represent all of the things that are full of joy and recognition and euphoria. With a weird rise and transphobia, my intention is to do the best job that I possibly can to just be a positive example. And then to share that joy in the best way I possibly can. - Amita Kuttner
Dr. Jessica Esquivel is breaking barriers for women in STEM. As an Afro-Latina and lesbian-identifying woman, she has repeatedly faced obstacles throughout her career path, however, she is on a mission to break barriers in science and show the reality and humanity behind scientists.
Dr. Esquivel has a desire to make science accessible for everyone, no matter your identity or the conditions of your life. As one of the only Afro-Latina scientists in her field and one of the only women to pursue a PhD in physics, Dr. Esquivel has become quite familiar with the importance of representation in a field where you rarely get that recognition, such as STEM. In STEM, women make up only 28% of the workforce in the US; these disparities are even more evident when looking at minority populations.
When you start looking at the intersections of race and gender and then even sexuality, those numbers drop significantly. There are only about 100 to 150 black women with their PhD in physics in the country! - Dr. Jessica Esquivel
In graduate school for physics, Dr. Esquivel was the only woman in her class, and the only Black, the only Mexican, and the only lesbian; this made her feel very isolated.
On top of such rigorous material, the isolation and otherness that happens due to being the only or one of few is an added burden marginalized people, especially those with multiple marginalized identities, have to deal with,” Dr. Esquivel told BeLatina in an email interview. On top of feeling like an outsider, isolation was also consuming. “Being away from family at a predominately white institution, where the number of microaggressions was constant, really affected my mental health and, in turn, my coursework and research, so it was important to surround myself with mentors who supported me and believed in my ability to be a scientist. - Dr. Jessica Esquivel
On top of her research, Dr. Esquivel dedicates her time to show others, especially younger women of colour, that physics and STEM is not only a white man’s club and that anyone who wants to pursue a career in the field has the power. She has repeatedly argued that in STEM, there is a place for everyone and the barriers in place should not stop anyone from entering the field.
Many of us who are underrepresented in STEM have taken on the responsibility of spearheading institutional change toward more just, equitable, and inclusive working environments as a form of survival. I’m putting in more work on top of the research I do because I recognize that I do better research if I feel supported and if I feel like I can bring my whole self to my job. My hope is that one day Black and brown women and gender-queer folks interested in science can pursue just that and not have to fight for their right to be a scientist or defend that they are worthy of doing science. - Dr. Jessica Esquivel
Inaara Merani (she/her) is currently completing her Master’s degree at Western University, studying Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a collaborative specialization in Transitional Justice and Post-Conflict Reconstruction. She is an Ismaili Muslim Canadian who is deeply passionate about gender equality and social justice and in turn, dismantling the patriarchy and ensuring that all women and vulnerable populations have safe and equal access to all their rights. She hopes to pursue a career in law so that she can continue to fight for the rights of women and other marginalized groups everywhere. She also enjoys reading, travelling and spending time with her beautiful cat.