Yesterday, the Punjab Government announced the establishment of separate schools for transgender youth across the province, starting with Multan.
Punjab's Minister for Education, Dr. Murad Raas, while discussing the reason for this
decision expressed reservations over the behavior of other students towards transgender enrollments. He said that the attitude of students of regular schools could be insulting towards the transgender community, which is why separate schools would be established.
In this regard, the Minister's concerns could be deemed as valid. The fact that the issue has come under discussion, itself is a positive development for the marginalized community, and it could also be believed that these decisions root from good intent. However, what must also be realized is that although this might make education accessible to a part of the transgender population; this will not solve the problem, or change attitudes towards the transgender community.
Separation of schools would mean further segregation for transgender students, and would alienate them from the mainstream, similar to how Madrassa students are isolated from the rest of the students in our society. Thus, the gap would increase, and the problem, which is the attitude of the majority students towards such marginalized communities, would remain as is, and would not be helped with this initiative.
What would solve this issue then? The answer is simple. Instead of establishing separate schools, perhaps it is time to look into what is being taught in the already established schools, that results in upbringing students with a bigoted, intolerant mindset. It is the quality of education, and the syllabus that needs reform, so that we are able to educate kids in a way where we don't have to fear their behavior towards those that may look or seem different to them.
Needless to say, the media too has a huge role to play here, and perhaps this is where intervention is required. Firstly, there is almost no representation of trans or non-binary gender identities in the mainstream media. Moreover, the little representation that we see, is highly problematic and only worsens the issue. Only a very stereotypical portrayal of transgenders is presented, which too, in most cases, is enacted by cisgender people.
Many comedy shows on national TV, for instance, in the name of 'Punjabi culture' of "Juggatbazi", present the stereotypical depictions of transgenders as beggars, dancers or sex workers. Subtle jokes are made, referring to the community and to these professions, and a very problematic, punching-down style of comedy is adopted on these shows, without exception.
If attitudes of the majority, towards marginalized communities like the transgender community, are to be corrected, such bigoted representations need to be curtailed. The role of media as a tool for education must be realized. Separation of schools cannot counter the impact that such problematic portrayals may have on a society, and educating people is the only way by which such minorities could be integrated into the mainstream.