India Supreme Court Rules Transgender Is The Third Gender, Which Is In Stark Contrast To India's Anti-Gay Laws

In a landmark ruling Tuesday, India's highest court recognized transgender as the country's third gender. When announcing the decision, Justice KS Radhakrishnan says this is "not a social or medical issue, but a human rights issue." Under the Supreme Court's ruling, transgender people will be identified as a neutral third gender; will be treated as a minority group; granted the same access as minority groups to social welfare programs; and be provided with quotas for jobs and education.

Prior to the court's decision, transgender individuals were recognized on official documents as either female or male. According to estimates, there are between two and three million transgender Indians. Many have been alienated, live in poverty, and barely get by through singing or dancing for a living or, worse, prostitution or begging for help. Plus, many transgender people have been discriminated against in Indian hospitals, and some hospitals have even refused to admit them.

Anita Shenoy, a lawyer for the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), which petitioned the court, says NALSA is "thrilled" with the decision. "The court order gives legal sanctity to the third gender," Shenoy told the BBC. "The judges said the government must make sure that they have access to medical care and other facilities like separate wards in hospitals and separate toilets."

Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender activist who was one of the key case petitioners, says she feels proud to be an Indian for the first time.

While many are triumphant over this news, others are feeling left out, and some are just plain confused.

For one, the LGBT communities are not included in the court's decision. In December, India's Supreme Court reversed a 2009 court order that decriminalized gay sex. The law, which is 153 years old, now says gay sex is unnatural, and includes a jail term of 10 years. According to legal experts, this has the transgender community stuck between a rock and a hard place. Yes, transgender individuals are now formally recognized and are protected under India's constitution. But if they have gay sex, they're breaking the law and could go to jail.

That said, it's a wonderful day for the Indian transgender community.