05 January 2017, The Tablet

Church in India forms support group for transgender people

India has an estimated 500,000 transgender people, many of whom face discrimination

The Church in India's Kerala state has formed a support group to respond to the pastoral needs of transgender people.

The group, consisting of priests, nuns and laypeople, was established in response to the Pope’s call to give pastoral care to the LGBT community, UCAN news reported.

"The whole church has a big role to play," said Father Paul Madassey, who is in charge of pro-life support for the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council.

"There is an active sex racket from North India eyeing transgender people in Kerala. They are trying to exploit the discriminatory situation they face."

India has an estimated 500,000 transgender people. They are often ostracised from their families and -- without adequate state support in terms of employment, health and education -- end up on the street begging for money or are exploited in the sex trade.

In mid-December, sisters of the Congregation of the Mother of Carmel offered their buildings to form an exclusive school for transgender dropouts, considered the first of its kind in the country.

The nuns offered their venue after at least 50 landlords declined to let out their buildings, indicating the discrimination prevalent in the society, Father Madassey told UCAN News.

Earlier this year, Caritas India, the social service wing of the Catholic Church, announced a program to fight such discrimination.

Vijaya Raja Mallika, a leading transgender activist in Kerala said the Church had been supportive of her work. "Religion plays an important role in social and behavioral change at the grass-roots level", she said.

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