Indian Supreme Court legally recognises transgender people for the first time

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

India’s Supreme Court has issued a landmark verdict creating a new category that allows transgender people to identify themselves as such on official documents.

Before Tuesday’s judgment, transgender Indians had to identify themselves as male or female in all official papers.

The Press Association reports that the court noted it was the right of every human being to choose their gender while granting rights to those who identify themselves as neither male nor female.

“All documents will now have a third category marked transgender. This verdict has come as a great relief for all of us. Today I am proud to be an Indian,” said Laxmi Tripathi, a transgender activist who had petitioned the court.

“The spirit of the [Indian] constitution is to provide equal opportunity to every citizen to grow and attain their potential, irrespective of caste, religion or gender,” the court said in its order.

Recently, India’s election commission for the first time allowed an additional gender choice – “other” – on voter registration forms. The change was made in time for the national elections currently taking place.

Some 28,000 voters registered themselves in that category. Overall, there are an estimated 3 million transgender people in India.

Despite today’s ruling, India’s Supreme Court has refused to take the same progressive approach on other LGBT issues.

In December last year the court reintroduced Section 377 of India’s penal code banning sex “against the order of nature”, which is widely interpreted to mean same-sex sexual activity.

The Supreme Court threw out a 2009 New Delhi High Court decision that ruled the law was unconstitutional.

The court last month dismissed a review petition filed by the Indian Government and the Naz Foundation against its December verdict.

Campaigners have since filed a new challenge.