Church in Kerala creates support group for transgender community's pastoral needs

The institutional church in Kerala, India has created a support group made up of priests, nuns, and laypeople and is aiming to provide pastoral care to the transgender community.

(REUTERS / Sivaram V)A container ship is docked at a port in Vallarpadam in the southern Indian city of Kochi September 4, 2013.

The support group for transgender people was formed in Kochi with the help of the church's social service group Pro-Life Support. Father Paul Madassey, who heads Pro-Life Support for the Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council, explained that the ministry is necessary especially in light of Pope Francis' instruction to provide "pastoral care to the LGBT commnity," UCA News relays.

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There are around 500,000 transgender individuals in India, most of them isolated from their families. Many of them also do not receive enough state support when it comes to jobs, health, and education. To make matters worse, there are those who end up as beggars or are used in the commercial sex industry.

"The whole church has a big role to play," said Father Madassey, according to UCA News. "There is an active sex racket from north India eyeing transgender people in Kerala. They are trying to exploit the discriminatory situation they face."

The move was welcomed by the transgender community, with at least one pro-LGBT online publication calling the church "amazing" for its effort to be more inclusive. Pink News, which featured the story recently, pointed out that LGBT people are usually not welcome in churches.

Last month, the Sisters of the Congregation of Mother Carmel volunteered their buildings to be used as a school for transgender dropouts. This is the first time that such a school has been established.

To illustrate the magnitude of the discrimination against transgenders, Father Madassey revealed that at least 50 building owners refused to let their establishments be used for such purpose.

For Kerala-based transgender activist Vijaya Raja Mallika, religion has a significant role in changing a person's behavior and social activities. Mallika also noted that there are many transgender kids who are forced to stop going to school at such a young age because of the psychological trauma they experience in school. Thus, the idea of a school catering to transgender dropouts in Kochi will surely go a long way.

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