August 18th, 2020
By Sher e Azam
Arzoo always felt very uncomfortable and unwelcome whenever she went to church. She was often segregated from other worshippers and told to dress ‘properly’ in men’s attire whenever she was attending a service. For Arzoo it seemed there was no solace to be found even in the house of God.
But the problem of social ostracization may have been solved because the very first church especially for transgenders has been established in Karachi.
“Transgenders are shunned from their homes and even from their places of worship,” says Ghazala Shafique, the pastor of the church.
Speaking to Voicepk.net Shafique said that transgenders have to hide their religious identity and the churches, like all other public places, are not too welcoming either. She realized the deep sense of deprivation when working with the Christian transgender community in the city.
They would tell her that they had no homes, no place of worship, and no organization working for their betterment. Their community had ignored them as if they did not exist.
Ghazala Shafique along with Nomi Basheer thought of giving the transgender Christians their very own place of worship where they could freely practice their faith. But they faced severe criticism over it.”People used to say that after a church, would we also be asking for a separate graveyard for the transgender Christian community as well?”
Ghazala Shafique as the first woman pastor of church, faced greater resistance for acceptance and approval.”Transgenders are ignored in every sphere. Be it be religion, jobs or social acceptance. ”
In the rest of the world, transgenders are treated like human beings but that is not the case here, Shafique added.
“People should not misunderstand the concept of a separate church for transgender Christians. We are not fanning an issue of race, color, and sectarianism. We all have to live in peace and harmony with one another,” Nasir Gill, one of the other church attendees.
Speaking to Voicenet.pk, Nisha Rao said transgender Christians were reluctant in revealing their religious identity. “We struggled and built this church so that people can come and worship freely, she said.
Rao, who is a transgender and a lawyer by profession says she was happy that they were able to build this church.
The transgender community has no rights as other citizens in the country. “Every citizen should have the right to access education, health, and profess their faith. But sadly, transgenders are often teased in public places,” she said.
Nomi Bashir, the church’s caretaker, says worship places should be opened up for transgenders from all faiths. Bashir said they faced a lot of challenges from the community in setting up the church.
“We were told to be seated in a corner whenever we used to go to church,” Arzoo recalls her earlier experiences of being in a church. “We would be stared at and frowned upon,” she added. The hurtful remarks were very difficult to bear, she said.
Jeremiah Church pastor Razaaq Inayat said the transgender people were humans too and had every right to profess their faith. “I am happy to impart teachings of our faith to them,” he said.
Worshippers in this church hope that this small step will lead to better access to places of worship for transgenders from all faiths.