Pakistani Fashion Designer Maria Belal, known as Maria B, has fallen into hot waters after supporting the removal of Transgender Rights activist Dr Mehrub Moiz Awan from the TEDx conference in Lahore. Awan, a prominent face of the Khawajasira community in Pakistan, was invited to a panel of speakers at the International School Lahore, scheduled to deliver a talk on 20 August. However, the school removed Awan after some parents reportedly expressed disapproval over her speaking in front of their kids. TEDx ISL claimed that the removal had nothing to do with the speaker’s identity but her controversial views in the past regarding advocacy for drugs, interpretation of religion, and speaking about socially deviant topics in a “flamboyant” manner.
As the debate was going on about whether it was an act of censorship against the voice of trans people, an elite member of society supported the school’s decision. Maria’s comments were painful not only for Awan but for many other social media users, activists, and speakers.
Does Maria B Know the Definition of Transgender?
Maria B posted a series of comments on social media saying that her kids were at ISL and she was glad that Awan was removed from the panel. She said only parents get to decide the role models for their kids. Maria continued and accused Awan of being a “fake” transgender as she is an MTF (Male-to-Female) trans. The designer said that Awan was not naturally born a hermaphrodite, so she didn’t belong to the Khawajasira community. Awan preferred she/her pronouns, but the elite designer referred to her as “he” and called her a “man transitioning into a woman”.
A few agreed with Maria, but others called her out on her lack of knowledge about transgenderism. Some men or women are not comfortable in their own bodies and choose to transition into the opposite gender, hence, the term ‘transgender’. Awan fired back at Maria and called her post as stupid as letting a COVID-infected cook go back to his village.
Boycott Ted Talk in Solidarity with Trans Community
The Pakistani progressive community came in support of Dr Mehrub Moiz Awan with a harsh reality check for the private school that cancelled the trans activist over pressure from parents. They said the move was regressive, which took the opportunity away from kids to learn something fascinating from Dr Awan. According to reports, at least 4 other speakers have boycotted the TEDx event over the removal of Awan. 2 of these speakers include Training and Learning Specialist Ghazi Taimur and the founder of Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement, Ammar Ali Jaan.
Transphobia in Pakistan
Violence on the basis of gender identity is a prevalent challenge in Pakistan. Just like other minority groups, transgenders also face systematic discrimination, harassment, and abuse combined with exclusion from society, health care, job market, and education. Due to this exclusion, they are more vulnerable to exploitation, rape, murder, trafficking, and prostitution. There might have been some improvement after the Trans Protection Act was passed in 2018, but cases like Gul Panra, Saadi Khan, Tariq aka Chahat, Mano, Siddique aka Mumtaz, and Dr Awan proved that Pakistan still had a long way to go.
There are special groups dedicated to attacking transgenders, such as the Beela gang, that raided a trans birthday party last year, where Dr Moiz was expected to come. They hid and waited until her arrival. As soon as Dr Moiz entered, they attacked her and tried to gang-rape her. However, the police arrived and rescued the victims. So, Maria B accusing Awan of being a fake undermined her getting brutally beaten by the Beelas.