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'India's Third Gender: Transgender People in Hindu Society' at Newseum

  • Newseum: Knight Conference Center, 7th Floor 555 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest Washington, DC, 20001 United States (map)

'India's Third Gender: Transgender People in Hindu Society' at Newseum

Tamil sings while her friends dance at a funeral near Vilathikulam, an hour way form Tuticorin town. Image by Sami Siva. India, 2014.

The Religious Freedom Center of the Newseum, in collaboration with the Pulitzer Center, presents "India's Third Gender: Transgender People in Hindu Society" with journalist Michael Edison Hayden and photographer Sami Siva. The session on Tuesday, November 3, is the fourth in the Newseum-Pulitzer Center series on "Faith, Freedom, Sexuality & Silence" held in Washington, DC.

While India’s transgender women have a documented history dating back to the Kama Sutra, they continue to live on the fringes of society. HIV/AIDS has plagued the transgender population for decades, yet these women are sometimes denied hospital care and treatment.

Now, in the wake of a Supreme Court ruling that acknowledges the existence of India’s third gender, Hayden and Siva travel to Koovagam, one of the world’s largest transgender festivals, to profile some of India’s transgender women, and offer an intimate glimpse into their lives. Koovagam is a Hindu religious festival that finds its basis in a story from the Mahabharata in which Krishna transforms into a woman one night to marry Aravan, before the latter is sacrificed to an early death.

The festival is more than just a cathartic ritual: It is also one of South India’s largest hubs for prostitution. Without any available avenues to find legitimate employment, sex work is often the only recourse transgender woman have to make money, putting them at risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.

Free but registration required.

Tuesday, November 3
7:00 pm
Newseum
Knight Conference Center, 7th Floor
555 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20001
(Please use the 6th Street NW entrance)
Reception follows the discussion.