LGBTQIA+ activists hail decision allowing woman IRS officer to change name, gender

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New Delhi, Jul 11 (PTI) Gender is a choice which we all have a right to make, LGBTQIA+ community members said as they lauded the Union government for approving a woman IRS officer's request to change her name and affirm her gender in official records.

M Anusuya, an Indian Revenue Service (IRS) officer of the 2013 batch and currently serving as Joint Commissioner in the Office of the Chief Commissioner in Hyderabad, will now be known as M Anukathir Surya. The officer also got her gender affirmed from female to male.

According to an official order of the Ministry of Finance, dated July 9, 2024, the officer made the formal request to reflect his true gender identity.

The Central Board of Indirect Taxes and Customs has said the authority considered the officer's request and "henceforth the officer will be recognised as Mr Anukathir Surya in all official records." The order was issued with the approval of competent authority, it said.

Members of the community lauded the government for what they said was a "very serious" step towards inclusion.

Sharif D Rangnekar, an author who identifies as gay, said it is a "welcome step" and hoped that it would set a precedent across government offices and departments in the country.

"At the end of the day, the government is perhaps the largest employer of Indians. So when you set an example of recognising a person's sexuality, gender and choice, then you are taking a very serious step towards inclusion.

"In that context, it is an important decision and should be welcomed," Rangnekar, a former journalist and author of "Straight to Normal: My Life as a Gay Man", told PTI.

A similar bureaucratic precedent is of Aishwarya Rutuparna Pradhan, who works for the Odisha Finance Service and legally changed her gender identity to the 'third gender' in 2015.

Pradhan, a 38-year-old transgender woman, now known as India's first transgender civil servant, is a commercial tax officer in the Odisha Financial Services Department (OFS).

Ratikanta Pradhan was her name when she joined the OFS. Pradhan later changed her gender identity after the Supreme Court's 2014 judgment, which recognised transgender people as a third gender.

In its 2014 judgement, also known as the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA), the apex court ruled that people of the transgender community have the right to self-identification of their sexual orientation.

Film director Onir, who is openly gay and a vocal advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights, called the historic decision a "precious step" towards creating an equal society.

"Another precious step toward being a society that believes that all of us are equal. That can celebrate our diverse identities and believe that empathy/inclusion and diversity are to be cherished," he said on X.

Thanking the government for its historic decision was also Delhi-based transgender Naaz Joshi, winner of multiple beauty pageants.

She reiterated that gender is not assigned by birth and the right to choose one's own gender is legal in the country.

"With the help of the national portal for transgenders, one can ask for gender change with no questions asked. I see it (the government's decision) as a progressive movement, his plea has been accepted and honestly, gender doesn't define anyone's productivity," she added.

Rangnekar, however, said it was still a long road ahead for the LGBTQIA+ community in the "male and patriarchal-dominated government system".

He argued that a majority of individuals still fear to come out and assert themselves because of the multiple risks -- be it violence, hate, losing their job, or economic independence among others.

To buttress his point, he referred to Accenture's 2020 "Visible Growth; Invisible Fears" report, revealing how as many as "57 per cent" of employees believe that their gender identity/expression or their sexual orientation has slowed their progress at work.

"In a hostile environment, there are many who would prefer to remain silent on their sexuality or their gender, even if they are going through the process of affirming their gender where they are transiting and going through medications and all kinds of mental health issues," he said. PTI MG RHL

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