India’s First Transgender Football Club Takes Significant Step Towards Acceptance & Equality

Imphal: Six years after it played its first game, Ya_All Sports Club, India’s first football club of transgender players, engage in training sessions at least twice a week and participate in friendly matches against football clubs in Manipur.

Ya All, a sound signifying revolution in the Manipuri language, became an LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender and queer) support group in the North East region, which now has a strength of 20. The club initially started by three to four people was formed to combat discrimination and promote awareness of gender justice and equality.

“It’s difficult to bring up the issue of gender inclusion before people,” says Sadam Hanjabam, who founded Ya_All seven years ago. “But Manipur has a special attachment to football and the society doesn’t tend to judge people if they are wearing a jersey,” adds Hanjabam, a resident of Imphal.

The inaugural match in the nation featuring two teams comprised of transgender players occurred in Imphal in March 2018. “It was a friendly match between one team of transgender men and the other of transgender women,” recalls Hanjabam. This acted as a trial run before the club officially announced the establishment of a football club consisting of transgender players two years later.

“People from the North East migrate to other states for education and jobs and to have a safer space to express themselves,” says Hanjabam. “But whenever we came back home, we had to hide our gender identities.”

“Instead of sitting in closed rooms and talking about our problems, we decided to go out to stadiums and play football,” explains Hanjabam about the origins of Ya_All Sports Club. “Football is more than just a game in our state. People feel that if someone is playing football, they are contributing to society,” he adds.

The fact that Ya_All Sports Club is the country’s only football club for transgender players is holding the club back from further progress. “We want others to be inspired by our story and create more teams for transgender players,” says Hanjabam, who understands it is a long road for the transgender community. “Sports is not neutral. It is binary and discriminatory when it comes to gender.”

In 2014, the Supreme Court recognised transgender individuals as the ‘third gender,’ affirming their constitutional rights and declaring discrimination a violation of the right to equality and freedom of expression. The apex court also called for public awareness programmes to address the stigma.

In 2019, Parliament passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act to uphold the rights and welfare of the transgender people.

In 2014, the Supreme Court recognised transgender as ‘third gender’, affirming constitutional rights and making discrimination a violation of right to equality and freedom of expression while calling for public awareness programmes to tackle the stigma. Five years later, Parliament passed the Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Act to uphold the rights and welfare of transgender people.

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