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Oscar attention puts Pakistan’s Transgender Community Under the Spotlight

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For generations, they have been a familiar sight in Pakistan’s urban landscape — tall figures in alluring, gipsy-like costumes and makeup, selling flowers on street corners or reaching out manicured hands for a few rupees. They are often hired to perform dances at festivals, clubs and all-male parties. But although transgender people, known in Urdu as “Khwaja sira” or “third gender,” have inhabited this South Asian region since the era of Mogul dynasties and British colonial rule, they have remained at the margins of this conservative society, legally recognized and protected as a minority but subject to discrimination and sometimes physical attack. This month, a groundbreaking Pakistani film called “Joyland,” which sympathetically portrays a romantic relationship between an unhappy married man and a transgender woman was submitted as Pakistan’s first-ever entry in the Academy Awards after winning a prize at the Cannes Film Festival and international attention for its young creator and director, Saim Sadiq.

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