Venasa Transgender Network: Easing the burden on transgender people


By Venessa Anthony


Sri Lanka, with its decidedly traditional culture, has not always been at the forefront among countries that are actively seeking to grant rights and freedoms to those of different sexual identities. But fortunately, there are several people and groups – those that believe in establishing an equal footing for all – working on the grassroots level to ensure minorities are not forgotten in this regard.

The Venasa Transgender Network (VTN) is one such non-profit organisation. Established in 2015, it has been working actively for the betterment and rights of transgender persons, and they pride themselves on being the first organisation in Sri Lanka to work exclusively for the rights of the trans community.


Mental health concerns


Mental health is already a scarcely discussed topic in our country, with only a few willing to admit that they require outside help in dealing with the stresses and challenges they face. People of the transgender community face even more challenges in terms of mental health – the huge stigma surrounding anyone of the LGBT community sees their gender or sexuality not being recognised as valid – their very identities are disregarded to begin with.

The community also faces various adverse effects in terms of their social and family lives, not to mention the stress caused by enduring the long periods of time for transition and the hormones they take to achieve their gender identity.

Transition is not a cheap procedure, and hormones are incredibly expensive to come by, especially considering the laws in Sri Lanka. The financial burden weighs heavy on their minds, which again leads to unstable mental health. VTN aims to help reduce this burden and make the lives of these people better, both in terms of financial stability and good mental health.


How Covid-19 affected the trans community


It has been established that Covid-19 is a respiratory virus. Transgender people may often choose to use binders to stay true to their gender identity, thus increasing the risk of complications arising. VTN held educational programmes on how to safely bind without restricting breathing, especially in light of the pandemic. They also advised against binding if one feels like they are exhibiting symptoms of Covid.

“If you have a cough, the medical recommendation is to avoid binding, as it can lead to fluid buildup in the lungs. Pneumonia is a common complication associated with Covid, and respiratory illness can be exacerbated by the restriction of the chest,” stated a spokesperson at VTN.

He added that if they wish to keep binding, then they should remember to cough after taking it off, as this will help restore the lungs to their full capacity. He also noted that coughing can increase musculoskeletal soreness. “To prevent this, our medical professionals recommend they do some stretches to reduce the risk of straining your back and neck, or even cracking a rib.”

During the pandemic, many transgender people were faced with the loss of jobs. VTN hosted programmes to fund their livelihood, so that they could afford basic necessities. They also supplied them with their hormones and other medication that help with their transition, which they couldn’t afford anymore.


Advocacy and emergency assistance


As the stigma around the LGBTQ community continues, many citizens are left homeless simply because of something they identify as. VTN provides a safe space for those who have been evicted from their homes and families, and even refer them to counsellors to help cope with the trauma. They are educated on their rights and provided with financial backup to go out into society as capable human beings. VTN has lawyers and medical professionals that they work closely with in order to better the lives of trans people who feel like all hope is lost.

VTN also documents human rights issues they face, in hopes of making a change to some very outdated laws in Sri Lanka. The battle transgender persons face everyday is not an easy one, but with the help of such organisations, they are granted the opportunity to continue living their lives with more ease in such times of need.