Laxmi Narayan Tripathi is a transgender rights activist, Hindi film actress and Bharatanatyam dancer in Mumbai, India. She became the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008.
Laxmi was born in 1979 in Thane to an orthodox Brahmin family. She had a difficult childhood, both due to her health – she suffered from pneumonia, typhoid and asthma – and her peers, as she was taunted at school for being feminine and subjected to homophobic language. When she was 11, she met Ashok Row Kavi, the only publicly gay person she knew of and he told her ‘Baby, you are absolutely normal. The world around you is abnormal’ and encouraged her to stay in education.
After finishing school, Laxmi was able to follow her passion for dance and theatre and attended Mumbai’s Mithibai College to study for an arts degree. While at college, Laxmi starred in several Ken Gosh music videos and began to work as a choreographer. Around this time, Laxmi started to dress in a sari outside of the family home. Kavi had begun to fight again Section 377, a law that makes homosexual activity a criminal offence and Laxmi joined his team. She appeared on television dressed in a sari with full make up, an appearance which led to her parents finding out she was expressing her gender identity as a woman. They eventually told her she should be open with them and get dressed at home, so they could see the colour of her sari. After graduating from college, Laxmi continued her education with a post-graduate degree in Bharatnatyam -a classical dance of India.
Laxmi learnt about hijra culture when she met Shabira, India’s first transgender PhD study. She joined the hijra community, and began working as a dancer in a bar. Laxmi had already gained a following, and people from across the city would travel to watch her dance. Later, the city’s dance bars were shut down by the then home minister of Maharashtra, RR Patil. Laxmi organised a protest to fight against the decision, and although she was unsuccessful, it ignited a passion within her for activism.
In 2002, Laxmi became one of the founding board members of the Dai Welfare Society, the first registered and working organization for hijra in South Asia. In 2007, she started her own organisation, Astitiva to promote the welfare of sexual minorities and a year later, she became the first transgender person to represent Asia Pacific in the United Nations. As part of her speech, Laxmi stated “people should be more humane. They should respect us as human beings and consider our rights as transgenders.” Laxmi has starred in several TV shows, including Sach ka Saamna, which she participated in because “It was the first time that Indian audiences saw a hijra with her biological parents, I did it as a part of my activism.” Her frequent public appearances are slowly eroding the myths about hijras.
In 2011, Laxmi was featured in Project Bolo, a documentary series about LGBT Indians. A year later, she was able to include hi-res in the Maharashtra state women’s policy when standing up at a ministerial meeting to ask “am I invisible?,” following with “I come from the most visible sexual minority community but we are still being treated as invisible.” Laxmi was then asked to be a part of the committee drafting the women’s policy and Maharashtra state began to lead the way on transgender issues.
Laxmi has petitioned for India to recognise a third gender, in one instance filing a suit against an elite Mumbai club which had thrown her out. The Lawyer’s Collective who had represented her then asked her to be the plaintiff in litigation that led the Supreme Court of India to recognise transgenders as the third gender. In 2014, the Indian Supreme Court officially recognised transgender rights, recognising those who identify as hijra as a third gender and to allow them to adopt children. The government has also issued demands to provide washrooms and health departments to provide care for transgender individuals. Previously, many hijras with HIV had died due to being refused medical attention, and Laxmi is working with UNAIDS on “IASTITVA,” an app which will help to track services for transgender individuals and detail access to facilities. She is also on a committee of the University Grants Commission, which led to the implementation of scholarships for transgender students, separate bathrooms in colleges and counselling centres. In 2015, “Me Hijra, Me Laxmi” a book about Laxmi’s life was released in English at the World Book Fair in New Delhi.