Shunned and traumatized as a youngster, 25-year-old Bharathi now preaches to a congregation of 45 respectful parishioners, including 14 families, as India’s first transgender pastor.
Bharathi, who completed her bachelor’s degree in theology last April, has been a pastor at the Evangelical Church of India (ECI) branch in Chengalpattu, on the outskirts of Chennai, for the past eight months.
The pathbreaking move by the ECI, which has more than 100,000 followers across India, coincides with evangelical denominations in other countries, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, deciding to allow transgenders as pastors.
‘Acceptance was a dream’
Raised as a boy and taunted at school, India’s first transgender pastor Bharathi is now called to preside over baby showers and christenings, though conducting weddings is sometime away. Bharathi conducts service in Tamil and English every Sunday, "administers communion" to her parishioners, and is training another transgender to become a pastor. She says her parishioners’
acceptance of her has touched her deeply.
"I have conducted two baby showers for families and even named a child. Though I do not have a licence to conduct a wedding, a parishioner printed my name on his wedding invitation," says Bharathi.
Bharathi says such societal acceptance was once just a dream for her and continues to be a dream for thousands of transgenders across the country. "I have formed a team to work with me among transgenders in Chengalpattu, to bring them into the church and help them stay out of trouble," she says.
Bharathi, whose family assumed she was a boy at birth, says she had had a harrowing childhood. "I was very feminine and my classmates and neighbours would make fun of me. I became a loner and could not even complete Class 12," she says.
When Bharathi was 10, she says an "angel" entered their home. "A sister at a church near our home took pity on me and took me in," she says. The church soon became Bharathi’s home and she decided to embrace Christianity at the age of twelve. "I started reading the Bible and praying in church every day. I converted when I was 12 and was baptized a few years later in 2000."
"Society generally ostracizes the transgender community, but Bharathi has an opportunity to preach to an entire community. It is something everybody is proud of," says Devi, a transgender who has adopted Bharathi as her daughter.
Bharathi, who left home more than seven years ago, visited her family two months ago. "I had resolved to return to my family only after reaching a position of repute. When I returned, my parents were proud of me."
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