"The match was not about winning, but the social affirmation of the transgender community."
Michaela Morgan

19 Jul 2017 - 2:52 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2017 - 2:52 PM

A newly created soccer tournament in northeastern India is raising awareness about transgender rights and encouraging trans teens to get involved with the sport.

The competition comprises of 16 teams and was created by the Empowering Trans Ability (ETA) collective as a way of promoting social and economic inclusion of the trans community.

The group’s president - Oinam Hemabati - identifies as male and says that transgender people in the city of Imphal face constant discrimination, including in the education system.   

“When they asked me to wear skirts and phaneks (a traditional regional garment) in school, I felt sad and harassed. This is one of the main reasons why many among us drop out of school,’ Hemabati told Eclectic North East.

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“This stigma and discrimination, this forced assimilation into socially perceived norms of male-female binaries creates a lot of problems in accessing social security provisions of education, health, or welfare schemes.

“We are hoping to raise public awareness on these issues through this football match.”

The tournament’s first round took place in May and transgender man Aily Yumkhaibam got the chance to compete in the sport for the first time, having fallen in love with soccer growing up.

“At the end of the match, an old man came up to me and said, 'You played well,'” said Yumkhaibam.

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“Even if I did not score any goal, those were precious words of encouragement for me. Now I dream of building a team of trans men who can play football professionally.

"When I came back home and informed my parents that we had won, they were happy too. They urged me to tell them all the minute details of the match – who scored the goals, how, etc," Yumkhaibam said.

“The match was not about winning, but the social affirmation of the transgender community," added Hemabati.