Apsara Reddy Spreads a Message of Universal Empowerment

There are many things to admire about Apsara Reddy. This multi-talented journalist, politician, and activist has been a vocal spokesperson for human rights in India, and in 2018 made waves when she was appointed the National General Secretary of the All India Mahila Congress. The AIMC is the women’s wing of the Indian National Congress party, a prominent center-left party with liberal-democratic socialist values.

Given that she’s only 35, her appointment was already impressive, but one of the main reasons it attracted so much attention across India is because Reddy is the first transgender office-holder in the Congress party’s long history.

Growing Up in Andhra Pradesh 

Reddy grew up in a small village in Andhra Pradesh, born to two conservative parents. When she was as young as two or three years old, Reddy knew that she was a woman. After a tumultuous childhood, she decided to come out as transgender to her mother when she was 15 years old. After many emotional and unpleasant conversations, the two came to an understanding that would eventually pave the way to a more positive, deep, and loving relationship. Her mother was by her side when she began hormone treatments, and again through her gender confirmation surgery.

Later, Reddy studied journalist at Monash University in Australia, before moving to London to pursue a Master’s degree in developmental economics. This educational combination spurred her interest in investigative journalism, so she stayed in London to work as a journalist, investigating issues from the 2004 tsunami in Thailand to the Iraq war for outlets like BBC World Service, New India Express, and The Hindu. Once she returned to India, Reddy also shot a 10-episode talk show that aired in Tamil Nadu from 2013 to 2014, interviewing celebrities like vocalist Sunitha Sarathy and actor Vijay Sethupathi.

Reddy’s Political Life

Although her early life was in journalism, she always had a strong political side. Reddy was originally inducted into politics as a member of the Bharatiya Janata Party, but she only lasted two weeks with BJP before giving in her notice, citing tokenism and a blatant disregard for her individuality beyond her gender identity. She spent some time as a spokesperson for the AIADMK before meeting Sushmita Dev and joining Congress.

Despite operating in the bright glare of media attention for much of her professional and political life, Reddy has managed to open a dialogue to issues that go far beyond her gender identity. She has always committed to representing all underserved communities, with the aim of focusing on overarching issues like unemployment, infrastructure, health, and taxation that make it so difficult to achieve true equality.

I have to work towards gender justice, empowering more women to come into leadership roles.

A Female-Focused Mandate

In a recent interview with Huffington Post, Reddy laid out her mandate for her time in Congress. “I have to be a strong spokesperson for women in the country,” she says. “I have to work towards gender justice, empowering more women to come into leadership roles. I have to find women with political goals and bring them into the system. I’m protesting and lobbying against any injustice that happens towards the girl child. I’m also working on the manifesto — to make it more conducive for the LGBT community.”

Recently, we were fortunate to connect with Reddy to learn how she’s been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, and what thoughts she has about the LGBTQ community during Pride month.

How has COVID-19 impacted the transgender community? Are they disproportionately affected by it because of disparities in healthcare and social determinants?

AR: COVID-19 in India has clearly taught us to live with essentials and value life more. Humanity is not above the virus, no matter how rich or powerful we are. It’s come as a great leveler. It’s sad that our Prime Minister Modi was over-enthusiastic and generous about Trump’s visit in early February instead of being prepared medically for the pandemic.

Human uprising is essential to set right the anomalies of power dynamics.

In the US, we are currently experiencing a much-needed uprising and movement around racial and social justice. What are your thoughts on these issues of social justice and equality and minority rights?

AR: Minority rights cannot be accessed just by one community, that is already subjugated. Human uprising is essential to set right the anomalies of power dynamics.

How have opportunities for LGBTQ people in India changed in the last few years?

AR: There is a lot of prejudice against LGBTQ communities in India. But with that being said, there’s also a lot more visibility and opportunity now. As members of LGBTQ communities, we must focus on mainstreaming and step away from the victim syndrome.