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Anjali Lama broke the glass ceiling and emerged as the first-ever transgender to walk the ramp in India, in 2017, for Lakme Fashion Week. Since then, there has been no looking back the 34-year-old model, who advocates for equal rights for the LGBTQ community, every chance she gets.

 

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Lama has had a remarkable journey in the world of fashion and beauty thus far, and it seems like there’s no stopping her stellar career graph. After making history by walking the ramp as a transgender model for Lakme Fashion Week two years ago, earlier this year Lama bagged a prominent campaign with one of fashion’s biggest brands: Calvin Klein. With the help of Feat.Artists, an artist agency that has always supported the LGBTQAI community, as well as her management team at this agency, Lama was able to spread her wings into a whole new domain of modeling. This campaign, which was launched in March of this year, celebrated women from all walks of life — Lama was one of these remarkable women.

[Read Related: 4 Ways Lakme Fashion Week Shunned the Average Societal Stereotypes]

Brown Girl Magazine got the chance to chat with Lama herself about her life, her work as a model, and her advocacy for the LGBTQ community. Here’s what she said in this exclusive interview:

What was life like growing up?

I grew up in a village far from the city. My father was a farmer and with seven children to feed, he had hard times while we were growing up. Since my childhood, I always took an interest in household work and would roam around with my sisters and mother. People taunted me for spending time with the womenfolk and behaving like a girl. In school too, I befriended the girls more easily and hung out with them more often. I was bullied for this. I was depressed but did not give up studying. We had to walk 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the evening for school, but I carried on because education seemed like the only way out. I came to the capital, after I completed 10th grade, to join college and earn for my education.

When did you first start identifying yourself as a transgender woman?

I knew since my childhood — I had realized that I have been trapped in the wrong body. It was in 2005 when I visited one of the community centers in the capital where I went through counseling and came to know about the term transgender and people like me.

 

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When you finally felt free to be your true self, what types of reactions did you get from the people around you?

Although I knew about myself since my childhood, the only question I had to myself was: ‘Do I have some disorder or problem?’ When I came to know about being transgender and met other transgenders in 2005, there was no looking back. I started my transition from then but I hadn’t shared anything about my transmission with my family and relatives. My family came to know about this from someone else in my village and they asked me about everything, that’s when I admitted to it. There was a minute of silence from them and they told me everything between me and them was finished  — I was disowned. At that time, my mother said to me, ‘I know you from when you were a child, and I don’t know whether I am doing the right thing or wrong, but I advise you to stay on the right track and be true.’ Those words gave me motivation and support.

Talk to us about the work you’ve done to bring more awareness to transgender rights.

I started LGBTI advocacy and awareness work in 2006, with an organization from Kathmandu, and have raised community issues in different forms and places. Though I am not affiliated with any organization, for the time being, I continue to advocate for transgender and LGBTQ rights through my social media platforms.

 

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How has modeling impacted your fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community?

It has impacted my fight for equality in various ways. It’s also been a platform to advocate and share my thoughts about community issues and challenges.

How did you get into modeling? What was your first modeling assignment?

I never came to the capital to be a model. My friends’ circle and people used to compliment me about my height and physique saying I should be a model. My first break came in 2009 when a magazine called Voice of Women put me on their cover. I thought I would get more chances and opportunities after this, but days went by and nothing happened. Then I joined a modeling agency and enhanced myself and my skills. My first professional ramp show was in 2010.

 

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You became the first-ever transgender model to walk Lakme Fashion Week in 2017. How did that feel? How did you get the opportunity?

It makes me very proud to be a Lakme model. I was rejected in the first two auditions I gave; I finally made it into their pool of models after the third audition. I always took my failure as a process to learn and develop myself.

 

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Tell us what designers you’ve walked for.

I have walked for the top designers of India such as Tarun Tahillani, Rohit Bal, Falguni Shane Peacock, Manish Malhotra, Monica Jaysing, Sabyasachi, Abujani Sandeep Khosla, Rajesh Pratap Singh, and Gaurav Gupta, to name a few.

 

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You walked Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive 2019 earlier this year. Which was your favorite social cause that was addressed this year at LFW?

The one that I liked most was Project SU.RE — India’s biggest commitment to sustainable fashion. Union Minister of Textiles Smriti Zubin Irani helped launch Project SU.RE in efforts to move towards sustainable fashion at Lakme Fashion Week Winter Festive 2019. The designers are making strides to contribute to a clean environment. Part of the main purpose of this social cause was to develop a clear understanding of the impacts the garments have on the environment and help introduce a policy that will aid designers to prioritize utilizing certified raw materials to implement a positive impact on the environment.

 

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What has been the most difficult part of your journey thus far?

There have been so many difficulties throughout the years. But, one of the most prominent ones is the fact that I stepped into modeling where there wasn’t a place for a transgender woman like me. I had to break a lot of barriers and overcome a lot of the common stereotypes.

India has made some progressive changes in support of the LGBTQ community. Talk to us about how you feel about these changes. What work still needs to be done?

We still have a long way to go. I think there should be an inclusive policy in every sector which provides equal opportunities to everyone, regardless of gender identity. Although these changes have had been a positive impact on my life—there have been so many opportunities to showcase my talent and advocate for what I believe in so strongly—and people often praise me for the work I have done, we still need to reach out to many more people and make them aware of the LGBTQ community.

 

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Lama aims to help those who are inspired by her story and reach out to her for guidance. She has mentioned, in the past, that she actively counsels those who ask for support and resources related to the transgender community. She’s proud of her identity and stands strong as the woman she is — she encourages everyone to do the same, regardless of what gender you identify with.

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