Shinta Ratri prays during the annual LGBT and waria community meeting in Yogyakarta, Java Island, Indonesia, August 2014.
Shinta Ratri prays during the annual LGBT and waria community meeting in Yogyakarta, Java Island, Indonesia, August 2014.Fulvio Bugani
Shinta Ratri prays during the annual LGBT and waria community meeting in Yogyakarta, Java Island, Indonesia, August 2014.
A picture of Shinta Ratri and her husband when they were still married.
Shinta Ratri prays at the school, wearing mukena.
Shinta Ratri at the local market in Kotagede, Yogyakarta.
Shinta Ratri at a social meeting with some friends.
Shinta Ratri greets waria friends after the annual LGBT meeting where human rights and religious issues were discussed.
Shinta Ratri talks about sexuality and religion during a local annual meeting of LGBT and waria community in Yogyakarta.
Shinta Ratri during an evening prayer in her house where the Pesantren Waria Al Fatah , Islamic bording school for transgender, is located.
Shinta Ratri with her waria friends at a local festival where some of them performed as singers or dancers.
Shinta Ratri performs a Balinese dance wearing a typical dress with two other transgender friends at a local street festival in Yogyakarta.
Shinta Ratri talks to her mother on the threshold of her family house where she is not allowed to enter.
Shinta Ratri shares a moment with her mother.
Shinta Ratri waits to have her hair done. Warias face difficulties in the job market, and many work in the beauty and entertainment industries.
Shinta Ratri applies make-up at home in Kotagede.
Shinta Ratri at home.
Shinta Ratri prays during the annual LGBT and waria community meeting in Yogyakarta, Java Island, Indonesia, August 2014
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Fulvio Bugani
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Inside Indonesia's Islamic Boarding School for Transgender People

Apr 20, 2015

When Shinta Ratri visits her family in Yogyakarta, the Indonesian city where she still lives, she sits outside her family’s home and waits. She hasn’t been allowed inside since she was 16, when as a young boy she told her family she identified as a girl.

Today, Shinta, 53, is one of the leading transgender activists in the country. She runs Pondok Pesantren Waria, an Islamic boarding school for Indonesia’s so-called waria, a portmanteau of the Indonesian words for woman (wanita) and man (pria). The school, in Shinta’s own home in Yogyakarta on the island of Java, provides a tight-knit community for transgender women from across the country who may face discrimination at home.

“They come to Yogyakarta just because they know about this school,” says Fulvio Bugani, an Italian photographer who spent nearly three weeks living with the waria community at the school. “They know that there they can pray and live like a woman in a good atmosphere.”

Bugani’s powerful images depict the daily lives of the school’s diverse waria community, and one of his shots was awarded third prize in the World Press Photo’s Contemporary Issues category this year.

About 10 women live at the school, according to Bugani, though the numbers fluctuate. Many of them make a living as sex workers or street performers, unable to find work in other areas, but the school offers a comfortable environment where, Bugani says, they can be themselves.

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It also provides a unique place for the waria to pray. In Indonesia, the country with the world’s largest Muslim population, mosques are typically segregated by gender and the transgender women are reluctant to join or barred from participating in either group. But Shinta has ensured that the women can pray together at the school.

“She is very proud to be a woman and also to be a Muslim,” Bugani says. “She wants to help the other waria to become like her.”

Bugani joined Shinta on one of her semiannual visits to her family’s home and watched as she sat outside, waiting. Then, in what has become something of a ritual, her mother emerged.

“You know, a mother is always a mother,” Bugani says.

Fulvio Bugani is a freelance photographer based in Bologna, Italy.

Mikko Takkunen, who edited this photo essay, is an Associate Photo Editor at TIME. Follow him on Twitter @photojournalism.

Noah Rayman is a reporter at TIME.

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