Homophobia and transphobia are so deep-rooted in our society that even after the Supreme Court of India struck down Section 377 of India’s penal code (which criminalized same-sex relationships), not much change has yet been achieved. The hatred is so deep-seated in the crevices of the society that it will take many more years for LGBTQ activists to achieve the real goal of addressing the hatred directed towards the community, and creating a safe haven for alternative sexualities in India. Centuries of abhorrence, subjugation, and shunning cannot surely be amended just by striking out a law, though legal measures can be considered as a start. The damages done to the LGBTQ community can only be rectified gradually by the enactment of strong laws against homophobia, formulation of welfare policies for the LGBTQ community, and creating awareness in every sphere of the society. The thought processes behind such atrocities need to be completely deconstructed and need to be replaced with new, progressive, liberal ideas that will be based on the equality of each human being regardless of the person’s sexual orientation.
The first step towards decreasing atrocities against the LGBTQ people is through their acceptance at home, in educational institutions and the workplace. However, the questions that arise here are – can the Indian parents who have been nurtured with orthodox, regressive ideas, link their child’s sexuality to the symbol of family’s prestige and stay burdened under regressive societal norms; really be supportive to the sexual choice of their offspring? Can educational institutions and workplaces in India bring in appropriate frameworks to stop the bullying and harassment of any individual due to the sexual orientation which is very pertinent?
As we are celebrating June as the pride month, it is important to remember that oppression, persecution, and atrocities against LGBTQ people have not reduced, but are rather on the rise. On May 12, a 21-year-old queer girl, Anjana Hareesh from Kerala was found dead in Goa, where she had gone on a vacation with friends, under mysterious circumstances. Friends alleged that she died by suicide over gross mistreatment by her family over her sexual orientation. Through a video that she posted on Facebook, she had narrated the ordeal that she had to go through after she came out to her family. In the video, she had alleged that her family had sent her to a conversion therapy center to cure her, linking her sexual orientation to a mental illness that can be ‘cured’. As stated by her, the therapy and the medicines had taken a toll on her and had rendered her completely numb, to such an extent that she failed to even see or talk properly. Not just conversion therapy, unfortunate shocking incidents of conversion rapes have also been reported in the past. In another tragic incident, a same-sex couple from Nammakal in Tamil Nadu reportedly died by suicide because of the rejection of their relationship by their family members.
Clinical social Worker Caitlin Ryan’s ‘Family acceptance Project’ (San Francisco State University) was the first research conducted to study the effect of family acceptance and rejection on the health, mental status, and well-being of LGBTQ youth. This study revealed that the LGBTQ youth who face rejection from their families were more than 8 times likely to have attempted suicide, more than 6 times likely to report high levels of depression, more than 3 times likely to use illegal drugs and more than 3 times likely to be at high risk for STD’s.
Another International study claims that the LGBTQ youth with suicidal tendency gets more support online from the depressed LGBTQ youth in other parts of the world as compared to suicidal heterosexuals.
Such is the case with the educational institutions and workplaces where being queer is seen as a deviation from being normal. This rejection drives the LGBTQ youth into severe mental depression, forcing them to take the harsh step of ending their own lives.
Two reports published by UNESCO and the International Commission of Jurists, a nongovernmental organization shed light on the plight of the Indian LGBTQ youth.
UNESCO’s research is testimony to the condition of youth and school environments in India, while ICJ’s report was a detailed description of housing, access to public spaces, and employment opportunities for the LGBTQ youth in India. “Educational and training opportunities are often denied to LGBTQ persons due to harassment, bullying, and violence,” ICJ reported, citing gender-specific school uniforms, lack of access to toilets, and difficulties in obtaining accurate identity documents as barriers for LGBTQ students. The report is a detailed analysis of cases of harassment in schools which includes even torture and discrimination of LGBTQ students at the hands of teachers.
UNESCO surveyed 371 sexual and gender minority youth in Tamil Nadu state and collected in-depth information that shows the harrowing truth about the condition of LGBTQ students in Indian educational institutions. Eighty-four percent of participants reported being bullied, mostly by other cisgender-heterosexual students. The study also revealed that one-fifth of the participants have been bullied by a male teacher. Furthermore, only 18% of those who were bullied said to have reported the incident to school authorities where nearly a third of them were asked to change their gendered mannerisms to avoid future bullying, and half of them were asked to ignore the incident altogether. This has taken a major toll on their academic performance, forcing many LGBTQ students to drop out of the schools due to the fear of harassment.
While few organizations are now employing LGBTQ youth, many still deny providing them employment opportunities. Though many times, this reason is not cited by the organization to avoid any implications in the future, the abhorrence to the LGBTQ youth still persists in subtle ways. Bullying in the workplace also affects their performance drastically, which impedes their growth as compared to their cisgender-heterosexual counterparts.
As per the ‘Diathesis Stress model,’ biological vulnerabilities predispose individuals to different conditions such as cancer, heart disease, and mental health, causing major depression that might lead to suicide. Also, according to the ‘Minority Stress Theory’ discrimination from the social environment leads to greater stress and health problems. It is high time that the problems faced by the LGBTQ community be addressed so as to be able to save many innocents who choose to end their life when they succumb to the hatred and torture imposed on them.
Acceptance, recognition, respect and equal rights are all that the LGBTQ community fights for.
While we have come far in bringing changes in our society, a lot more is yet to be done in order to completely uproot the social stigma associated with the sexual orientation of an individual. Though legal pronouncements have accepted same-sex relationships, stronger policies have to be made and implemented to safeguard the interest of the LGBTQ community.
Additionally, not just the LGBTQ community, but India’s youth irrespective of their sexual orientation have to come together in the fight for change. Though pride marches are an integral part of reclaiming queer identity by LGBTQ people, at the same time, just carrying a rainbow flag with shiny colors painted on faces, just participating in pride parades and uploading rainbow-themed pictures on various social media platforms alone can’t bring much change and provide justice to the LGBTQ community for the ostracization and persecution they have been facing since ages. It is important that at the same time, allies stand up for the LGBTQ community, voice their demands regularly, prevent people from mocking them, and protesting against every act of violence perpetrated against the LGBTQ community.
The message is simple and clear, “Spread Love, not hatred.”