Punished for being different: LGBTs battle odds

They are different but society won`t let them be so, opine groups of homosexuals and transgenders continue to battle societal stigmas and ostracietion even two years after Delhi High Court judgment decriminalizing homosexuality.

Bangalore: They are different but society won`t let them be so, opine groups of homosexuals and transgenders continue to battle issues relating to forced
marriages, discrimination at workplace, societal stigma and ostracietion even two years after Delhi High Court judgment decriminalizing homosexuality.

"Forced marriages is still an issue", says Sumathi from Lesbit, a support group for lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders, and a participant in today`s series of events
organised by sexual minority community to mark the judgement, hailed as a milestone by many in India.

While several were still battling societal odds to come out of the closet, many who have done so continue to face parental disapproval.
"Many a time they are handed over the punishment of marriage", hoping for a behavioural correction.

A defiant Sumathi, who questions the fundamental of being discriminately seeks to illustrate her point. "Some like mangoes, some apples, but just because I do not like mangoes, why am I being made to stand out", she asks.

Vinay Chandran, Executive Director of Swabhava, a city-based NGO working with lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender, says the helpline Sahay run by them is often ringing with at least five to 10 calls a week from individuals experiencing some confusion or opposition over their sexual preferences says, that the common complaint was that parents were pushing these men to marry, sometimes knowing fully well that their preferences were different.
The calls vary in terms of age group right from young boys discovering the orientation to late teens and even those in their 20`s and thirties when marriage pressure is more. Vinay welcomes a recent media move of a soap opera on
television which knits the story of gay men into the main plot of the story. The plot examines the issue of forced marriages on a gay character. "Not all gays can live with these double lives", he says hoping the serial will answer the issues.

However, Sumathi says that "people`s expression of gender" is changing and there should be an open debate on the subject. A token talk or one-kind of episode in a reality show really won`t solve the issue or sensitise people. It has to be a persistent debate with all angles of the issue being discussed. Media shows should not be just individual based but rather issue based on the subject, she said.

The scenario the community agrees is changing compared to a decade ago. Young boys were coming out of the closet and lesbians demanding their right where it mattered and transgenders making themselves more visible.

However, unfortunately, it was class that mattered when it came to coming out of the closet and living a life of a homosexual, says Vinay. Such behaviour often was more acceptable in the upper socio economic strata. Those from the lower economic strata continued to be thwarted in any form of expression, many a times often leading to psychological fears that continue to haunt a major part of their lives.

Another lesbian even questions the very act of coming out. "Why should one come out, is it just because we are different". Hitting out at those who snub such behavior, she vociferously argues that it was high time lesbians, gays and
transgender were considered part of the society, without forcing anyone to come out over their sexual orientation.

However, what is heartening to note is the new generation of sexual minorities says Sumathi were more brave, demanded respect and a perfect sense of freedom. They were getting mobilized into groups, extending support to each other and
taking on professional commitments.
"Lots of things are changing for the lesbian communities", says Sumathi. Apart from networking, the community is involved in advocacy for their rights and demanding space of their own.

"We have a small number of events being organised like livelihood intervention for the non-English speaking women who come from rural villages", Sumathi says.

"Our group Lesbit continues to receive such women, some of whom have run away from homes or migrated", says Sumathi.

These groups support such women emotionally and provide them some help, including securing a job till they are able to support themselves and settle down. Battling all odds the sexual minority community is hoping to get their rights acknowledged and their freedom protected through active mobilization.

The community in Karnataka is actively protesting the Karnataka police Act amendment which attempts to control the activities of the transgender population, says Vinay.

The Delhi High Court judgement is also another step in this direction and many feel it has ushered in some hope and the community was looking up for positive news from the apex court on the issue as well.


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