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Why Not Take ‘Pride’ In All Queers?: The Exclusionary Hierarchies Of The LGBT Movement

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By Shambhavi Saxena:

There is an assumption that the marginalized are not capable of practicing the same hierarchies of power that exclude them. And as a question, it becomes particularly relevant when interrogating the contemporary queer movement. People of alternative sexualities themselves need to examine the ways in which the movement is growing. All too often, queer people of dominant groups are silent on the narratives of queer people of colour, the underclass, or the neuro-divergent and differently-abled. The contemporary queer movement also suffers from issues of not seeing or being seen. Not wanting to be outed is a perfectly valid expectation when you’re queer, but a jarring lack of visibility can be equally frustrating. Even more worrisome is the transphobic and biphobic attitude that many gay and lesbian people have, because they think trans and bi folks are just confused. As a relatively young movement, LGBT+ struggles have quite a way to go yet.

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One Queer Movement At The Expense Of Others?

It may be futile to pin point the root of the queer movement when separate cultures have produced their own histories, but certainly the Stonewall riots of 1969 were a watershed moment in America’s queer politics. But this politics, which does not even prominently feature native-American, black, Hispanic or Asian figures, is often lauded as the front-runner of the queer movement worldwide. There seems to be little or no recognition of the lives of queer people in other parts of the world without the scholarship Afsaneh Najmabadi, Ruth Vanita, Saleem Kidwai, Sokari Ekine, Hakima Abbas, Nivedita Menon and countless others. Even within America, queer black women’s lives have been well documented by the likes of Audre Lorde and Alice Walker. And yet, after all this, the idea of the queer is reduced to a stock photo of vanilla dudes in briefs and coloured boas at the San Francisco pride parade.

Queer Spaces Can Be As Patriarchal If Not More

In her novel, ‘Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, Julia Serano highlights the various ways in which infighting and un-solidarity destabilizes the queer movement:

More mainstream gays decry the presence of drag queens and leather daddies in their pride parades and there is a long history of lesbians and gay men who outright dismiss bisexual, asexual and transgender identities. Within the transgender and bisexual umbrellas, there are constant accusations that certain individuals do not qualify as “real” members of the group or that their identities or actions somehow reinforce ‘the gender binary’.

Serano also points out that sexism-based exclusion is not a phenomenon queer circles are unfamiliar with. Many a time, queer spaces mimic the patriarchal bent of mind.

Among other important intersections in the queer movement is that of race. You may remember Jennicet Gutiérrez interrupting American President Barrack Obama at a white house dinner to talk about the exclusion of immigrant trans people from mainstream queer politics. Gutiérrez was immediately shut down because the only idea of queer that is palatable and even fashionable is the “wealthy, white, gay” variety. In this light, anyone can appreciate the justified anger at the whitewashed Stonewall movie that’s set to release on 25th September.

The Fight Doesn’t End With Marriage Equality

Why is marriage-equality the end-goal for a human rights fight? The queer movement has allowed itself to be defined by one narrow objective, to which many queer people, who recognize it as an oppressive institution, do not aspire. Married gay couples look cute to the heteropatriarchy. It minimizes much of the “threat” they pose to society when they are co-opted into, rather than subverting the institution. There has been a reluctance to acknowledge that the queer struggle as tied to varying economic, racial, colonial, caste-based considerations. We know this. What we are finding it so hard to swallow is that a lot of this reluctance is coming from within queer circles themselves. The question then becomes who is being allowed to have sex with who, as opposed to who is losing out on opportunities because of their sexual orientation.

An Invisibility Cloak?

Queer pride parades, which are literally a source of pride for a community that is constantly shot down and belittled, can lose all their significance when they are popularly termed “Gay Pride” events, as if ‘gay’ is the only non-hetero identity there is! We might expect this warped terminology from people outside queer circles, but from within? That people do not yet use the acronyms “MOGAI” or “LGBTQIA+” and settle for just “LGBT” is also an indication of how this hierarchy to play out. Intersex, Asexual, Pansexual, Polysexual, and various other identities not only become subsumed under the broad category of LGBT, but they disappear entirely. In the 2011 movie, ‘(A)sexual’, activist David Jay’s attempts to rally for support for the underrepresented at a pride event was met with laughs, disdain and disbelief.

Queer circles must agree upon this one thing: a single identity cannot stand as the identifier for the whole community. How many gay people are actually aware of the other letters of the acronym? If the lack of visibility can fracture the movement, its active presence will strengthen it. Without a stronger sense of community, based on acceptance, understanding and openness, Pride events will remain flashy carnivals instead of solidarity marches.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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