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Even Those Who Support The LGBTQ+ Community, Stereotype Them. Please Stop.

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By Sakshi Srivastava:

The recent Orlando shooting carried out by a gunman, claiming allegiance to ISIS, in a gay club, has shaken everyone who supports LGBTQ+ rights to the core. It has raised some very serious questions about us, where we, as humans, are regressing. It’s a battle which isn’t against any militant group or a religious one, it’s against that age-old rotten belief that treats the community as an abomination.

lgbtq+ solidarity
Showing solidarity with Orlando Attack’s victims. Source: Biswaranjan Rout/Getty

Love isn’t the monopoly of a few people. It’s futile to say that we stand by them when it means nothing. For many, it’s just another post in their news feed or an opportunity to post a status condemning the attacks all the while suffering from denial or internalised homophobia.

While thinking, I was struck by how the stereotypes regarding LGBTQ+ people are increasing their complications. With the ongoing Pride Month, we see our social media profiles swarmed with colours: pride marches and people celebrating their lives, which is all great. It’s their right. However, their stereotypical portrayal by non-queer people is often wrong. In popular media, gays, lesbians and trans people are specifically stereotyped. What it does is that it puts them in a category that is somewhat foreign. It beats the whole purpose of wanting to be accepted as they are, especially in India, where, often, people claim to be flexible in accepting diverse people, but then discriminate between them.

Problematic Stereotypes And The Pressure To Conform To Them

I am fervently against the image that shows the LGBTQ+ community as over the top, flamboyant, effeminate people (specifically in the case of gay men) who just prefer fashion, partying with/as drag queens or are perverted satyromaniacs (males with uncontrollable sexual desires) who never have a happy ending. They are portrayed as having an obnoxious voice, a limp wrist, and people associate gay men, unfairly, with excessive PDA . These are, perhaps, some of the most visible signs presented to us. But everyone should get to choose how they want to present themselves. The recent Jabong ad is a proof of that. What one is, shouldn’t be hidden. But representing a whole community on this basis is wrong. It’s like saying all Brahmins are vegetarians.

When we create an ‘approved’ image of them as effeminate, we are treating them as something that is ‘not okay’. In reality, they are as diverse as any other group. We’ve been taught to think of gay men as ‘twinks’ or ‘daddies’ while we tend to forget that they are in all sorts of professions and are part of all sorts of families. You might not be able to even ‘identify’ them unless they have ‘come out of the closet’, and why should you?

Everyone needs a safe and secure place to belong. But when people try to gain acceptance, they feel that they need to meet the parameters of being gay in their own community. It leads to an additional pressure to be someone they don’t want to be. They start getting insecure in a place where they were supposed to feel liberated. It leads to a situation where they are already pressured and humiliated not only for being queer but also for not being queer enough. When forced to mould themselves according to the norm, the fear that comes with non-conformity leads to may remaining in their ‘closets’. It is an even bigger problem in India where people use derogatory terms for them. People refuse to believe them just because they lack certain stereotypical ‘traits’. They shouldn’t be customised to fit in.

Coming to lesbian women, this is a concept that is even more stereotyped. In India, where patriarchy and the subjugation of women is rampant, a situation where a woman is sexually involved with someone of the same gender is considered worse than infidelity, rape etc. We just love oppressing our women whose sole job is to apparently procreate and fit into the roles assigned to them by males. Pigeon-holing them is something men and other women alike, enjoy when they feel threatened. Lesbians are shunned and declared ‘promiscuous’, ‘unholy’ and even ‘witches’ while being subjected to brutal killings and sometimes forced to commit suicide.

fire deepa mehta
Deepa Mehta’s ‘Fire’.

Movies that depict same-sex love between women, hardly live to see the light of day. ‘Fire’, a Deepa Mehta movie, consisted stellar performances by Shabana Azmi and Nandita Das as two women in love with each other. But, as usual, many a sanctimonious people of our country felt offended. Their degree of getting offended seems to vary when men get violent with women or when they brag of their philandering ways. But it seems women and freedom can’t coexist.

I remember reading about Ismat Chughtai’s ‘Lihaaf’, a masterpiece about two women having a sexual relationship to which a young girl was a witness. A woman herself, Chughtai was ostracised by her own society for attempting to write about natural but which was, and is considered, taboo things. The story’s boldness made many of my friends uncomfortable, possibly because from childhood, we believe in a stereotype that reinforces that ‘sane’ women who love men should act in ways complementary to masculine traits. Like passiveness to aggressiveness, submissiveness to assertiveness, soft to hard demeanour etc.

Lesbianism is considered as the direct opposition of that. A counter-image of sorts. Therefore, a stereotype is created that shows lesbians to be having ‘masculine’ characteristics. Like dressing as tomboys, walking in a certain way, having short hair, smoking and drinking. Yes, there are women who choose to be that way but for all you and I, they may be of any sexual orientation.

Lesbian couples are not mentally ill or ‘possessed’. They can be career and family oriented. They too can make excellent parents and nurturers. They can be responsible citizens of the country. Society should not dictate how they must live, or who they show their affections to.

Coming to trans people. It is basically an umbrella term for people who do not identify with the gender assigned to them at birth. Since trans people were given legal status as the ‘third gender‘, our society is  showing signs of becoming more tolerant toward them. But even as trans people have made their foray into politics, I don’t think much has actually changed in their portrayal and hence their treatment. People want their blessings on auspicious occasions but they seem to be distanced from mainstream society. Usually ostracised, they are treated poorly and exploited by society and authorities alike.

The negative stereotypes about trans people are worrisome. They are always shown as cross-dressing males, when they identify as women, or intersex, or non-binary. They are shown decked in heavy ornaments, moving around in groups, talking in a certain manner while clapping their hands loudly. In our country, people who don’t actually know of  gender variations, take this to be a universal image. For them, the community is represented by the people they call ‘hijras’ and ‘kinnars’. Because people can be easily unaware or confused, gender demarcations were created for easy identification, which does not represent the complex gender and sexuality spectrum.

Recognising Various other Genderqueer Identities

2nd LGBT Parade Organised By Nai Bhor Organisation In Jaipur
A trans participant in an LGBT parade. Source: Himanshu Vyas/Getty

I will try to explain each of these terms as well as I possibly can.

Intersex: A term used for a variety of conditions in which a person is born with reproductive or sexual anatomy and genetics that doesn’t fit the standard definitions of male and female. Many such people are forcefully made to undergo correction surgeries at birth if their conditions are identified as such. Their existence shows that our structure of gender is socially constructed

FTM (Female-to-male): Trans people who were assigned the female gender at birth but live and identify as males. Also known as trans men.

MTF (Male-to-female): Trans people who were assigned the male gender at birth but live and identify as females. Also known as trans women.

Cross-dressing: Most people associate this with trans people in the country when in reality, it is a universal practice irrespective of sex and gender roles. Cross-dressers can be of any sexual orientation. It is a form of gender where a person dons the clothes and accessories of a gender opposite to theirs. Typically associated with men who dress up ‘like women’, it is generally not permanent and doesn’t always mean a person desires to change his or her gender.

There are many other groups within the LGBTQIA+ community about whom not much is discussed or known, even though they aren’t uncommon. There are genderqueer and gender-fluid people who don’t confine themselves within any gender category or societal label. There are bisexual people who are attracted to two genders. Asexual people don’t feel sexually attracted to anyone of any gender. And there are pansexuals and many others.


Sexuality, being a multi-dimensional topic that varies individually, should be dealt with in a sensitive manner. Stereotypes perpetuate hostility, bigotry and fuel stigma because others expect these people not to be ‘normal’, something that needs societal approval in order to exist. We express our sexuality, why can’t they? What makes heterosexuality normal and everything else an anomaly? If LGBTQ+ people are portrayed as ordinary individuals then hopefully people will learn to accept them as they are, not as a threat.

In India, gender roles are usually referenced in a pejorative sense. Gender as an institution restricts freedom of behaviour and expression, or is used as a basis for discrimination. Even straight people struggle every day with respect to breaking the norms, so we have to understand what kind of struggle the gender variant people have to face in India where people don’t even know the difference between sex and gender. While ignorance doesn’t excuse the behaviour meted out to them, it certainly is a reason why it becomes all the more important to support the LGBTQ+ community and give them their rights. People stigmatise every topic that is uncomfortable and hide under the garb of morals, culture and religion to justify it. A general consensus through education and other means needs to be created for them in order to be accepted as humans and given their rights for being what they are. Gender divisions should be arbitrary. Just like the universe doesn’t discriminate and embraces all objects, so should we. That would be a true form of progress.


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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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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