On August 15, 2016, the city of Mumbai played host to a one-of-a-kind Acceptance Meet organised by the Humsafar Trust and Love Matters. With the aim to promote healthy discussions between LGBTQ people and allies, family and friends, the Meet has become an annual must-go event since its inception in 2014.
What was unique about this year’s Meet was the launch of “Strengthening Bridges” – a manual aimed towards counsellors to support the parents of queer people in India. With the roll-out of the Mental Healthcare Bill this year, the country is coming around to understanding the importance of having mental health resources. And when social stigma against LGBTQ people can be and is detrimental to their mental health, it becomes important to address that as well. The focus of the Meet this year just so happened to be on mental health, making the launch of India’s first such manual all the more apt.
“Alternate genders and sexuality is often seen as a disorder therefore we need to fight this idea,” says Koninika Roy, co-author of the manual and Advocacy Manager at The Humsafar Trust when asked about the aim of the manual. According to Roy, dealing with mental health of LGBTQ people becomes a two-front approach – doing mass sensitisation to help remove the misinformation surrounding alternate gender and sexuality, as well as creating resources for queer people and their parents. “While mental health is absolutely important, our current approach must change. For instance, a lot of people come to us for counselling after going through aversion therapy.”
The 53-page manual is the combined effort of the co-authors, Roy as well as Richa Vashista, who was a clinical counsellor at Humsafar providing mental health services for the LGBTQ for about two years before taking on behavioural research as well.
“A lot of people have gone to various members of the health sectors who would be prescribed with ‘cures’ for their alternate gender and/or sexuality which would include pills, injections and even hormone therapy,” says Vashista. “After going through almost one year of therapy, they will conclude that perhaps it’s not ‘acquired’ but that it’s ‘genetic’. So many people are duped this way. Dealing with parents became difficult because so many parents were duped into believing that there is a course and they will go to any length.” A notorious example would be the kind of clinics operated by Baba Ramdev’s very own Patanjali Ayurveda that seeks to ‘cure’ homosexuality.
The manual consists of in depth case interviews with 10 parents who have accepted their respective LGBTQ children in addition to including the counselling experiences of Vashista as well as other counsellors whose experience dates back to more than 20 years. “Family support is important because the space of the home is the primary source of support, while the rest are secondary.” When asked about the kind of resistance she may have faced putting together a resource of this kind, she stated that she had faced nothing of that sort and in fact, her interviews with parents would sometimes last around two hours.
And while it doesn’t read as a research submission or something you’d come across in an academic journal, the need of the hour for a manual of this sort is immense. Vashista explains the lack of a structured psychological discourse: “When I was studying clinical psychology, there was just a mention about homosexuality that it was once considered by DSM to be a disorder but it isn’t anymore.”
Stressing on the clear need for a manual for this format, Roy states that people don’t see this as a mainstream issue. “Our motto is to mainstream it. Since it doesn’t affect the majority of the population, there is also not enough research.”
Although the manual has not been marketed yet to the general public, it still has some exciting plans ahead. From using this manual to create a module for sensitisation to getting requests from colleges to conduct workshops centered around the resource, publicising this manual could be the turning point for its needed impact. This is in addition to plans to train counselling students who are in their second or third year. “Since Humsafar Trust does not work with people under the age of 18, we plan to deal only with counsellors,” says Roy.
In a time where pop culture and mainstream society still largely rejects people of alternate genders and sexuality, a manual of this format is a great place to bridge the wide information gap that exists between parents, counsellors, and the people who it will impact the most – queer kids who deserve to not live in fear but in a conducive environment of support.