By Vidhipssa Mohan:
College is the time when one gets to explore themselves and their sexuality. Students meet new people which helps them learn things about themselves that they didn’t know before. They learn about the different facets of life through teachers as well as through their peers. Many discover that they have non-binary gender identities and gather the courage to come out as well. This is why it’s imperative for every college to provide a safe and inclusive space for all students. I spoke to a few students from the LGBTQ community from my college, Kamala Nehru College, to find out if they feel the college is inclusive or not.
“Kamala Nehru College has helped me grow into a confident woman who is ready to fight for her rights,” says Tanya*, a third-year literature student, with a non-normative gender identity. Tanya struggled a lot while accepting her sexuality. She says what helped her was how the teachers in her college here celebrated when a student came out of the closet. Her department, the English department, once created and displayed a world map with arrows pointing towards pictures of renowned authors with non-normative identities from around the world – Oscar Wilde, Vikram Seth, etc. It may just be a notice board to some, but it really moved Tanya. For her, the department had successfully assured her that it is okay to not be what our patriarchal society expects us to be. She says, “When some of the greatest authors of all time accept their sexuality despite all the struggles, you feel happy.”
Mansi*, another final year student, identified herself as lesbian since she was in school. However, she never had the confidence to publicly acknowledge her gender identity. This was partly because the people who knew about her identity used to insult her and that always got to her. But now, two years as a student of KNC, and her Instagram bio reads, “your happy queer kid.” I asked her how she grew a thick skin all of a sudden and overcame her inhibition. She told me it took her a lot of time and help from her teachers. Once, after getting tired of all the insults and jibes, she went to a teacher for help. The teacher not only advised her how to deal with such comments but also told her how she herself identified as someone who was non-normative. Rarely, do teachers share their personal lives with students. However, this teacher drew on her own experiences and did everything she could to make Mansi feel comfortable and at ease. The teacher told her, “It will be hard. Some people will ostracise you for who you are. But then, there will be others, who will support you no matter what.”
Namita*, a psychology student from the college, struggled to discover her identity as well. When she finally decided to come out to her friends, she had expected them to laugh at her. Instead, they understood and supported her. Through her friends, she met more people from the queer community. Being with them, and listening to the stories of other members and learning from them, made her feel empowered. Priya* is another student with a similar story. She was confused about her identity for a while and that phase was very difficult for her. She elaborates, “I always thought there was something wrong with me. I used to call myself an asexual since I just couldn’t bring myself to date. But in college, I slowly came to realise that I was in fact, not an asexual. But I also realised that I wasn’t heterosexual either. “My college friends deserve credit for supporting me when I was discovering myself.”
Wide Angle, the film society of the college, also tried to spread awareness about the horrible impact of homophobia in campus spaces by screening the movie “Aligarh”. This helped the students gain a better understanding of the struggles that people from the LGBTQ community face. From childhood, most of us are conditioned to be homophobic – especially, with the kind of environment that primary and secondary education institutions have and the general lack of comprehensive sexual education in these institutions. KNC’s inclusive atmosphere has altered the opinions of many students who had grown up in a homophobic environment and had internalised stereotypes and prejudices against the LGBTQ community. A student, who doesn’t wish to disclose her identity, shares her view. “People are brainwashed into thinking that belonging to the LGBTQ community is morally wrong. Our patriarchal society often uses holy scriptures and religious texts to prove the same. But this is what education is for, to undo such brainwashing.”
However, it cannot be ignored that despite creating what seems like an inclusive social environment, the college lacks an LGBTQ support group, as do most other colleges of our country. People who don’t conform to gender stereotypes and people with non-binary gender identities are shunned by our society. They receive hate from friends, parents, relatives and even strangers – this is partly why the LGBTQ community’s fight for equality is not just about legal rights, but just as much about social acceptance. We need to take part in this fight and do our bit to try to liberate people from their inherent prejudices. We need to support the LGBTQ community and their cause. And from my conversations with students from KNC, I feel students and teachers of Kamala Nehru College are trying to do just that.