Schools and colleges in India, are largely, not inclusive of their LGBTQ students. So, it is truly heartening when students take it upon themselves to create safe spaces for their friends from the queer community. In 2013, students at Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar formed Breaking Barriers – one such collective that aimed to take forward an awareness, rights and sensitisation campaign for students from across the gender and sexuality spectrum in its school. This was the same year, the Supreme Court of India criminalised homosexuality by upholding Section 377 of the constitution. At a time when talking about LGBTQ issues is still a big social taboo in India, the students at the schools share their experiences about what it means to be part of India’s first school level Gay-Straight alliance, the need for having similar initiatives at school level in the country and the difference the alliance has made in their lives.
Being a prominent member of the first school-level Gay-Straight alliance in India is a privilege. So for once, I feel happy about myself. But most queer kids across the world still hate themselves. They are taught to look down upon alternate behaviours and attitudes. The society seems to preach hatred and dislike. Combatting that thought is the main target of Breaking Barriers – we aim to spread love and tolerance. And our main target audience is the younger generation, the students. Imparting knowledge to such impressionable minds is crucial to ensure a loving and well-informed next generation. On a personal level, too, being a part of a group like Breaking Barriers really had a positive effect on my life. Coming to terms with my own gender and sexuality became easier since I had a little more faith in my feelings once a few friends of mine actually thought what I felt wasn’t alien. Now, I hardly think any of my acquaintances discriminate against me specifically because of my alternate gender and sexuality. I really can’t imagine myself attending any other school in India if I have to be true to myself. Finally, I deeply support whosoever spreads the message of love, because love never fails anyone. Love from this campaign turned the nasty, rude and obnoxious person inside me to a loving, caring and kind person.
I joined Breaking Barriers in 9th grade wanting to more about the LGBTQI community. Section 377 was bought back in 2013 and the media coverage on the issue caught my attention and piqued my interest about the issue. The next three years were the most informative and knowledgeable years of my schooling. I have always been an average student who has a hard time recalling chapters I read a month ago but my memory of my first few training sessions for Breaking Barriers in 9th grade are still intact and unblemished. The cause of being able to live in an environment which accepts alternative genders and sexualities and where individuality is respected, is very close to my heart. Being a part of the team and now heading it has been an absolute honour and a privilege. The campaign has not only helped me widen my spectrum of knowledge but has also improved me as a person who now believes that there are no obstructions on who you can be or who you can love. Having the privilege of interacting with individuals of the LGBTQI community made me believe they are no ‘different’ from heterosexuals and that they too deserve a respected and dignified place in our society. The society has created clear binaries of what is ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ and ‘man’ and ‘woman’ with two end points and anything that doesn’t fit in the two distinctions is considered ‘unacceptable’. There is a need to change this thinking and sensitise people about alternative sexualities and the fact that we all are too diverse to fit into any distinctions.
The Breaking Barriers Campaign was initiated in Tagore International School in the year 2013 by two of my seniors- Sohini Chakroborty and Safeena Ameen. Its prime objective was to spread awareness about LGBTQI individuals systematically in order to generate acceptance for diversity in our society. I became a part of the campaign in 2014 with the zeal of contributing to a social cause. I have always believed that every person is unique and deserves the right to embrace his/her uniqueness. Initially, I had a very brief idea about what the acronym LGBTQI meant but somehow, I knew that I needed to be a part of something greater and do my bit. Ever since, I have absorbed substantial information about the community and understood why a colossal variety of personalities should co-exist in a society peacefully. Through a number of presentations and interactions, members like myself were enabled to unravel the acronym and understand the significance and the boundless existence of people with different sexual orientations as well as gender identities. I was taught to accept expression in any form as long as it did not harm anyone else’s. I was taught to embrace my individuality and not cater to the shackles of societies that try to place us in boxes of gender roles. And most importantly, I learnt to perceive the LGBTQI community as one of “us” and not “them”.