‘Don’t Assume Your Students Are Straight!’: How Campuses Can Support Queer Students

CREAEditor's Note: With #QueerWithoutFear, Youth Ki Awaaz and CREA have joined hands to advocate for safer and more inclusive campuses for LGBTQ+ students and break the silence around the discrimination faced by students who identify as queer. If your college or school has an LGBTQ+ support group, a campus queer collective, or an initiative that’s pushing for a safer campus, share your story!

By YKA Staff:

In India, students who identify as queer are at a higher risk of being bullied by fellow students, teachers, and administration members, posing a serious threat to their life and freedom. With the reinstatement of Section 377, things have only got much worse. We need to turn things around and make our campuses more inclusive of queer students. Very little is said about having support groups, queer-friendly events and professional counselling on campuses in India, but nurturing these conversations is crucial to ensure the safety and inclusion of queer students. To spark the conversation, YKA joined hands with feminist human rights organisation CREA  to advocate for safety and inclusion in Indian educational institutions so students can be  #QueerWithoutFear.

 As part of this campaign, YKA and CREA hosted a Twitter chat on 2nd March, from 4- 5 pm. The chat saw participation from queer students, student activists, LGBTQ+ support groups and magazines, among many others, who contributed a wealth of information. For those who missed it, here are the most important lessons that we took away from the chat:

 On Awareness About Gender/ Sexuality In Early And Higher Education

 Question: In school/ college, were you aware that you had classmates who identified as queer?

 “In school – hell no. This was Dubai, if people knew you were queer, it could land you in serious trouble.” – Edwin Thomas, Writer and Alumnus – Christ University

 “School was particularly bad because it was a far more conservative environment with no conversation about these issues. But my liberal arts college was far more interesting. Interacting with fellow queer students helped me understand my sexuality.” – Rohini, Feminist Writer

 “Haha! I was, and I wasn’t aware. So not sure about others. but think mostly being ‘homo’ was associated with mannerisms and hand gestures. Years later, I found out that some of my classmates were gay.” – Dhrubo Jyoti

On Safety For LGBTQ Students In College And University Campuses

 Question: Having moved out of schools, how safe would you say your colleges were/are for LGBTQ+ students?

 “I will be very honest to admit that my college in DU never even discussed these issues.” – Prashant Kumar Jha, Hindi Features Writer at Youth Ki Awaaz

 “We had nobody from the trans community. LGB people passed for straight. So, there was no violence. And classmates giggled in case you openly expressed your sexuality. But being openly queer also made thinking people understand. That effort was entirely [the students’] though.” – Abhishek Jha, Features Writer at Youth Ki Awaaz

 “Even within college campuses, some courses offer a safer space than others. say, women’s studies programmes.” – Vani Vishwanathan, Feminist Writer, Editor of Spark (Online Literature Magazine)

 On What Campuses Can Do To Make The Environment More Inclusive Of LGBT+ Students

 Question: Following from your student experiences, what should be top priority for institutions to be supportive of LGBT+ students?

 “There needs to be some sensitization for many teachers and students. Many trans friends still find it difficult to deal with the jokes and hostility in universities.” – Dhrubo Jyoti

 “For starters, college campuses must have a provision in all forms for people to identify the way they want.” – Nikita Lamba, journalist

 “Invite queer allies who are popular amongst college students, for events. People like Piyush Mishra.” – Sourodipto Sanyal, Sub-Editor at Youth Ki Awaaz

 “Create a safe space program to increase visibility of queer students and create a sense of belonging for them.” – Asexuality India, Online Space for Asexual Community

 बच्चों से पहले यूनीवर्सिटी में शिक्षकों को भी LGBT+ समुदाय और उनके हकों के बारे में बताना होगा उन्हें ट्रेन करना होगा। सबसे पहले शिक्षकों को LGBT+ समुदाय और उनके हक के बारे में बताना होगा, उन्हें ट्रेन करना होगा। (Before students, university staff also needs awareness and training about issues faced by LGBT+ community and its rights)” – Prashant Kumar Jha

 “Have a body set up which looks into problems faced by queer students as well as any harassment.” – Runa Chatterjee, Sub Editor at Youth Ki Awaaz

 “Use pronouns such as ze/they – not her/him by default. Look for examples or case studies that highlight diverse sexualities and  gender.” – TARSHI, Non-Government Organisation

 “How about a mandatory queer film fest where we normalise the idea of ‘different’ people through stories!” – Vani Vishwanathan

 On The Role Teachers And Counsellors (Can) Play To Make Campuses More Supportive

 Question: Our next question is about teachers and counsellors – what role can they play in helping students who identify as queer?

 “As teachers, we have to let students know they can trust us, we won’t judge them. Keep that door open, where they can come to you with anything. Support, offer guidance, offer to just listen. Teachers need teach acceptance, less judgement etc.” – Sabbah Haji, Director at Haji Public School in Breswana, Himalayan Jammu Kashmir

 “I want teachers to make it a practice to upgrade the language they use in the classroom. Don’t alienate queer kids, use gender neutral language, respect pronouns, don’t assume your students are cis/straight!!” – Shambhavi Saxena, Features Writer at Youth Ki Awaaz

 “Collaborate with external organisations & community groups & enable students to meet new people and help identify themselves.” – Asexuality India

 “Teachers can play a decisive role by being aware of bullies who pick on vulnerable students. Queer/trans/disabled kids need to be encouraged to speak out. Also, teachers and counsellors can raise awareness on gender/race/language issues.” – Depressed Devil

 On The Role Parents (Can) Play To Make LGBT+ Students More Comfortable

 Question: Education begins at home. What advice can you give to parents of kids who don’t fit the gender or sexuality ‘norm’?

 “Accept them. That’s what every child needs. I was unfortunate not to be accepted and it leaves a void. Parents need to for a moment think about their child and not what society may say. For all of our sakes not to call this a PHASE and give a recommendation of a psychiatrist who could help.” – Ananya Raju

“Parents should first be aware of restrictive gender stereotypes and what impact these had on THEIR life could help them understand how pushing these norms to children will adversely affect them.” – TARSHI

 “Suggest them to read on both the struggles and the triumphs of fellow queer folk to know how hard it can be but doesn’t have to. Educate themselves to know it’s not the end of the world.” – Indian Aces, Online Space for Indian Asexual Community

 “I think read and educate the same way we read up about baby care and child foods and illnesses. Parents can be supportive without having to do much for queer kids and in most cases, just talking and listening helps.” – Dhrubo Jyoti

 On Expectations From Administration And Peers On Campus

 Question: What kind of support would you like to see for LGBTQ+ collectives from administration as well as peers?

 “To appoint a well-trained counsellor to begin – a first line of support. Hold workshops to sensitize the management. Consider how mental health of a student can be impacted and how mental health is just as important as physical health.” – Harsh Agarwal

 “Information is a great defence against bigotry.” – Asexuality India

 “Make a support group including teachers, students & college administration which will sensitize students about queer students. Also, try to make others aware instead of ignoring topic.” – Simply Me

 On Experiences With LGBT+ Collectives On Campuses

 Question: Those with gay-straight alliances or LGBTQ+ collectives on campus, tell us about them!

 “There are many but because of rotation of students, they die out & become inactive. We need to create new leaders before we leave.” – Harsh Agarwal

 “I think they are often like breathing spaces for many of us who cannot afford to be queer otherwise but many campus collectives are also very difficult to maintain and stressful for managing members.” – Dhrubo Jyoti

 As you can see, the chat saw many interesting responses that opened up the discussion around LGBT+ safety on campuses to new avenues. We saw over a hundred responses and created over 1 million Twitter impressions, reaching over 93,000 Twitter accounts in all. A good first step? We think so!

 If you are actively involved in the queer collective at your university, an educator in support of the LGBTQ+ movement or would simply like to share your perspectives around inclusiveness, we’d love to hear from you. Write In with your campus stories along with the hashtag #QueerWithoutFear, and join us in driving this important conversation forward.