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Raising A Child Who Is Not Homophobic

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The other day we were at a social gathering and my friend’s 8-year-old child came trotting to us. Her innocent inquisitiveness brought an awkward silence into the room which had been bustling with chatter all this while.

“Mummy, Ria said that one of her friends has two fathers and not one mother and one father. How is that possible? Isn’t that funny?”

I shot a glance at my friend whom this question was directed at and I could sense her discomfort as well as a tinge of displeasure on her face. She was almost about to tell the child to go away but I could not stop myself from intruding at that point.

“Come here Shuchi! Well, there is nothing funny in that, dear. Some children have one mummy and one papa, some have two mothers, some like Ria’s friend have two fathers and some have a single parent. It is all normal. You might have found it funny because you have not come across such families before. But they exist and are just like any other family,” I said.

“Oh! But why are such families not common, Aunty?”

Before I could answer any further, my friend distracted her daughter’s attention to a tattoo artist and rolled her eyes after the children left. I confronted my friend because I knew that she was not opposed to homosexuality and hence, her reaction had left me befuddled. I was genuinely curious to know the reason she dismissed her daughter instead of making use of the opportunity to talk to her about homosexuality.

I discovered that she felt it was too early to discuss “such” things with her daughter and that she didn’t want to wreck and pollute her mind with “all this” talk. She, however, was grateful to me for handling the situation as best as I could. I didn’t prod her further but I did feel sad for the child.

While there is increasing awareness and acceptance of sexuality in today’s times, we still have a long way to go before it becomes a norm socially and legally. I strongly believe that a lot of the change that we wish to see in the world will come about from the way we raise the next generation. If we truly want to raise children who are not homophobic, we need to accept it wholly ourselves first. It is one thing to be aware of it but it’s very important to normalize homosexuality for our children without judging them for their questions or chiding them over it. If they witness us feeling embarrassed or cringing when the conversation steers towards such topics, or if they watch us mocking someone due to their sexual orientation, they are certainly going to imbibe the same actions from us.

Most of us recognise homosexuality as an issue that affects other people, which it may be, but we do not realise that the fight for the rights and dignity of homosexual people should also be a personal battle for all of us. What if your child or a loved one also turns out to be homosexual? Why does such a thought pinch some of us?The scenario is possible as one’s sexuality is not something in their control or can be medically treated. Unfortunately, a section of people is uninformed even today.

The taboos and fear of society’s scorns have already suffocated many in their closets, and have forced them to live a life of delusion. I also know of people who committed suicide because letting go of their identity and individuality got to them and they could not take it anymore.

Do we want our children to endure the same fate? Unless we talk to them frankly and candidly about this subject, how are we going to give them the confidence to open up to us to share their personal emotions?

A big mistake we often make as parents, is to assume that our children are too young to discuss certain topics. When actually, they are much more perceptive than we give them credit for!

My daughter is two and a half years old and I always try to answer all her questions in a manner apt for her age. If not today, she will get it someday and that is what we need to continue throughout their growing years, and even later. If I had not answered Shuchi that day during the gathering, she would have continued to find a family with same sex partners amusing and this conditioning would have probably deterred her from having any further discussions on this subject with her parents.

Also, our children are not always going to ask us about these matters. We don’t need to wait for them to do so. Instead, we need to proactively initiate open dialogues to put homosexuality on a normal footing for our children. There are various ways to do this. We can read age appropriate books to them or we can improvise our pretend play to include same sex partners at times – like say, a doll family having two dolls as mothers. If our approach is sensitive and casual, it will be easier for our children to identify with it.

Another challenge we face as parents is countervailing the homophobic vitriol that our children are likely to hear from people around. Discrimination is not just assimilated from the primary caregivers but also from the child’s milieu which includes friends, teachers and other folks a child meets on a daily basis.

Hence, I believe there is no harm in talking to kids about the history of LGBT rights’ movement, especially with the older kids. The more they know about our views and the society’s, the more likely it is that they would have their own balanced views, instead of getting muddled with what the world tells them.

The key here is teaching them equality and compassion from the beginning which will automatically take care of homosexuality. Focusing on making them see our similarities with others will help them to accept the differences as well.

Let’s not just talk the talk, but also walk the talk and contribute towards raising children who are not homophobic, but are empathetic and inclusive. Children are born with a clean slate which is filled by us and the environment they are brought up in. The onus is on us to help them be the kind of people we wish them to be.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
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