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On Valentine’s Day, Where Is The Love For Queer People?

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As I wait in front of the train that has just pulled into the Metro station, I see my reflection in the glass before the doors open. In a dinner jacket and bow-tie, short cropped hair and violently red lipstick, I must make an unusual sight. Not that I set much stock by appearances, but there must be something about me that screams “queer”. An older woman wrapped in a shawl gives me a sideways glance before moving away. Sometimes the staring persists. But this time I can’t care less. I’ve got my best shoes on, and I’m going to meet my partner for that horribly cliched Valentine’s Day dinner.

An uninterrupted meal, smiling waiters, and then the usual ride back home. Both of us know that even something as simple as this isn’t what every queer couple has the privilege to do.

“Love” is something both universal and intimate, something that makes us human, regardless of our class, race, caste, faith, gender, or ability. But when it comes to sexual orientation – about being queer in a cisheteronormative culture – love tends to lose its footing.

Queer Couples

Queerness, Thy Name Is Suffering

What images of queerness do we consume on a regular basis? Colourful scenes from Pride marches and poetry readings are the few positive ones. The other more omnipresent images are of pain. Many of us first learn about queerness through one of two thing: reports of violent crimes against LGBTQ people; or the human rights campaigns launched in response to the same. We quote Article 14 of the Indian Constitution, the right to equality, and how Section 377 strips queer people of that right. And all our energies are directed into fighting for non-discrimination policies in our schools, colleges, and workplaces.

And while our fight must necessarily highlight the marginalisation of queer people, we also risk permanently ‘othering’ the community, defining queerness within a narrative of suffering. Look at any of those cult queer films. “Brokeback Mountain”, a story of guilt and separation; “Blue is the Warmest Colour”, a story of heartbreak. This is true of even the more ‘sensitive’ depictions in (the otherwise queerphobic) Indian cinema. “Kapoor and Sons” has a queer subplot of not being accepted by family; Kannada film “Naanu Avanalla Avalu” depicts transphobia; The very controversial “Fire”, where lesbian love is guilt-stricken and secretive . When will we finally replace images of queer people being excluded, abused and murdered?

Where Is The Love?

What we desperately need are more positive images of queer people. Two women in love, watching TV in the living room, while a grandmother potters around complaining about the weather, and a father sits reading a newspaper on the couch. Two dads at a parent-teacher-meeting, sharing a joke with their kid’s favourite teacher. A trans mother helping her daughter pick out her first bra. A queer couple cooking an elaborate dinner for a family gathering. You know, those simple, almost mundane everyday moments that we all take for granted. When we deny these moments to queer people, we deny them their humanity. Society at large points accusing fingers at LGBTQ people, saying they are incapable of having families, of being parents, of sharing love, of being faithful. This is nothing more than a way to deflect attention from the fact that our laws, our kinship systems, and our prejudices ensure queer people don’t have the opportunity to love openly.

Love Is (Not) A Losing Game

Occasions like Valentine’s Day could shift the focus to queer love as a radical and transformational force. Roll your eyes all you want and tell me February 14 is just a capitalist wet dream. I don’t disagree. But take a moment to think about the impact it has on our outlook.

accepting queer love

The day vociferously reinforces the idea that heterosexual love is the only true form of love. Greeting cards, store fronts, advertisements for chocolate, WhatsApp forwards – everything defines “love” as the relationship between one man and one woman. Never mind that same-sex attracted and polyamorous people exist! What if, instead, we saw an equal number of queer couples represented in Valentine’s Day promotions? Wouldn’t that normalise queer love for everyone in society?

At this point, it’s probably worth noting the origin of Valentine’s Day. Saint Valentinus, a priest during Roman times, married consenting lovers within the Christian church, even though society prohibited these. Honouring his actions by recognising queer love in the face of heteronormative bigotry might be the best way to celebrate February 14!

Perhaps images of queer love will build more empathy than queer suffering ever can. Perhaps many of you will see yourselves in the image of two men holding hands, or two women having a candlelight dinner. Perhaps the sight of a trans mom waiting with her kid for the school bus will remind you of your own experiences. And perhaps when we put all these images together, the lines that divide us will slowly melt away, and love with overpower the hate.

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    Leaving a comment to let you know that this article has been nominated for a Women’s Web Orange Flower Award under the category of ‘Writing on LGBT+ issues’. Here is the link to the nomination: https://woobox.com/pinkcf/gallery/4OXcjASUd-M

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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.

Read more about his campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign.

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.

Read more about her campaign. 

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.

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.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

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
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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