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My Mother Walks In Pride, What More Could A Queer Kid Want?

Namaste ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, and people of all ages and genders! Venkatesh here, an LGBTQ resident of the City of Joy—Kolkata. My city has so far celebrated its 16th LGBTQ Pride, and I have been able to attended Pride marches in 16 cities across India.

I went to Pride for the first time in my life in December, 2015, in my own city. Kolkata was not only the first city in India to host a Pride walk, but also the very first in South East Asia in 1999! That Pride was the second turning point in my life. That was when I met many people from trans community and had lovely interactions with them. The second time I attended Pride was in December 2016, in Kolkata again, that too walking down with my mother! But it wasn’t always this easy.

Since the age of 17, questions about attraction towards the same gender started playing in my mind. Is it wrong? Is it just a phase? Why am I getting attracted to guys and not girls? All of this kept revolving in my mind.

Back then, I was not aware of the term “homosexuality”. But at that age, internet access was was very new to me, and I started utilising it and browsing up on more regarding these questions. After several days of browsing, I realised my attraction towards the same gender was nothing abnormal. It’s very natural but many people just think its abnormal. I slowly started meeting guys from social networking sites who had the same feelings as I do. But a year later, things got a little complicated when my mother asked me “Don’t you have a girlfriend?”

Image courtesy of the author.

My mother is my best friend, she always has been. I share everything with her. But this was something different. I asked her why was she asking about a girlfriend. She replied,” You always mention the names of boys when you go out, and I have never heard a single girl’s name. Are you gay?”

I was terrified that if I had told her about my orientation, she would react badly. I tried to change the topic. I was not sure if I was gay or bisexual, back then. I needed time too before I could come out to her. My mother use to ask me this same question once in a month or two. And when I was 20 years old, and pretty sure about my orientation, the day she asked me again, I replied ” Yes, I am gay.”

It was pin drop silence then. I thought the silence would lead to a major explosion. Then, after couple of minutes, my Mom said, “I knew about you but I just wanted to hear it from the horse’s mouth.” That day I felt I was on the top of the world. A few days later, I asked my her if Dad knew about my orientation. She did not reply immediately, but later she said she had discussed it with him. Dad is a very calm and reserved person. He rarely converses. He follows the a “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. Even though he doesn’t say it, he is aware of everything.

At the age of 21, I first attended a public LGBTQ Event called “Queer Hugs” in Kolkata organised by the online group Harmless Hugs, and it was a turning point in my life. There, I met many individuals who became good friends later on and are still in my life. After that, I began attendeing all the LGBTQ events in the city. My mother too walks in Prides too, she’s done a total of three, as well as marching on March 31, International Transgender Visibility Day. She has been honoured and felicitated for the tremendous support by the Association for Transgender/Hijra in Bengal on April 15th, 2018.

During my journey, I slowly started moving towards activism. Till date, I am not associated with any organisation, because I work for the community as an individual—an independent LGBTQ Activist. It makes me happy to see that in 2017, five cities hosted Pride marches for the very first time—which included Lucknow, Bhopal, Islampur, Dehradun and Goa. Delhi and Bengaluru both celebrated their 10th Prides, while Kolkata hosted its 16th! In fact, today there are so many more pride events, that two prides clashed on the same date!

I believe the first torture of queer people begins at our own homes. When you have such a supportive mother, you are really blessed. It has been an amazing journey till date travelling across India for so many Prides, and meeting such beautiful souls on the way. None of this would have been possible without having such positive people around me, and most importantly the blessings and support of parents who accept me the way I am.

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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.

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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.”

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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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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.

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