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I Hated Gay People, But Then…

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I’m not sure if you were aware but Thursday, May 17, was celebrated as International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia.

The day reminded me of my take on homosexuality. I hated gays people (read: homophobic). Not because I had any particular bad experience with anyone and that ruined the image of the entire community for me. Actually, to think of it, I had never met a gay person, ever.

It was because of the social messages I consumed growing up in the Indian society. Gay folks being called sinners and evil was the headline of any conversation about LGBTQ people. That was that.

While living in our own privileged bubbles we never bother to check the truth of what we learned growing up, anyway. I mean, who’d doubt how they were raised? Who’d doubt their parents and teachers and everything they ever knew? Who’d think that a woman marrying a woman was natural?

The bias became stronger. Indian cinema in the 90s and early 2000s barely ever had any LGBTQ stories and I don’t know about the last 10 years either. There have been some movies like “Kapoor and Sons“, but I have no clue how good or bad it was for the community, so I won’t comment on it. To sum up, there was no representation of LGBT people anywhere, not in society, not in the cinema, not on TV and most certainly not in real life for me.

Of all the people I’ve come across in my lifetime, I don’t know if anyone was gay, and had to conceal that in order to remain safe and respected. But the closest was a story that shook us all.

A massively wealthy family in our colony invited us to their daughter’s wedding. The daughter was also my sister’s teacher so they were quite close and hence we went as a family. The wedding was the most ostentatious and pompous wedding I’ve been to in my life. It was heard that the husband and his family were Dubai-settled and had factories, blah blah blah. It was a wedding that was talked about for days after it was over. It was a spectacle and everyone who went was talking about some aspect of it. A year later we heard that their daughter was back home, visiting. My sister visited and congratulated her teacher for her newborn baby. A few weeks passed and that lady rejoined her old job as a dental lecturer. Here’s when people got suspicious. Why would someone visiting home from their sasural in Dubai join employment?

The speculation in the colony was obvious and soon my sister learned what happened. Soon after my sister’s teacher went to Dubai with her in-laws and her husband, she noticed that her husband was physically distant from her. She assumed it’s just the initial discomfort of a new relationship but later she discovered a huge bag hidden under his bed. That’s when she realized what was going on.

Her husband was gay. She broke down and had several fights with him. Due to family pressure, he did get intimate with her once or twice maybe, hence the birth of their daughter, but that’s all. As days went by things got worse and she came back home never to return. She resumed her old job and started raising her little daughter on her own. Hearing this as a teenager makes you feel bad for her and hate her husband.

Further years went by and we heard he committed suicide.

By the time I heard of his suicide, I was in university. The whole story was obviously painful but also shocking. As someone who has no personal connections with the people involved and felt no impacts of the events, I still had a position favoring the lady and hating her gay husband for the fraud. But his suicide put the haters in a weird position because if he was so happy that the woman was out of his life, why would he choose to kill himself?

Almost eight years ago, I discovered feminism and within it, the existence of LGBTQ people and their rights. Initially, it put me in an awkward place, since my upbringing told me all LGBTQ people were ‘sinners’, but instead of carrying my outdated ideology, I decided to give it a shot and tried to learn about gay people.

Some people may call me a late bloomer but it was only then that I discovered these facts. First, people do not choose to be queer. It is simply who they are. Just like some people are left-handed, being gay is as natural as that (shocking, I know!). Second, homosexuality is found in animals, birds, and reptiles too, so it is not just in humans. And third, homosexuality is not a disease that some people say can be cured (Baba Ramdev, this ain’t your forte).

The more I learnt, the more it made sense to me that considering the amount of hate and abuse LGBTQ people receive, it is obvious that they wouldn’t choose to be in that position.

The worst thing about it all was that I was in my mid-twenties and I had no idea, not a clue, about this very basic knowledge about a part of the human race that is so very natural and all around us.

And now when I hear someone say they “hate gays”, my only question to them is “What someone does in their bedroom, why is it your business?

I mean, if you dislike the idea of homosexuality, then don’t be a homosexual, as simple as that. You can choose for yourself but don’t impose your preference on other people. Because of this dominance, this imposition has put millions of LGBTQ people in such vulnerable positions. This imposition was what drove that man to suicide. After all these years I think I understand what happened. He never came out to his family, and as his family was high profile, for whom reputation was everything, they would have forced him to marry who they chose.

He might have gotten married under pressure but in the later years, living with a woman, sharing the same bed with her may have disturbed him and his mental health may have taken a downward spiral. Or who knows, he may himself have felt guilty or disgusted for being attracted to other men. Who knows, he may have thought that if he forced himself to marry a woman, he may forget his ‘homosexual tendencies’.

Whatever the case may be, I feel differently about the whole story now. At first, I only felt bad for the single, divorced mother who returned with nothing but depression and a little girl to raise on her own. But now I feel our society and the homophobia is the reason why so many lives were ruined like this. If our society accepted queer people for who they are and didn’t have such hatred against them, why would someone have to force themselves into something like this?

Just briefly, here are the numbers, worldwide.

Prescription for Change found that in 2008, 5% of lesbians and bisexual women say they have attempted to take their own life. This increases to 7% of bisexual women, 7% of black and minority ethnic women and 10% of lesbians and bisexual women with a disability.

The Gay Men’s Health Survey found that in 2013, 3% of gay men have attempted to take their own life. This increases to 5% of black and minority ethnic men, 5% of bisexual men and 7% of gay and bisexual men with a disability. In the same period, 0.4% of all men attempted to take their own life.

In 2012, the Trans Mental Health Study  found that 11% of trans people had thought about ending their lives at some point in the last year and 33% had attempted to take their life more than once in their lifetime, 3% attempting suicide more than 10 times.

And a 2016 report by METRO Chairty showed 52% of young LGBTQ people reported self-harm either recently or in the past compared to 25% of heterosexual non-trans young people; it also found 44% of young LGBTQ people have considered suicide compared to 26% of heterosexual non-trans young people.

These mental health illnesses are not the same as those suffered by non-LGBTQ people, because these stem from years of marginalization, discrimination, and abuse. The shame and stigma attached to LGBTQ people are tremendous globally but specifically, in India, it is like announcing your own death sentence (considering how many people literally get killed and others are abused to the extent that they are driven to suicide).

In 2016, a film production company named The Creative Gypsy made a web series called All About Section 377” which is an excellent (educational, informational and so interesting) take on the Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that criminalizes all homosexual acts. I wish there was stuff like this while I was growing up so I didn’t have to be a homophobic person for most of my life.

I am sure many of you reading this may hate LGBTQ people the same way I used to and most definitely would have uttered abusive slurs on homosexuality at some point. But one joke for you can ruin someone else’s entire life.

A person may have a different sexual orientation than yours but they are still people and don’t deserve to be discriminated or hated.

Most Muslim people’s first rebuttal against homosexuality is the story of the  “people of Lot“. In the beginning, my homophobia too was based on this cluster of thoughts. But today I realise that an individuals relationship with Allah is a very private matter. If someone is gay and at the same time practices the Islamic faith, they shouldn’t have to be forced to give up one for the other. Also, there are gay Imams in the world who do a lot of good, and I would say a lot more than heterosexual Imams and people in general! There is Muhsin Hendricks of South Africa, Ludovic Mohamed-Zahed of France, El-Farouk Khaki of Toronto’s el-Tawhid Juma Circle/The Unity Mosque, and Daayiee Abdullah who is an American. The gay Imam Nur Warsame also is on the mission to open an LGBT friendly mosque soon, in Austratlia.

 

There is such a thing as “ghaib” which means uncertainty. Islamic teachings say that only God holds the knowledge of the uncertain. Why God chose to create some humans homosexual only He knows. Thousands of years after human evolution, we have only now found that being gay is not a disease and does not need cures. We cannot say for certain why people are the way they are but that does not mean we have the right to discriminate or oppress those we do not understand.

And to everyone who argues against homosexuality with me from an Islamic perspective, I ask them to focus on their own deeds and sins.

I hated gay people but now I know better. Yet most of my family back home, my relatives, friends, most people I meet still hold those homophobic ideas. And whenever they say something homophobic in front of me, I take it upon myself to educate them.

It isn’t easy to defend something like homosexuality to your own family. At one point they start doubting and question whether I’ve ‘turned’ gay. To that I simply answer, I don’t have to be a tree to care about climate change.

Being gay is not a choice, but being an ignorant jerk certainly is.

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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.

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 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)’.

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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.

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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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