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My Journey Of Breaking Past Misconceptions About LGBTQ Community

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Socialisation is the process by which a child evolves into a social being through various institutions. The primary source of socialisation for
a child is its family. Our values, beliefs and thoughts are thus depended upon what our family teaches us. However, as we grow older and come into contact with other sources such as technology, school or our peer group, our belief system further gets modified. Therefore, the type of ideas and thoughts that are kept in front of us as a child, become a large part of our personalities when we grow older.

Even though most agents of socialisation may claim to teach children humility and encourage them to perform acts of kindness, I have felt that we often forget to teach our kids how to treat people who are a little different from the society’s definition of ‘normal’. In India, a very few households talk about topics that are considered taboo. Therefore, most transgenders end up feeling confused and cisgenders being scared of them. For me, the term gay or lesbian meant an insult while transgenders were someone who would come to dance on happy occasions and had the power to curse or bless people. This is the perception of the LGBTQ+ community that most people in India have.

It is funny how we fail to treat a person who belongs to the ‘other community’ as a human being, but readily give them a status of someone bigger than the humankind itself! For example, the dalits were referred to as  ‘Harijans’, women are sometimes equated to the goddess ‘Lakshmi’ and a trans person as someone who has ‘magical powers’. My problem with this is that even though it may have started to ‘uplift’ these groups, however, in the process we have forgotten to treat them as human beings first. We are violent towards this community mentally, physically and make their life a living hell, if they try to express themselves.

Even those of us who are not physically or verbally violent; do not treat them at par with the rest of the community. We push them onto the peripheries and judge them not by their intellect or the type of person they are, but based on their sexual orientation or the gender they identify with. This further leads to the alienation of the group and this alienation starts at an early age. We all remember a kid from our class who always sat alone and had no friends because they seemed ‘weird’ to us. Obviously, this does not mean that the kid was from the LGBTQ community, but it is proof that from the very beginning we have isolated people who didn’t seem ‘normal’ to us.

I have met some people who are against the idea of an LGBTQ+ community. To them, I say that a sense of identity is a basic human need. Time and again the human race has formed categories and stuck with the groups that they identify with. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Black, White, Dalit are all identities, and our actions and thoughts are a part of our identity. When we throw a category out of a particular community, we cannot stop them from making their own identity group.

My journey to sensitisation towards this community started because of my curiosity towards the group. I had questions about gender and sex, about transgenders and who they really are. With these questions, I went to the adults in my life. When I did not get any satisfactory response, I made this internet my best friend. I have been blessed to be born in the day and age where I can gather any type of information that I want to. I decided to learn about the LGBTQ+ community. I read articles, tried to study biological and psychological aspects, watched videos made for and by the community and read about the Koovagam festival in Tamil Nadu.

To all my readers, if you don’t know about Koovagam, please watch a documentary or read about it. It’s fascinating! My moment of being a supporter of the group came when I addressed a transwoman on the street as ‘Didi’. Her face lightened up just by a single word, and I knew her day was made. Her lit up face helped me to further make an effort to break my age-old beliefs and views and be more sensitive towards the LGBTQ+ community.

I agree that getting rid of ages of socialization is not easy. However, we must not stop questioning things. The day we stop questioning the system, our culture and its institutions; it will be the end of our democracy. Simple efforts make a difference. Start by using the right pronouns for the transgender. It is indeed that easy! Even if you do not understand the LGBTQ+ community, just remember that it is essential to understand that everyone has the right to express themselves the way they want to and love who they want to.

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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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