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I Learned What Being Gay Means In Class 9, And It Is A Lesson In Solidarity

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I’ve had crushes on boys ever since I joined the school. Athletic ones, nerds, the jocks, you say it, I have fallen for that type of boy, at least once. It was not ‘true love’ of course, more like an obsession. I’d always wondered, ever since I was a child, “what would it be like if I married a girl one day?”  In grade 3, I was disgusted by the thought and promised myself never to think the same again.

Then, I proceeded in the 6th grade, and that’s when I heard my friends saying that girls can be in a relationship with another girl. I was shocked because even though I had imagined it once, I never thought something like that was real. What was more surprising was that I only got to know about this in the 6th grade. My friends knew so much and I was left behind, trying to process the things they were saying.

The only guy friend I had was this boy in my class. The other boys in our class thought he was ‘weird’ because they considered interacting with girls to be ‘disgusting’. They’d call my friend ‘gay’. Not because he was gay but because he was the only one in class who was friends with the girls.

My guy friend was not bothered by all this but I felt really bad. I didn’t completely understand why the boys called him ‘gay’ so I went home and looked it up on the internet. I learned what ‘gay’ means, what the LGBTQ+ community is. Then, I  thought it was a gross thing because almost all the kids in my class would always make a disgusting face when someone mentioned the word ‘gay’. So then, I never spoke of it.

Gay Rights Struggle
I learnt about the LGBTQ+ community, their struggles, their hardships, and how difficult it is to survive in the present-day world. Representational image.

In the 7th grade, my best friend asked me what I thought about bisexuality. I was surprised because I had never spoken about that subject for a long time. I asked her what she meant by that question and she said that she had questions about her sexuality. I didn’t take it seriously at that time.

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit my country and I was locked up for 6 months. I became a huge One Direction stan in this period! That’s when I came to know about a ‘ship’ called “Larry Stylinson”. People thought Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson were dating. I was surprised because I had never heard about a real-life gay couple and dug deep. I read about the conspiracies and was introduced to a side of things I never bothered to visit before.

I learnt about the LGBTQ+ community, their struggles, their hardships, and how difficult it is to survive in the present-day world. I cried a lot, watching TED talks and real-life stories of queer people. I realised that it is not a ‘gross’ thing to speak about, and became an ally of the community.

Recently, my aforementioned best friend came out to me. I was crying with her and promised that once the pandemic is over we would have a party.

That night I didn’t sleep and I laid down, thinking about her future. I was so happy for her but I realised how hard her life might be.

In a country like India, kids have very-little-to-no knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community. I came to know about it in the 6th grade, and that too I had to learn about it myself. No one had ever bothered to tell me about it, not my parents, not my teachers, not my mentors, no one.

I’m going into the 9th grade now and STILL, not a single soul, except my friends, thought of acknowledging it. Why? Why is it such a taboo? 

Many teens do not have any knowledge about the LGBTQ+ community because their parents or teachers have this mindset that it’s not an ‘appropriate’ topic. Just like they avoid talking about sex and reproduction (even though its nothing gross to talk about), even queer culture is regarded as ‘disgusting’.

The kids are only exposed to this knowledge by their peers or through the internet. The lack of understanding might just create a wrong image of the LGBTQ+ community in the minds of the children, which will affect their lives in the future. Parents SHOULD educate their kids on queer culture because it IS important. Your kids might just not have a clue that it IS okay to fall in love with the same sex. They might break another peoples heart without even knowing it. The way others view them will change. It doesn’t matter if you are a doctor, engineer, or teacher. Being queer is acceptable and your kids should understand it.

What is bad about love? If you can tell your kids to love people, then why hide the fact that love exists between people of the same-sex too? It is a simple and beautiful fact that is not hard to accept. So, just sit with your kids and explain that love is love.

I’m going into the 9th grade now and STILL, not a single soul, except my friends, thought of acknowledging it. Why is it such a taboo?  Image credit: Flicker.

Most Indian families develop a close bond with distant cousins and relatives. But, many of these relatives are the ones who end up causing a lot of problems, I feel. Some of them are nice and understanding but others act like they own your life! These kind of relations are usually the ones that persuade us to ‘change’ our sexuality and to ‘think straight’ even when we are not. See, I’m not saying that all aunties or uncles pry, but the stereotypical ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles’ do exist in real life. Educate them and make them understand queer culture. But most of the times it won’t work so leave them to their business. It’s your life and you can live however you want to.

I’ve seen how many people who come out as gay usually end up moving abroad. That clearly states how uneasy it must be for them. Same-sex marriage is not legalised nor is being gay accepted. What exactly does ‘India is a developed country’ mean when love is not accepted? I strongly protest the anti-LGBTQ+ actions the country has taken till now.

The community is getting very little recognition and support from the government, as well as from the people. Just building cool buildings and starting new companies is not enough. I beg you to do something for the queer community, who are struggling hard in our country. They are forced to go to conversion camps which are horrible horrible places. The amount of stress and anxiety they go under is unmeasurable. Ban conversion camps, and support the community, please!

I’m not labelling my country. These are facts that are happening in the country as well as many other places now. Please show them mercy and let them love, like any other people. Being gay is not a sin. It is beautiful. And those who don’t accept that are toxic. #LoveIsLove

Featured image for representation only.
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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.

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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.

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.

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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
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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