Trigger warning: mentions of violence against LGBTQIA+ people
The classroom is supposed to be a safe haven for all students. They are supposed to have the space to explore their creativity, nurture their talents and gain knowledge. But for all this to happen, it is important that they feel safe enough to express themselves.
The classroom environment in India varies according to the socioeconomic status of the institution. In some of the more elite, Indian colleges, there are proper mechanisms such as resource centres which address the grievances of LGBTQIA+ students.
But, this is not the case everywhere. Most colleges in semi-rural and semi-urban India do not have such provisions. Students are subjected to discrimination because of their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Gender and sexuality is an inherent part of one’s identity. Therefore, harassing an individual on the basis of them is a direct violation of the rights vested to us by the Indian Constitution.
In schools, the paternalistic rules surrounding decorum often harass LGBTQIA+ students. Oftentimes, even the teachers are hostile towards queer students.
Given the precarious situation of the LGBTQIA+ community in India, the societal view towards queer individuals is one of disgust and angst. They are not accepted wholeheartedly, even though they have landmark judgments in favour of them, such as the reading down of section 377.
When colleges and schools are not inclusive of someone’s sexuality or gender identity, they often pave the way for justifying the bullying and torture of queer students by their non-queer ones.
In April 2018, a teenage student from a reputed girls’ school in Gopalapuram, Chennai, typed out a long answer to a question on “the first crush you’ve had” on a social media site. In this case, her first crush happened to be a classmate who was also a girl.
Soon, a couple of other girls from her class took a screenshot of it and started circulating it. Both the girls were teased, ridiculed and called names. What’s worse is that apparently, several teachers from the school got to know about the post.
Allegedly, the girl in question was censured and verbally abused by them. Some went as far ahead as calling her a prostitute.
The trauma such incidents leave on the young and impressionable minds of the students is unimaginable. They are compelled, at times, to resort to death by suicide.
This happens because they are backed into a corner and they do not have access to queer-affirmative counselling to help them deal with queerphobia. Social condemnation forces them to alienate themselves and subsequently, shut themselves out permanently.
Colleges and schools need to start addressing such grievances and offer counselling to their LGBTQIA+ students, to enable a safe environment for them.
They need to hire sensitised and trained counsellors as well as other experts, to provide the educational institution with proper suggestions on how to make its queer students feel included.
Special workshops on LGBTQIA+ history and identities should be held. Interaction should be encouraged so that the students, both queer and non-queer, can understand each other.
The society around us is largely queerphobic. Hence, mere condemnation of societal attitudes won’t result in change, unless we educate all the stakeholders, especially the immediate ones.
For queer students to feel safe, their classmates must empathise with their problems. This can only happen when institutions play an active role in LGBTQIA+ education and awareness.
This should be done alongside ensuring that authorities aren’t complacent to complaints of queerphobia. The faculty members ought to be trained in gender sensitivity. More importantly, such facilities should be accessible to all.