***TRIGGER WARNING: References to sexual assault and substance abuse***
“Two-thirds of LGBT people avoid holding hands in public, for fear of negative reactions”UK Governtment Survey
This was the finding from a 2017 government survey of more than 100,000 LGBT people in the UK. While great strides have been made for gay rights in the West, true equality is still a pipe dream.
In India, even now, where the majority of educated younger people are more accepting than older generations, ‘coming out’ remains a fantasy for most. The creation of various LGBTQ+ support organisations and online activism has greatly propagated the message of acceptance among the youth. However, awareness about alternate gender identities and sexualities hasn’t yet penetrated the core sensibilities and value systems of the traditional Indian family. The situation is far worse in rural India where honour killings and systemic family-sponsored corrective-rape are still a horrific reality.
Given this extreme context, talking about the more nuanced issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community, though important, seems frivolous. While the life experience of an LGBTQ+ person is often compressed into the, ‘coming out’ or ‘transition’ event, shedding light on other day-to-day issues faced by this community might help provide a different perspective, a better understanding and hence, hopefully, greater awareness.
Here are a few of our blog articles covering a range of issues faced by the LGBTQ+ community:
The Rainbow Struggle
Crucial progress in the West has been both a boon and a bane for the LGBTQ+ community in the other parts of the world. The legalization of gay marriage in the United States was celebrated across the globe. Pride month and Pride parades are held to celebrate the community and commemorate the long history of struggle for equal rights, in particular the Stonewall riot, the first significant uprising that happened in New York City. This Western progress is inspiring but incomplete and there is a long way to go in making progress, especially in countries like India.
However, an interesting change is taking place in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. In 2002, Tori DeAngelis wrote for the American Psychological Association cover story that LGBT clients are facing a new generation of issues.
“In the 32 years since patrons of the Stonewall Inn challenged police who raided the now-famous gay nightclub, lesbians, gays and bisexuals have grown in personal and political power, creating their own communities and finding acceptance in traditional ones as well.
Conversations taking place in today’s therapy offices reflect this change. Although many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people still bring issues of discrimination and fear of rejection to their psychologists’ offices, they are just as likely to discuss such mainstream issues as parenting and fears about aging.”A new generation of issues for LGBT clients, Tori DeAngelis
52 years after the Stonewall Riots, and nearly two decades since DeAngelis’ article came out, the issues being discussed in the United States have moved on to topics that aren’t even on the radar for the rest of the world. In a controversially headlined article, The Struggle for Gay Rights Is Over, published in the The Atlantic (June 28 2019), an American news and literary magazine, the author records,
“As the topics of conversation at America’s largest assembly of gay activists (The National LGBTQ Task Force) suggests, America is rapidly becoming a post-gay country.”The Struggle for Gay Rights Is Over, James Kirchick
While more and more causes are being brought under the umbrella of LGBTQ+ rights in Western countries, progress is woefully lacking in the rest of the world. In a host of countries such as China, Taiwan and the Middle-East, people of the LGBTQ+ community fear for their lives. In this case, activists and voters in more liberal countries must press for legislation and foreign policy to help the international LGBTQ+ community’s still very real fight for basic rights. Although the rainbow struggle for a variety of wide-ranging issues encompassed under the LGBTQ+ agenda is a sign of progress, the fight must maintain a focus to champion LGBTQ+ rights across international borders.
Internalized Homophobia in a Heteronormative Society
For many individuals who identify as LGBTQ+, even fundamental rights and basic personal liberties remain out of reach, including the right to express oneself and the right to love and be together with a loved one. Confessing their sexuality to family might get them forced into conversion therapy. They can get bullied for simply being themselves, for walking, or even speaking a certain way. Even holding the hand of a loved one can result in violence. The results of the UK government survey found that more than 40 percent of the respondents have experienced a hate crime at some point, and 25 percent of them have concealed their identities from their families.
And it is not just the actions of others – the difficulties faced by individuals of the LGBTQ+ spectrum can often come from within the self. In a Huffington Post article, ‘Together Alone’ that went viral within the LGBTQ+ community, the author, Michael Hobbes draws from his friends’ experiences in disturbing detail about how loneliness and mental health issues plague them post-coming out.
“For years I’ve noticed the divergence between my straight friends and my gay friends. While one half of my social circle has disappeared into relationships, kids and suburbs, the other has struggled through isolation and anxiety, hard drugs and risky sex.”Together Alone, Michael Hobbes
People who are part of the LGBTQ+ community have a substantially increased risk of suffering from a range of mental health issues. One that is seldomly spoken about is internalized homophobia. The Rainbow Project offers a simple description: As we grow up we are taught the values of our society. In our homophobic, heterosexist, discriminatory culture, we may learn negative ideas about homosexuality and same-sex attraction.
When someone from the queer community calls out one of their own for being, ‘too gay’, or ‘not gay enough’, it is these internal biases that keep them from complete acceptance. Fear of discovery, discomfort with other gay people, and engaging in humor that stigmatizes LGBTQ+ people are a few examples of how internalised homophobia can be expressed. This hurdle prevents LGBTQ people from fully accepting themselves and their peers, making it that much harder to find community.
In a different Slate article, critiquing Hobbes for focusing exlusively on an overly cis white male perspective and solely talking about the problems of a group of people who are the “A-gays”, the author doesn’t disagree that gay loneliness is real, but adds to it the wide range of unique problems faced by other, often overlooked parts of the LGBTQ+ community.
“In the community, we have a name for these people: A-gays. They enforce the social rules of a certain kind of urban gay space, implicitly or sometimes explicitly excluding other types of gays (and almost all queer people) who don’t fit their strange standards. They are the donors and board members of the big gay nonprofits, the setters of the mainstream gay agenda.”Gay Loneliness Is Real—but “Bitchy, Toxic” Culture Isn’t the Full Story, Ben Miller
The lack of safe spaces for non-cis gay sub-groups is a major contributing factor to the toxic culture within the gay community. While online forums are good to start a conversation and seek anonymous camaraderie, especially for youth, this is often insufficient to counteract the hate and negativity that exists elsewhere. Further, the anonymous nature of the interaction doesn’t create a lasting bond, just a temporary escape from the feeling of isolation. For adults, online dating and hookup apps quench the need for company and validation but the dangers of catfishing sometimes with catastrophic consequences is always a very real possibility. Others resort to meeting people at bars or clubs, which might be intimidating to some where they might be forced into uncomfortable situations with substance abuse.
Call to Action – Creating a place in the Society
Reintegration into society – one that is free from both discriminatory heteronormativity as well as the toxic and ultra-exclusive LGBTQ+ one, is the one true solution to these wide-ranging problems. Creating a place in society through institutionalization and rigorous protection of the fundamental rights regardless of gender or sexual orientation is the first step.
A 75-point action plan created in response to the UK Government Survey of the LGBT people outlines several key measures that need to be enacted to protect them from injustices and hate crimes. One of the salient points was that the government will work with their Department of Health and Social Care to improve mental healthcare for LGBT people.
Recently, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP India) in collaboration with AIM NITI Aayog jointly launched the Youth Co:Lab, aimed at accelerating youth-led social entrepreneurship and innovation in India. One of the focus areas in selecting the community-led initiatives for incubation was LGBTQ+ allyship. This is a promising start. Our very own peer-support virtual chat service, LonePack Buddy, was one among the 30 initiatives selected across the nation in this specific focus area. Trained listeners are available 24×7 to confide in anonymously and this service is perfectly suited to address the problem of isolation and loneliness among LGBTQ+ people.
Community centres are the need of the hour – open from early in the morning to late at night, to meet others of varied backgrounds within the LGBTQ+ community and welcome to not just to those suffering from a crisis. The opening of one such centre by The Humsafar Trust in Delhi provides hope that this concern is being addressed. But this needs to be replicated in all major cities, towns and villages.
A Novel Inspiration
The words of Nadiya Hussian from the show Great British Bake Off to her children are especially apt here.
“Here’s a thing that I tell my kids. I say ‘elbows out’. There’s a rule in our house: whenever you feel like you don’t fit in or feel like there’s a place that isn’t there for you, stick your elbows out – not physically but metaphorically. Get those elbows out and make space…’”Nadiya Hussain, Great British Bake Off
When a heteronormative society scorns and shames an LGBTQ+ couple for something as simple as holding hands, when a toxic “A-Gay” marginalizes a person of their own community as ‘too gay’, and when self-doubt or internalized homophobia forces a person to fit into a rigid mold, we can reflect on these words – ‘Elbows out, make space’. LGBTQ+ Pride is a symbol of that very spirit – as the voices grow and the fight is won inch by inch, together, we can make space for this community.