BEING INCLUSIVE & PROVIDING SUPPORT

For many of us, any knowledge or understanding about a person who may express and identify differently than a cis-gender and heterosexual person may be rather limited. Many assume that being lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender or queer (“LGBTQIA+”) is a mental or physical disorder and can be ‘fixed’ by medical and religious procedures and many think different representations and expressions as far as gender or sexuality is concerned don’t exist and are not ‘natural’. This may be because of several reasons but primarily because of lack of openness, non-inclusion and non-acceptance.

Lack of any real time spent with anyone from the community, having preconceived notions, judgmental attitude and biases, ostracization of the members from the society, discrimination and so much more have led to non-inclusion and non-acceptance. To an extent that it has led individuals to be ‘closeted’ and not be able to freely express themselves. To an extent that when is speaking to another, one may not even be aware of their true feelings & expressions.

When one’s mere existence and expression attracts violence, harassment, rejection, social isolation and much worse, drives a person to fringes of society without any social, economic, financial or other inclusion, it becomes every individual’s personal and collective responsibility as members of the society, as neighbours, colleagues, to reflect and analyse why this is happening.

With the gradual change in the societal, legal and organizations attitude towards members of the LGBTI community, and the slow shift towards celebration and mainstreaming of diversity one may become confronted with their own lack of understanding and knowledge. Situations like these, present to every individual, and society as a whole, an opportunity to internally reflect on one’s preconceived notions and biases which may until then lay dormant at the corner of one’s mind. Moments like these should be utilized to challenge and actively engage with one’s mind’s often unchartered territory where the prejudices and biases lay consciously or subconsciously guiding one’s actions and understanding of the world around us. This foray into one’s own thoughts, may be done while interacting with any individual, but is of crucial importance when attempting to understand the worldview and predicament of those who ‘differ’ from the ‘usual’ or the ‘normal’.

Theoretically and academically one may have an understanding that one must respect all individuals and treat them as human, no matter their differences. However, how that translates into ground realities, is something that needs to be understood and demonstrated.

This piece, is therefore, an attempt to capture some of the pointers to be mindful of if you want to ensure that you treat humans humanly! And point out and weed out problematic behaviour in ourselves and others around us. It is to learn and share some of the learnings we have had so far.

The first question we asked ourselves was - How do we really start? The best way we thought was by Educating Ourselves

Learn about Common Terminologies

It is important to learn more about experiences of individuals that are different from our own. However, it is important to be mindful that just because an individual is different does not mean that they are there to answer all of straight community’s, often intrusive, questions.

A good rule of thumb is not to ask another person any questions which you would find too personal or intrusive to ask a cis-gender heterosexual person/ or a person who does not belong to the community. Here are some terminologies we learnt about:

Learn about Some of the Flags

Here are some of the Flags we learnt about:

Learn about Experiences from Authentic Sources

It would also be a good idea to ask for references, or website links from where authentic information can be gathered. Reading about or watching stories of real-life experiences and interviews may also be a good idea. There are several resources of this nature available. Recently, several advertisements have also been released.

Here are some of the Influencers from the Community that you can follow

Learn from Movies, Books & More

Movies, books and other media add to a great deal of learning for each one of us. However, often they may also be colored with popular stereotypes in popular movies or TV shows which often propagate problematic tropes further isolating and alienating an oft scorned community and relying on those may defeat the purpose. For example, we may have come across movies that depict the Hijra community who are omnipresent at familial celebrations or shown as begging at traffic signals. Hence, if the idea is to true learn, it is extremely important to choose the right kind. Here is a list of a few that may be helpful:

Movies that you can view

Books that you can read

Learn about Respectful Mannerisms

Sometimes, one may have a more academic understanding from news articles or social media posts. But when confronted with the prospect of normal social interactions, we may be dumfounded as to what are the socially acceptable and respectful mannerisms to be mindful of.

Few of us have been schooled or taught the correct mannerisms and social etiquettes to be mindful of while interacting with individuals who present differently than the cisgender heteronormative, this lack of awareness and understanding may translate into unintended social avoidance of individuals. For people who for the most part, have lacked societal acceptance just for being who they are, this social isolation may act as a further confirmation of their non-acceptance.

Listen actively

Even after educating oneself, one should not generalise all information to be applicable to all LGBTQIA+ individuals. It is important to be mindful that each person is unique. Therefore, it is important to actively listen and understand from the individual themselves their lived experience and pick up pointers and cues from them. They will often indicate how they refer to themselves, both ‘name’ they want to be addressed by and the pronouns they use for themselves.

Be mindful of language used & what is said

It is important to be mindful of the pronoun they use, and not to misgender them, for the one making a mistake it just might be a slip of tongue, but for the one who they are addressing it may just question their very identity and seem extremely disrespectful.  These pronouns can either fall into the gender binary of he or she or the individual may choose a non-binary expression and want to be referred to as they/ them. Along with their pronouns they may prefer to call themselves a name which is not their official or biological name. It is important to respect their choices and refrain from questioning.

Never OUT an LGBTQIA+ person

One should never out an LGBTQIA+ person, which means one should never reveal to another individual another’s gender identity or sexual preferences without their express consent. This is because people often lead complex lives irrespective of their gender identity or sexual orientation. One may face difficulty navigating seemingly innocuous aspects of daily life due to their gender or sexual identity as well and may not want to share these aspects of their lie with everyone in all spaces. It is always individual specific – someone may be comfortable and open about these aspects of their life with everyone, and someone may not be – which is the same as a cis-gender heterosexual person. It is therefore a good thumb rule never to assume one is okay with everyone knowing and therefore never out a person to any other.

Actively be an ALLY

To be an ally one has to listen or learn from those who are in marginalized positions because of systematic oppression or power dynamics. It is to act from a position of relative privilege. To be an ally one should actively support and advocate for the inclusion of people who inherently identify with diverse gender expression and have diverse sexual preferences. There are many steps one can actively take to be an ally and we will shortly be coming up with another piece on it.

Educate family members & friends

It is also our responsibility to educate or family members and friends if we see them coming from a biased / prejudiced place. It is also every individuals personal responsibility to show our intolerance towards comments and jokes which are transphobic or homophobic and reiterate how these can be harmful towards a human being and curtail an inclusive environment. It is important to point out what is problematic with these oppressive jokes.

Support with Employment

Needless to mention, employment and financial independence not only allows a person to participate equally in the success of the country’s economy but also have control over personal choices, decision making, have a life style and more. Right to life and right to work are also, therefore fundamental rights as per the Constitution of India. This also allows a person to have a voice, to share opinions in matters that impact them and the society. Therefore, a major part of inclusion and mainstreaming is employment. Therefore, if you are someone who is an employer or can take employment decisions, it may be a good idea to start inclusion by providing skill development and employment opportunities. Below provided are details of some of the organizations that can help in employment / placements and you can also collaborate with them:

Nazariya

With a focus on queer women and trans persons, this Delhi-based Queer Feminist Resource Group was formed in October 2014 with a view make the LGBTQIA+ lives visible. They advocate for access to resources and equal opportunities, and work towards development of a non-discriminatory environment, through research & evaluations, awareness and capacity building, and advocacy.

Tarshi

For over 25 years, Tarshi has been conducting trainings, developing publications, participating in public awareness and education initiatives, and providing technical support for advocacy initiatives, on sexual and reproductive health. They are also currently working towards creating rights-based Safe, Inclusive, Sexuality-Affirming (SISA) spaces.

Naz Foundation

Started by Anjali Gopalan in 1994 to address issues of HIV/AIDS and sexuality, they conduct sessions to help individuals and community-based organizations understand sexuality and mainstream HIV in their program. With a focus on advocacy, Naz successfully challenged the archaic law of Section 377 under the Indian Penal Code which criminalised homosexuality.

The PinkList India

Situated in the intersection of politics, queerness and technology, PinkList is India’s first archive of politicians supporting LGBTQIA+ rights, with an aim to push for accountability and transparency from elected representatives. They also actively collate information on how we can support the community, such as, pride fundraisers, queer-dedicated COVID-19 relief efforts.