Anjali Gopalan is on a mission to bring respectability to LGBTs, writes T. SARAVANAN
She fights for the rights of marginalised communities around sexual identity and related issues at a time when anonymous spaces like railway stations and bus stands have become a nightmare for “other sexes”. Time listed her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Anjali Gopalan, renowned social and gender rights activist and founder director, Naz Foundation (India) Trust, is dedicated to the fight for the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“It is all because people are made to believe that homosexuality is abnormal,” she says. “People are scared of what they don’t know. Hence, the misconceptions are doing the rounds.”
Anjali Gopalan finds it highly illogical to expect a person to declare himself or herself as homosexual. “Sexuality is your own business and not others’,” she says. “I seriously don’t know why people should feel so threatened at the sight of a gay or a transgender. Different gender does not mean that they are bad and cannot contribute to society. But an image has been created as if they are bad. It only shows that enough information about them has not percolated down. Getting people to understand will bring about the attitudinal change,” she adds.
Attitudes about transgenders are still very negative. “What people fail to understand is that not many are born to that gender,” she says. “Only years after they realize that they are trapped in a wrong body. There are hospitals which do hormonal therapy. It is very expensive and also a long-term process. Not many could afford this treatment.”
People should also understand that not all gay people are affected by HIV. All kinds of crazy assumptions make life difficult for the marginalised, she feels. “Organising a rainbow pride parade in a smaller, conservative town against all odds is phenomenal,” she says. “Such events change public perception.”
One huge step forward was Naz India’s successful challenge of Section 377, the anti-sodomy law criminalizing consensual sexual acts of adults, in the Delhi High Court. The judgement pronounced that Section 377 should be read down to exclude consensual sex between adults. “It has already created a lot of noise across the country,” she says. “In a way it has created awareness on this subject. I understand it will take time. It is all about respect and tolerance. But how are we going to teach the younger generation the value of mutual respect?” she asks.
Deeply pained at the treatment meted out to HIV+ children, Anjali has opened a care centre, which is home to 30 children. “A big challenge is in front of me,” she says. “Children are getting older and I have to get them into the mainstream. Getting laws in place to protect these communities will ensure no discrimination and probably will facilitate their integration into the mainstream.”
HIV+ children often don’t get admission in educational institutions because of fears about AIDS. “I don’t take children with extended families,” she says. “Now, I have physically and mentally challenged children in my home. I have to take care of them for life. I cannot have larger groups. Hence, we now train organisations willing to open care homes.”
For underprivileged girls, she has launched Goal, a programme that uses netball and life skills education to build the confidence of adolescent girls and empower them for personal and economic development. “It is an attempt to get them into mainstream through sports,” she says. “We run this programme in government schools. It is an add-on activity.”
Though she admits that changes will not happen overnight, Anjali believes the media has a great role to play. “The images of gay and transgender are loud and not serious,” she says.
“Flamboyance always sells, but the media should also show a doctor or a lawyer belonging to a different gender, who is serious in his or her business,” she says.
Anjali Gopalan deplores the state of affairs in hospitals for gays and transgenders. “They don’t get adequate treatment,” she says. “Sometimes the hospital authorities are very nasty and rude to them. They don’t understand that they are also equal and entitled to get the same benefits. After all, we are living in a democracy.”