“Confused about your sexual orientation? Worried about your gender identity? Need somebody to talk to? Need information on queer life? We are just a call away!”
Screams the colourful poster announcing an LGBTQFAB helpline with the phone numbers – 9711282081, 9711282307 -- sprawled in jet black letters. The helpline which aims to undertake peer group counselling, is for and by a group of lesbian, bisexual, FTM trans and gender queer persons assigned female at birth.
The need for a helpline was felt by the realisation that though there were several interventions available for gay men, there were not enough outlets for lesbian or queer women.
Launched earlier this month by feminist non-profit organisation Qashti in the Capital, the helpline seeks to address queries on sexuality, orientation as well as make interventions wherever required.
“Based on our past experiences, we are expecting calls on coming out, on violence which can be intimate partner violence, violence at home, from parents, about relationships, etc,” says Rituparna Borah, one of the Basti or core team members of Qashti. The outer team members or volunteers of Qashti, 10 to 15 in number, are called Masti.
Individuals in the group had been getting calls for help from friends or acquaintances or sometimes unknown persons as well. Interventions had been made, counselling provided. It was time to go professional, says Rituparna, in order to reach out to a wider circle of people in need.
The five core team members of Qashti underwent intensive training on counselling and are now “counsellors trained in feminist principles of counselling.”
But since the helpline does not have any funds and all of them work elsewhere, it will not be 24/7 to begin with and will function twice a week, on Wednesdays (from 7 pm to 9 pm) and on Saturdays (from 4 pm to 6 pm).
In order to inform people of the helpline, Qashti has been distributing brochures and is in touch with local non government organisations. Through them, the group intends to create stickers in Hindi and paste them in slums and rehabilitation colonies.
“We are trying to cut across class barriers and therefore going to the slums. We also host events where it is no entry fee is charged, to attract people from diverse sections of society. We have been able to invite some but more need to be invited,” says Rituparna.
The group has also reached out to the feminist circle which has been supportive of their endeavours, she adds. Armed with feminist bearings and a belief in the principles of collectives and meetings, Qashti hosts safe spaces for LBT and queer gender people. These events, called Matargashti, sometimes double up as fund raising events. The group invites donations to sustain their endeavours which can be made by writing to them on email@example.com. Organisations such as LABIA (lesbians and bisexuals in action) in Mumbai, LesBIT in Bangalore, Sappho for Equality in Kolkata also run similar help lines.