Staff Reporter

The 300-strong society will bring together homosexual men

CHENNAI: Gay communities abroad have been accepted as part of society unlike in India.

Their sexual orientation must be accepted because it is as natural a state of being as heterosexuality , said Jaya Shreedhar, director of Media Foundation, who inaugurated the Men Community Development Society (MCDS) on Wednesday.

The 300-strong society is an initiative to bring together homosexual men to enable them help themselves while seeking medical treatment. The society was initiated with technical support from the Indian Community Welfare Organisation, working for prevention of STD/HIV/AIDS among homosexuals with support from the Tamil Nadu State Aids Control Society.

Dr. Shreedhar said while gay rights cannot be questioned in other countries, gay men and women in India still struggled for an identity. "It is normal sexuality and scientifically absolutely accepted. It will take time for the society to accept them," she said.

Members of the MCDS say that at least 7, 000 men in the city could be classified as homosexuals but the figure could be higher. They "cruise" in an estimated 72 areas in the city and need to be educated on their risk behaviour for their own sake. MCDS will focus on the men from lower economic strata who are not only shunned by their family but are also thrown out of jobs if their status is revealed.

Alternative employment

The members have taken up training in tailoring, driving, fashion designing and catering as alternative employment. The NGO would help them meet without embarrassment and seek help from their community, members said.

The ICWO conducts meetings to educate members on the risks involved in their sexual orientation. These include behaviour change communication, peer education programme and STD treatment.

"The overall misconception rate [about spread of infections] has fallen," says A.J. Hariharan, secretary of ICWO. "From 1992 when we believed that a conservative State like Tamil Nadu had no commercial sex workers we have now ensured that 86 per cent women use condoms and that 90 per cent believe that treatment for sexually transmitted infection is necessary."