Life & Style

Missing colours in the rainbow

On the ground Gopi (below) focuses primarily on the trans and intersex communities of rural India in his work  

September 6 marks two years of the decriminalisation of consensual same sex relations in India. If you ask Indian equal and Indigenous rights activist Gopi Shankar how far it has helped members of the LGBTQIA+ community to lead a life of dignity, he rues that the movement has been hijacked by an elite class that finds voice only in the urban belt and fails to engage with crucial human rights issues for queer liberation at the grassroots.

“The battle against Section 377 was important, but the human rights violation of the diverse SOGIESC (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity & Expressions and Sex Characteristics) identities is still a challenge and needs a wider, more inclusive movement for queer rights,” he says. How can you expect those living in poverty with no awareness or opportunity to be sensitive to queer consciousness, he asks, “especially children, who never receive proper sex education and become more confused about their gender preferences.”

During the past decade, Gopi Shankar has driven himself to work in rural pockets in and around Madurai, Kanyakumari, Sivakasi and Viruddhunagar in Tamil Nadu; Visakhapatnam (Andhra Pradesh) and Mangaluru (Karnataka) to educate, motivate and help those struggling with their own gender orientation. So far, he has reached out to over one million individuals. He points out that intersex people in our country have remained an invisible segment in legal and policy discourses, as a result facing obstacles in access to health, education, public services and employment. It is unfair to give disproportionate attention to the diverse queer identities, he says.

“The fight is constantly against the system that does not allow our children to be raised in the expandable list of identities,” says Gopi, who was recently appointed to the National Council for Transgender Persons. The announcement of the first ever statutory body — with a mandate to advice the Government in designing laws, welfare schemes, policies and grievance redressal mechanisms for transgenders and intersex people in India — was made on August 21. Gopi, at 29, is the youngest member in the committee representing South India. “I hope to develop a comprehensive protection regime for the community during the three-year tenure,” he says.

Missing colours in the rainbow

Personal path

Yet he feels a sense of incompleteness, because places of faith and education keep shunning diverse people away. “It needs to be addressed because education and engagement alone lead to societal progress,” says Gopi, speaking from his childhood sufferings and travels over the years. The experiences, according to him, were an insightful take on how a baby is born only as a male or female or intersex but grows up with 58 gender options. He has authored the first ever book in Tamil on gender variants titled Maraikappatta Pakkangal (Hidden Pages) and coined the regional term Ze (They) for gender queer people.

Gopi came out of the closet by the time he was out of his teens, and now understands well that the journey is always one of self-realisation and assertion of rights first. “Figuring out sexual orientation is complicated and one needs to accept it first before the parents do or the society does,” he says .

The young founder of Madurai-headquartered Srishti , the largest volunteer-led movement for LGBTQIA+ cause, had also launched the country’s first 24X7 helpline number eight years ago to interact with those with diverse SOGIESC identities in nine languages. Srishti Madurai inspired the landmark judgement from Madras High Court (Madurai Bench) to ban sex selective surgeries on intersex infants and children in Tamil Nadu, making it the first Indian state to do so.

Known for his campaign for Asian Games athlete Santhi Soundararajan who was stripped of her medal after a gender test, Gopi says those four years of advocacy not only led to her honorable return as a coach in TN Sports Development Authority but also fuelled the hope of many others to become better equipped.

The hands-on activist that Gopi is, he also contested the 2016 TN Legislative Assembly election as the first openly intersex and genderqueer candidate. “But it is my writing that helps me to unwind best,” he says.

Gopi’s writings on queer liberation have appeared in magazines, Madurai Srishti blog and his Facebook page.

Get it right

Being intersex is about anatomy and sex characteristics. Individuals born with any of the diverse sex variations — sex hormones, chromosomes, genitalia that do not fit in stereotypical binary definition of male or female bodies.

Being transgender relates to gender identity. A child at birth has biological female or male sex organs but during later years may desire to live as the opposite sex.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2020 2:30:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/the-lgbtqia-movement-in-non-urban-places/article32514473.ece

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