Pride Month Society

This Pride Month Visakhapatnam’s only queer support group Nestam is putting mental health first

Struggling to gain acceptance from their families several queer people are battling with depression and anxiety due to closeted reality and isolation

Struggling to gain acceptance from their families several queer people are battling with depression and anxiety due to closeted reality and isolation   | Photo Credit: K_R_DEEPAK

Discrimination, alienation, stigma, and the heteronormative nature of the society have taken a toll on the LGBTQIA+ community. We talk to a few of them to understand what it is like to be in a closet

“Every time there is news about a queer person dying due to suicide, there is great anguish within me. It is painful to think of all the discrimination and inequality the person might have had to go through to conclude that ending their life is a better option,” says Praveen, a 25-year-old resident of Visakhapatnam who identifies himself as gay.

The recent suicide by Egyptian LGBT activist Sarah Hegazy has initiated a dialogue of mental health among the queer community members in Visakhapatnam. The activist who had been living under asylum in Canada was arrested and tortured for waving the LGBT rainbow flag at a concert in Egypt in October 2017. She ended her life on June 13. The incident has made several members of the queer community speak up about their own mental health issues due to the homophobic and transphobic nature of society.

“Reading her story reminded me of all the struggle that I had to go throw when I was trying to understand my sexual orientation,” says Farah, who identifies herself as a lesbian. “I come from a very conservative Muslim family. When I was 16 and grappling with the reality of my sexuality I was denied therapy. I had suicidal thoughts and I did not know whom to talk to. My mental health was in shambles. Thankfully I survived due to online LGBT support groups, but not everyone is that lucky,” she adds.

On the roll
  • June 24 at 7pm
  • Five members from the queer community with varied identities will talk about their personal experiences.
  • June 26 at 7pm
  • Two psychologists— Deepa Mohan and Deepa Sai Avula will talk about mental health within the queer community and discuss the best possible ways to support someone who needs help.
  • June 28 at 10am
  • LGBTQIA+ allies will talk about ways in which you can support the community and how to be a better ally.

To highlight the mental health issues and offer support therapy, Nestam, Visakhapatnam’s only LGBTQA support group is organising online webinars for people from the community and their allies. “We have celebrations for Pride Month every year, but Sarah’s death made us realise that being a part of the queer community is a lot more than just Pride Parades and awareness sessions. These webinars are a means to bring forth the issues of mental health that usually people do not talk about,” says Shivkumar, one of the founders of Nestam. The three-day celebrations for the Pride Month will begin from June 24, interested people can join the webinars by registering through Nestam’s Instagram page.

Even though the community has a stronger voice and greater acceptance after the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality by scraping Section 377, the battle is far from over. “Imagine living in a homophobic society and then trying to convince your family that being gay is natural. Coming out is just the start of the struggle, there is a battle at each step. Having friends who are supportive, getting a job where work culture accepts queer community, living in a society that does not discriminate against the homosexual and transgender individuals, finding a partner, there are so many things a person needs to take care of. So it is not a surprise that they need help with their mental health,” says Nikhil who identifies himself as gay.

A couple during a Pride Parade

A couple during a Pride Parade   | Photo Credit: MANJUNATH KIRAN

How to be a better ally
  • To be a better ally, one can just be supportive and not judge the person who is coming out to you, says Deepa Mohan, Head of Department of Psychology at GITAM University. “Try to be there for the person, listen to them. Most of the time they do not even need advice, they just need someone they can open up and talk to. The mere assurance that someone is trying to understand me goes a long way,” she says.
  • The confusion of their sexuality, coming out to their friends and family leads to social alienation or isolation, she says. “At times, the stigma, discrimination, and alienation puts them in a place where they believe hiding their sexual orientation is a better option, thus leading a dual life. This is harmful as they are just creating a facade that will collapse someday. So it is of importance that you listen to them and understand what they are going through,” she says.

When Nikhil came out to his parents almost a year ago, they straight away denied the existence of homosexuality. He drove them to a psychiatrist to help him make them understand that it was not a phase. But to his surprise, the psychiatrist teamed with his parents and suggested counseling sessions to make him ‘straight’. “Despite being a medical personnel he suggested I get married to a woman to get out of the homosexual phase. Now my parents believe that I will ‘snap’ out of it and be ready to marry a girl. The whole incident took a toll on my mental health, I could not go to my family and I had no trust left in psychiatrists,” adds Nikhil. It took him almost six months, and countless accounts of people seeking medical health that he read on online communities, to convince himself to go to another psychiatrist who supported the LGBT community. "I was suicidal. I had to look for someone who could help. I haven't completely gotten out of it, but I now know how to deal with it better. The assurance that I got from online communities that I am not alone in this and there are several people like me makes it easier for me to accept reality,” he says.

To all those who are at conflict with themselves, Nikhil says, "Seek help, there is nothing wrong in it. When my parents failed to be supportive, my sister stood by me and that meant the world to me. So find that one person and try talking to them, acceptance is one conversation away."

(Some names have been changed to protect the identity of the individuals)

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Printable version | Jul 11, 2020 4:38:32 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/this-pride-month-visakhapatnams-only-queer-support-group-nestam-is-putting-mental-health-first/article31890163.ece

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