TAMIL NADU

Call for awareness of LGBT issues

Kalki, founder of Sahodari Foundation, addressing the media at a conference on the Chennai Rainbow Pride March. L. Ramakrishnan of SAATHI, Magdalene Jeyaratnam of Centre for Counselling, and Sunil Menon, founder, Sahodaran, look on. —

Kalki, founder of Sahodari Foundation, addressing the media at a conference on the Chennai Rainbow Pride March. L. Ramakrishnan of SAATHI, Magdalene Jeyaratnam of Centre for Counselling, and Sunil Menon, founder, Sahodaran, look on. —   | Photo Credit: Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

Ramya Kannan

“As far as transgenders are concerned, State has been in forefront of reforms”

CHENNAI: Rallies and marches are more often seen as a means of expressing protest, but Chennai’s first LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender) Pride on Sunday will also be a celebration of sorts for members of these groups.

“We will be celebrating the fact that we are all coming together and the fact that we are visible today,” says Sunil Menon, founder, Sahodaran, an organisation working for the rights of men seeking men.

Kalki, who started the Sahodari Foundation to push the rights of transgenders, concurs, but for more than just that reason.

“As far as transgenders are concerned, Tamil Nadu has been right in the forefront of reforms,” she says.

“We now have an exclusive welfare board, ration cards and the opportunity to get free sex-change operation at the Government General Hospital. In addition, in co-education colleges, the forms now have a third column to indicate gender. We are thankful to Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi and Member of Parliament Kanimozhi who have helped us a lot,” Ms. Kalki says.

A full 10 years after the first pride march began in India at Kolkata, Chennai gets its own Rainbow Pride, making it a cause for celebration among the community members.

Even lurking amidst the celebratory mood is the recognition of the fact that there are a number of issues that still remain to be sorted out when it comes to sexual minorities.

“How does a young child growing up come to terms with his or her own sexuality and sexual preference? The discrimination begins right at home and the school quite early. If the child’s sexual orientation is known, it gets even worse – the harassment begins,” Mr. Menon said.

Much less information

Ms. Kalki also spoke of innumerable privations that a child who feels uncomfortable with his own sexuality and wants to change faces. “It is probably better for men who want to be women, but for women who want to be men, there is much less information and support,” she added.

Magdalene Jeyaratnam, director, Centre for Counselling, said more people have started coming for counselling in the last one and a half years, including parents.

While this is welcome, most parents seek counselling to “turn” their wards back to being ‘normal.’

“They cannot accept that their son or daughter refuses to marry. ‘So what if he is gay,’ they say, ‘why can’t he marry a girl?’ We have to counsel them and bring them to a state of acceptance.”

When the family exerts this kind of pressure, forcing a person to conform, sometimes extreme measures are resorted to.

A spate of suicides occurred when women and men who have a different sexual orientation were forced into heterosexual marriages that they were uncomfortable with, said L. Ramakrishnan, country director, SAATHII.

He also articulated the demand to read down Article 377 to allow same sex between consenting adults.

Shiva Kumar of Sangama said the issues relating to men seeking men had got a lot of attention as part of HIV/AIDS intervention programmes.

However, now a lot of forced testing of members of the LGBT community was happening at government hospitals, without any counselling or consent from the people concerned. Such target-driven approaches have never worked and cannot be expected to work as well as informed choices made by people.

The panel discussion organised by the Chennai Rainbow Pride Coalition also focussed on the need to sensitise children at schools and take the message of inclusion to colleges as well. Aniruddh Vasudevan of Shakti Centre spoke of the work they do in colleges, interacting with students, talking to them about LGBT issues.

Participants also made a call for a more sustained intervention in the area, including these issues in the syllabus, especially at the medical college level.

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