Kudos to the nineteen parents of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, who recently came together in the Supreme Court, to stop the State from criminalising their children. They have joined hands to fight in courts a "sustained attack" by organisations and private persons who insist that their children’s sexuality, if not criminalised, would destroy "family values". Lending them support is film director Shyam Benegal, pitching in as intervener in the Supreme Court in the battle to sustain the 2009 Delhi High Court verdict decriminalising sex between consenting adults of the same sex.
This is a laudable expression of parents’ solidarity with their children’s cause to decriminalise their identity, and would go a long way in lifting the veil of unnatural secrecy from habitual human perceptions of gender and sexuality. In fact, there is a denial on the part of many that alternate sexuality even exists. And even where there is a tacit acceptance, it is viewed as a problem.
According to Sister Marian Moriarty IBVM, the present Superior General of the Loreto Order of nuns, there should be no discrimination on the basis of one’s sexual orientations. These words, coming from a devout Catholic, are indeed encouraging and would help in removing the misconception that religion does not favour any out of the line behaviour. Sister Marian rightly believes that we need to try to see sexual orientation as a gift and not as a threat. She feels the need of open and honest discussions/ conversations with parents, teachers and students to break the taboo and remove the social stigma so painstakingly attached to the words of LGBTs by our so called moralists.
She agrees that this may be easier said than done, especially in a country like India, where many people feel ill at ease while even broaching the subject of sexuality –different or otherwise—anyway. Hence the matter needs to be handled wisely, especially when dealing with school children. The parents have to be taken in confidence and made aware of the issue. She suggests the use of helpful articles and DVDs that can assist teachers in class and some could be used with the adults too. But school authorities, as well as others, cannot ignore this very vital matter.
In the words of Sister Moriarty, ‘All must be encouraged in an understanding of the fact that all human beings are born good but they may be endowed with different gifts.’
Here I am tempted to salute two wonderful films of Indian cinema, which shook the conscience of the common viewer out of its deep-rooted archaic moral values: Phir Milenge and My Brother Nikhil. The former deals with ignorance and discrimination in the workplace and the use of the courts to right the wrongs committed against those living with HIV, while the latter shows that gays are normal human beings who also deserve a place in society like anyone else. Both movies send out powerful messages that if attitudes toward HIV or homosexuality are to change, the change has to come from within families. And this is exactly what these nineteen parents have initiated by their bold step to break the mould.
Discrimination and stigma in the name of tradition, religion and culture continues to plague the lives of LGBTs (lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgender), denying them the basic human rights to live with dignity and equality. Depression, harassment, relationship problems, loneliness, and social isolation, are among the few pressing mental health concerns that torment them.
‘Most of us shy away from accepting ourselves because of the dilemma of social acceptance. There is a lot of discrimination against us and no law can change that attitude of people towards us. The need of the hour is to garner support from society to live a normal life like other human beings do.’
‘Just because someone is transgender does not mean there is something wrong with their head.’
‘And just because someone has a mental health diagnosis doesn't mean that there is something wrong with their head. I'm a transgender. I have depression and anxiety. I'm a person with problems, not a person who is a problem.’
‘Our real mental health problems are being overlooked because everybody is focusing on the transgender aspect as if that is the mental health problem (which it isn't).’
These are the outpourings of some who are disgusted with the social ostracism and taboos the LGBT community has to face.
Shivananda Khan Chief Executive Naz Foundation International advocates a three pronged strategy to reduce this malaise of the different sexuality people. The first level involves policy decisions which enable governments to repeal, amend and enact new laws which would create a conducive and enabling environment.
At the second level it should be ensured that decision makers are sensitized to the different issues and needs affecting these people. This would help in implementing the policies in a better manner.
At the third level are the parents, siblings, teachers, and religious leaders who need to treat them at par with other so called normal citizens. People will have to recognize that Inclusiveness should be the guiding principle of a prosperous society.
It is heartening to see that today people from various strata of society - be they judges, religious leaders, parliamentarians, social activists, journalists and now parents themselves- are coming out of their closets and are joining hands to work for a better and just society. Unless we bring the LBGTs into the mainstream society, let them breathe freely and treat them with dignity, we cannot boast to be a free country.
Let our sexual identity/preferences not become the sole criterion of judging our worth as a human being. Deviations from preset norms should not form the basis of ostracism. Discrimination is the anti-thesis of equality, and it is the duty of all right minded citizens to drive away discriminatory practices from all walks of life.
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and also serves as the Director of CNS Diabetes Media Initiative (CNS-DMI).She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.citizen-news.org)