Many People, Many Desires: An Act Of Global Citizenship

By Ria V., Melton Fellow at BMS Campus in Banglaore

This year, I've been having a great time interning at the Indian NGO 'Aneka' that fosters social justice for Sexual Minorities, Sex Workers, People Living with HIV (PLHIV) and Dalits. While working here, I realized that while many of my generation are more accepting of sexual minorities, most of us, even someone like myself who considers herself open to these communities, never really get a chance to interact with them. The only time we see transgender people is at traffic signals, begging  - a symptom of being shunned by Indian society at large. Members of sexual minority communities are excluded from the mainstream and we talk of them from a distance, never really having met them or personally talked to them.

In order to make any kind of change in society, I felt that it was important first of all to really meet these people and then to understand what is their experience in present society.

So, as part of my internship, I decided to organize the screening of a documentary, "Many people many desires" about being LGBT in India, at my university. Following the screening, we had an interactive session between the audience of almost 25 students from my college and members from the LGBT community who are employed at Aneka, the NGO. I wanted to make sure that we in the audience actually met and talked with members of the LGBT community, and so representatives from Aneka included two Female and one Male transgender persons as well as a theologian who is also doing an internship at Aneka.

This interaction was the most fruitful and engaging part of the event, with community members sharing their personal experiences from childhood when one starts to realize one's gender identity and how society also starts to take note of the 'aberrations'. The audience posed questions such as, "Is it easier for sexual minorities to live in cities or in their villages? Where were you less stigmatized?" The answers were that it was easier in the cities because of more open-mindedness and also that people in cities lead busier lives and so didn't bother the community much. They tried to dispel some notions such as the 'Hijra" (transgender and transsexual) community in India being notorious for forceful castration as false.

The interaction was an eye-opener as we discussed different gender identities and sexual orientations and gained clarifications on certain misconceptions regarding the LGBT community. One outcome of this event was sensitization and building of tolerance towards the LGBT community, among the audience of college students. Meeting “real people” is what really made the difference compared to the normal discourse of debating about their issues from a third person's perspective removed from the reality of life as a LGBT person. Most of us were touched by the reality of the stigma and violence that the LGBT community experiences. I think that we will now be more open to the idea of having the LGBT people at our workplaces in the future, which at present is far from reality, especially for transgender people.

Though I organized the screening to raise awareness regarding the LGBT community in India (which is a rather sensitive issue), I also wanted to set a precedent in college because until this screening and discussion, there had previously been no other talks about sexuality on campus.

Now, to follow up and to reach a wider audience, I'm trying to write an article for a newspaper on my reflections on the whole experience of interning at this NGO and the outcome of organizing the event in college. As a global citizen, I believe that awareness is the first step towards making change.

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