Out of Shadows: Strengthening Advocacy Activities for Gender & Sexual Minorities and Sex Workers’ was launched on December 1, 2013 as an initiative to amplify voices of the sexual minority community, under the three thematic areas of Communication and Media Generation, Capacities and Skill Development & Policy and Advocacy
Looking back on the year that was, I must say that no two months were the same, with the range of issues that I worked on, or the conferences I was part off or my interactions with different people.
December 2013, was one of my lowest period of my life and for my community as though the month started positively with me being invited to the book release of “The Truth About Me- A Hijra Life Story by A Revathi, which was a first of its kind, autobiography from a member of the Hijira community. The release in Calicut was the Malayalam version of the book and meeting with Dr. Devdas and team from Victoria Hospital on developing a policy for Sex Reassignment Surgery, and background work on Religion & Sexuality conference for Aneka. The initial high was short-lived as the news broke out that the Supreme Court upheld Section 377 criminalizing homosexual sex on December 11, 2013. My initial reaction was that of disbelief and I went through a myriad of emotions from shock, to sadness, to anger to disappointment to finally fear! I feared for my community…
As my emotions left me, a new determination arose and I called people… each call strengthened my resolve and I believed that it is important for our community to come together in one voice and “Coming Undone”, was one of our first programs, though it was conceptualized by my colleague Vandana, as we were too full of emotions . Soon after, I was invited by the Centre for Advocacy and Research, Delhi for a one day meeting on “Experience of Marginal Communities with Media Portrayal and Representation” and for an exclusive interview with “Chai with Lakshmi”
I was part of the National level planning meeting on IPC 377supreme court Judgement, in Delhi . In addition, the month also saw me interact with the lawyer’s collective, Delhi office on Hassan sexual minorities arrested under the IPC 377. It was to seek the legal advice and decide the way forward.This was followed by attending the planning meeting at CSMR for Rally on 11th January 2014.
I always believe in the power of capacity building and I was delighted to be invited by Sweekar, a sexual minority’s community based organization, to conduct a one day workshop focused on leadership, governance and values for the staff and board members in Belgaum.
The New Year – saw an increase in policy advocacy activities that involved attending the meeting organized by Karnataka Women Development Corporation, where the Minister Umashree was present to understand the needs of the LGBT community, in addition to several meetings with different political parties.
The team of Satyamavejayathe had visited for an interview and we also planned for a program on Gender & Sexuality in Mythology – A talk by Dr. Devdutt Patanaik on the 24th of January 2014, jointly by Aneka and Radio Active. The rationale behind organizing the program was with the recent Supreme Court judgment on Section 377 of the IPC and the responses from some religious leaders the issue of religion and sexuality was back into focus.
While most religions in the world have sought to address moral issues that arise from people’s sexuality in society and in human interactions, when the question relates to homosexuality and transgenderism they invoke sharper responses. This promotes the notion that religious traditions are inherently conservative or even reactionary. And that they are strong in their commitments to powerful patriarchal and pronatalist (encouraging child bearing) sexual norms and gender categories.
From ideas, that these are sinful, shameful, perversion and deserving of the highest punishment and wrath of god; to ambiguity and limited tolerance and even acceptance. Besides religious texts there as numerous cultural and traditional sources of information that shape our attitude and understanding to issues around sex and sexuality. These messages are multifaceted and at times even contradictory and hence the need was felt for a conversation with well-known mythologist and story teller Dr.Devdutt Pattanaik as he offered an overview of the approach to issues of gender and sexuality within some of the Indian traditions.
On the 10th of January, the Nelamangala Taluka Legal Services Authority organized Gender Minorities and the Law program at “Nelamangala”. After the Supreme Court Judgement on IPC 377 this was the first time, we got a space to speak on the issues, challenges, discrimination facing by gender and sexual minorities communities in the presence of the Judiciary team, government officials, police department and the larger community
February & March 2014, was focussed on awareness building both within the community and outside. From the discussion on homosexuality and the Supreme Court judgement at Bishop Cottons Girls School, organized by the Indian Social Institute on 1st February 2014 to the Screening of “Let the Butter Flies Fly” and “ Sruthi Saranya Love Story”, for the community members of Samata Society Organisation in Chamrajnagar on 10th February 2014 and another screening at Sahabalve Sangha- Tumkur for sexual minorities, on 5th of March 2014, the events provided more for a healthy ground for discussions and a safe space for sharing issues, thoughts, opinions and stories.
A significant meeting was held on 4th March 2014, with Director General Police (DGP) to bring to his notice about the human right violation against sexual minorities after the supreme court verdict on IPC 377 in Karnataka . A memorandum was submitted from KSM Forum and Mr DGP assured that he will circulate notice to all concern police stations to protect human right of Sexual Minorities. Representatives from Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, Aneka and Sangama attended the meeting.
I was also invited by India HIV AIDS Alliance India for a planning meeting titled “207 against 377” on the 6th February 2014. On 7th & 8th March, I had the opportunity to address a huge gathering in Mysore on the occasion of International Women’s day. I spoke on the topic of Sexual Assault against Sexual Minorities.
I assisted Aneka & the Board of Theological Education of Senate of Serampore College ( BTESSC) in the Religion & Sexuality Public meeting, as a volunteer. Dr. Rev. Winnie Varghese, a well-known Christian Theologian spoke on the topic of Campaign against Homophobia and role of religion. She shared her experiences on a being sexual minority, a woman pastor and the discrimination faced She explored the issues of homosexuality from a Christian theological point of view.
On March 14th 2014, Maharani College of Bangalore organized a Discussion on Social Exclusion in the context of Transgender. They had invited me to be part of the discussion and speak on the issue. Around 250 students were part of the gathering. On the similar lines of orientation Mahindra United World College, on March 17th to 21st, I was invited to conduct a session on Sex, gender and sexuality and the recent past developments in India.
April 2014, was one of my happiest moments in my life when the Supreme Court delivered the landmark judgment “Recognizing Transgender as third gender”, on April 15th 2014. I was also invited by Tedx, for a talk. I spoke about my life and about the various organizations that I have been associated with. And I was also fortunate to be a part of the Queer Pride organized by HIV/AIDS Alliance India, on 19th December 2014 to welcome the judgment. I was invited as a speaker for the public meeting. It was a platform to emphasis working class transgender communities’ issue, effective implementation of the judgment and the state responsibility in bringing oppressed communities towards mainstream.
In May 2014, I was part of the organizing team of two important events- The first one was the State Level Consultation on Transgender, jointly organized by KSM Forum, Aneka, Sangama and Radio Active on the 26th & 27th May 2014. Over 500 people participated in the event. In addition to the community members, several politicians, bureaucrats and civil society organizations also attended the program.
As part of my initial plan to train 10 community leaders from Karnataka, a special program was conducted, prior to the Consultation. This included event management, rapport building with bureaucrats, political leaders, media etc, community mobilization, and media advocacy & documentation and grooming & personal hygiene. The trainees were then assigned tasks for the consultation, which helped in getting on the job exposure.
The second event was the Religion and Sexuality Roundtable Conference and public meeting, jointly organized by Aneka, NCCI, BTESSC on the 30th and 31st . This meet was to bring all religious leaders together to have dialogue on sexuality in context of religion. I had supported the event in mobilizing religious leaders, media, supporters etc.
June 2014, was equally significant as we were invited to be a part of the meeting with Karnataka Planning board on the draft policy for Transgenders. On the 13th of June 2014, the Karnataka State Women and Child department had constituted a committee to develop a policy for transgender community based on the Supreme Court judgment given on 15th April 2014. Several long time sexual minority activists were also part of the committee.
Following the meeting, a separate meeting was held on 23rd May 2014 between Aneka, KSM Forum, Jeeva and Radio Active to discuss the policy. The suggestions were then submitted to Karnataka Planning Board.
Another important meeting was held at Karnataka High Court with Mr . BT Venkatesh on the 36 A Karnataka Police act. It was decided that the KSM Forum would follow-up. I was elated, when I received my Driving License as Female, post the Supreme Court Judgment of April 15th 2014.Another important event was the Transgender and the Law program, organized by the Mangalore District Legal Services Authority, on the 29th June 2014. It was a space to bring about issues on communalism and sexual minorities and atrocities meted out.
How do companies view Diversity? Why is it important for companies to be inclusive? All this was discussed in the social event titled ‘Seeing the World Differently’, on July 3rd 2014, where I was invited as a Speaker. ( The Community Business launched a diversity network for diversity and HR professionals in India. This network known as DIAN India is designed for diversity and HR professionals in India looking to develop and drive their companies D&I strategies in India. There are currently 20 Network member companies of DIAN India. The companies are Accenture, AXA, Barclays, BNY Mellon, BP, British Council, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Ernst & Young, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JP Morgan, Nomura, Thomson Reuters, Hindustan Unilever, Standard Chartered and Tata Group)
I also had a chance in participating in the Transgenders Draft policy discussions jointly organized by Sangama, and Alternative law forum on the 7th July 2014 at Vishranthi Nalaya
I conducted an orientation program for theology students of Ecumenical Christian College on the topic of religion and sexuality. And I attended the second Planning Board meeting on the draft policy.
On the 15th July 2014, I attended the meeting organized by the Women Development Corporation at the DC’s office to discuss issues of Transgender related to housing, loan and employment
We had an informal meeting on the 18th July, to take forward the goals and objectives of Sampoorna an NGO . The members that participated included Bangalore University, St Joseph’s college, Christ University, Jeeva and Radio Active, Activist Aasha, Priya, Members of UTC also participated in the meeting.
On 24th July, Tedx Bangalore, organized a program for unspoken Voices and as part of this program, students from different colleges visited Radio Active.
On 26th July, a final draft policy meeting was held at the Planning Board
August and September 2014, while I continued to be actively engaged in various training and advocacy program, personally it was a very low key affair month for me , as my partner underwent a sex reassignment surgery.
In the month of October 2014, I was invited to participate in the International Bar Association ( IBA) Annual Conference, Tokyo, 2014 to speak on LGBT issues. The conference was held from October 19th to 24th 2014. My topic was titled “ Mr. Ms or Mx: Legal Issues facing transgender persons. Personally for me, it was a very humbling moment as the participants were from 14 different countries.
November 2014, is the Pride Month and in the Pride March, we had more than 1500 participants.
However, the month of November and December has been one of contemplation and deep introspection. I look around me and see that we have many different movements- child rights, women’s rights, sexual minority rights etc… Having worked in the space of sexual minority rights for so long, I believe that time has come, for me to move on, into a space for convergence and this led me to have discussions all around, with different actors in the larger scene led to a meeting on 5th December 2014 and the concept of Ondede emerged.
I would like to thank my steering committee members Mr. Manohar Elavarthi, Social Activist Ms. Bharati- Karnataka Sex Workers Union, Mr. Mallapa Kumbar- Karnataka Sexual Minorities Forum, Mr. Anand- Sangama and Ms. Pinky Chandran- Radio Active/Jain University for their support and direction in this important endeavor. In addition would like to place on record the contribution of various other friends, community members, partner organizations, well-wisher, media organizations, bureaucrats etc for their unstinting support and confidence in my work.
I will be back with more details on Ondede. Watch this space for more!