The Supreme Court abolished parts of section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality recently. This implies that India is moving towards an open and inclusive society irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity. India demands more education on gender and sexuality as sensitising the youth and the masses builds self-esteem and creates safe spaces.
Gender, as a topic has been rendered less important in India. Sex education and gender sensitisation remain concealed and restricted to a few sentences in text books but mostly swept under the carpet, a taboo subject that won’t be spoken about. When we talk about gender, sexuality and sex of an individual, the meanings differ. Gender is what the individual identifies as and may have no connection to their sex. Sex is assigned at birth based on the external genetalia of a baby.
As one grows, following the strict gendered norms, some feel a disconnect between what’s expected of them and what they wish to be. Parents and teachers need to get involved into educating children about gender and sexuality. An environment at home that does not allow the freedom to express can lead to low self-esteem, identity issues and other psychological problems that can cause serious harm to individuals.
When a person identifies as one of the LGBTQIA+, there is an ingrained reaction to reduce communication with the person. Homophobia leads to bullying and abuse of queer individuals where they lack the space to be themselves.
“Since the inception of Fifty Shades of Gay (FSOG), we’ve covered 5000+ stories of gendered harassment, discrimination, bullying and abuse from across the country,” says Shubham Mehrotra, Founder of FSOG. “It is an unwanted behaviour that enforces traditional, heterosexual gender norms that is related to and can overlap with bullying.”
According to data provided by FSOG, 37% of the individuals interviewed, had a history of being bullied and insulted with words directly indicating their actual or alleged sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 30% of the heterosexual interviewees (allies) experienced verbal homophobic bullying due to their stance on LGBTQIA+ rights. Among the homosexual and bisexual respondents, the figure reached 71%.
Mehrotra, a TedX speaker, believes that there are two ways in which we can tackle bullying because of gender identity and sexual orientation. One, being formal learning programs involving sex education in schools and colleges across the country to talk and discuss such issues in an open, non-judgemental environment. Secondly, parents should talk openly with their children about bullying, including the homophobic one.
Nazariya LGBT is a grassroots LGBT-Straight alliance that organises events and campaigns surrounding gender and social identity. “We address how various forms of marginalisation intersect with our identities as queer persons. We support the right to self-assertion of the oppressed and marginalised whether it be based on gender or any socially marginalised identities.”
They organise youth focused campaigns and protests aimed at sensitising people on LGBT issues and remove stigma surrounding their identities. As a grassroots alliance, they try to make their event as accessible as possible and are always free of cost.
Gender Issues Cell, K.C College, was constituted to promote the idea of gender equality, break stereotypes and subvert ideologies that reinforce sexism. It has helped students create a safe space for themselves in a toxic environment where misogyny and queerphobia is the normal.
“When I received my Best Student award, many men from the balcony called me faggot and what not and my family witnessed this,” says Suraj Kamdar, an ex-GIC student who identifies as queer. He suggests that teachers need gender sensitisation before students as there have been instances of discrimination and harassment from teachers. “Committees like GIC work when the students have power. When queer students have power. When women have power.”
The Gender Issues Cell promotes intersectionality with gender at the centre. “GIC invites resource people who are journalists, disabled, queer, dalit, background of psychology, lawyers, activists, film-makers, etc,” says Kamdar. “GIC believes in celebrating differences.”
When gender sensitisation starts at an early age, there is a greater scope to help children discover their identity and in turn be empathetic toward others’ gender and sexuality. Sex education and gender sensitisation opens gates to an inclusive and judgement-free world.
When people become familiar to social identities is when the queer community will not be ostracised from social activities, work, recreational and institutional spaces. It is crucial to sensitise and educate oneself about gender and sexuality as it sparks individual growth as well as holistic growth of our country.