January has been a month of celebration and festivals for the queer community of Mumbai. A line-up of events have been planned all over the city leading to the Pride Parade. The theme for the month is #Quit377 and good news has already started swinging in with yesterday’s Supreme Court verdict to review Section 377 of Indian Penal Code. This year’s calendar of festivities was kickstarted with a networking session and a panel discussion at Godrej India Culture Lab.
At the event, four inspiring leaders shared their experiences and journeys of building safe online spaces for the queer community to thrive and talk about their culture whilst tackling other life-threatening crisis and issues. Parmesh Sahani, head of Godrej India Culture Lab, Sakshi Juneja, founder of Gaysi, Sachin Jain, founder of G.H.A.R and Koninika Roy of Yaariyan, an LGBTQ youth initiative by The Humsafar Trust lead the panel. The event was curated and moderated by Saniya Shaikh of Godrej India Culture Lab.
Sakshi began the discussion by sharing how her simple desire to share queer stories and her need to have more conversations around sexuality lead to positive changes in people’s life. The session highlighted how these spaces came into existence, through a personal motif of fuelling change in the mindsets of people around alternate sexualities. Yaariyan started with 10 members but reaches out to more than 7500 LGBTQ individuals across India. Similarly, Sachin’s G.H.A.R was an attempt to help queer folks find housing and invite other queer folks without having to worry about misogyny, homo, bi and trans-phobia.
The panel came to a consensus that the west is more liberal towards psychological and physical needs of the community. However, in India, organisations on the panel said that they were gearing towards a similar agenda. In fact, Sakshi told audience how she has been receiving messages from people living abroad who want to travel and experience the queer culture of India. Parmesh, on the other hand, pointed out how identities within the community have become more nuanced. He feels, “These online platforms have promoted and encouraged young people to embrace the identity they feel most comfortable with.”
From healthcare to sanitation, finding love to housing, every aspect of queer lives were touched upon in the discussion. The audience also contributed to improving lives of queer people through their pertinent questions. Empowering LGBTQ folks who don’t feel comfortable using online spaces was also discussed in detail. Paresh Nair*, research fellow at University of Mumbai who attended a networking event for the first time said, “Ten years ago, nobody would acknowledge alternate sexuality or gender identity. Today, I am in a room full of inspiring people who strive each day to solve problems of queer and trans people. I think, such discussions are beginning to lay the foundation of queer struggle and history of modern India. Queer folks now have access to what they need without having to face any violence or abuse and that’s a remarkable progress”
Sakshi recollected why she started Gaysi at the event. Her understanding of lack of relatability of the gay culture in the country prompted her to take the leap. “When I looked up online about lesbianism in India, there was practically nothing.” Today, Gaysi doesn’t just cater to an online audience through it’s blog and social media but produces zines and distributes it across UK and India. Gaysi’s been taking bold steps and talking about taboo topics of sex, sexuality, identity, romance and eroticism though thought-provoking content and media and also hosts many other offline events like bar nights, open mics etc.
Towards the end, Parmesh stressed on the importance of community supporting each other through resources and mobilisation. He feels that the struggle is a long one as it is in every corner of the world but support in huge numbers is going to make the journey easier. Koninika spoke about fighting hatred and discrimination online. She has a vast experience of dealing with trolls and bigots while working with crisis management. She also feels that inclusive environments will amplify the voices of LGBTQ community and their struggle leading to equal rights and right to live peacefully. The event concluded with empathy and inclusion of the queer community as the principle takeaways for the audience. The highlight of the evening was specially curated culture lab’s queer buffet for the attendees.
About Godrej India Culture Lab: The Godrej India Culture Lab is a fluid experimental space based out of the Godrej Headquarters in Vikhroli, Mumbai that explores what it means to be modern and Indian. (http://indiaculturelab.org/)
About Yaariyan: Yaariyan is a voluntary LGBTQ youth initiative and a support group by The Humsafar Trust (HST) which functions as an online forum, organizes offline events and facilitates youth access to health and social support. (http://humsafar.org/yaariyan/)
About G.H.A.R: Gay Housing Assistance Resource (G.H.A.R) is an online crowdsourced, private and moderated platform for LGBTQ community to find housing across India. (https://www.facebook.com/groups/ghar.mumbai/)
You can check the event calendar for Queer Azadi Movement events in January here!