Lovepreet Singh was born into a Sikh family in Lucknow in 1996. Since Lovepreet was born after lots of prayers when his parents lost their first child mere 21 days after birth, he grew up pampered at home. Little did he realise that all their compassion, love and pampering will pale one day because of his queer sexual orientation.
As a child, Lovepreet would often like to wear outfits that were supposedly for girls. He would admire the way girls and women talked and the clothes they wore. He would try on his younger sister’s dresses. He recollects his childhood as being full of joy until the age of 10.
Facing homophobic society:
As he grew up, he began facing objection to his wearing dresses as well as what was seen as feminine behaviour. It drew negative attention from his family members, neighbours, friends in school and teachers. All the love and compassion he had earlier received began turning into objections in the family.
However, what affected Lovepreet the most was the bullying at school and violent treatment by teachers. “I still remember the day vividly when one of the teachers in my school hit me so hard for my feminine behaviour that I fainted. My classmates would make fun of me. I was not happy at home and school,” Lovepreet revealed.
He was earlier a confident boy and an excellent student, but bullying and abuse affected his self-esteem. “I was good at studying, I used to score more than 80% in exams. But, ever since I started facing homophobia in school, I began losing focus on my studies and used to be a silent boy. I scored only 72% in my 10th exam,” Lovepreet explained.
He further added that despite the objections even at home, he continued to wear dresses whenever he would find the time, even if it was for five minutes a day.
Even in college, students made fun of him. He used to walk on the road hiding himself so that nobody would notice him. After finishing his MBA in HR and Finance, Lovepreet went to Delhi for a job opportunity. But, the job lasted for about four months because of the homophobic behaviour of office colleagues.
“I was called mittha, gud, and different homophobic slurs in my college and office. Once, one of my colleagues threw lemon on my leg and said ‘mitha ja raha hai’. I used to be so stressed and frustrated that I finally had to resign and come back to Lucknow,” Lovepreet shared.
Lovepreet never intended to come out, but the universe conspired to reveal his queer sexuality. He often kept to himself until the Orlando gay club attack in 2016 took place. He then began attending the candlelight vigils in solidarity with the Orlando gay club attack victims, and this introduced him to other queer folks. Although, he was out in the community, he was still closeted outside.
Lovepreet says that from childhood he knew he was different. As he reached puberty he realised that he was attracted to men.
On 9 April, 2017, the first queer pride in Lucknow was held. Lovepreet attended it joyfully with no idea about what was going to happen next. The following day, his mother confronted him asking what he was doing hanging out with transgender people.
“She came to know from some neighbour that my photo with some other queer guys was published in a Hindi newspaper. The headline was misleading. The headline read something along the lines of ‘hijron ne nikala pride march’ (the ‘hijra’ community has organized a Pride March in the city). They used the word ‘hijra’ to refer to the larger LGBTQ+ community. I mustered the courage and explained about the community and the difference between being transgender and gay. I also revealed my sexuality to my mom saying that I was gay,” Lovepreet recounted.
Singh’s mom was responded by saying that they would soon get him married to a girl. However, he managed to make her understand. “I never revealed my queer sexuality to my father. And he never discussed it with me; but he knows about it. However, my mom took some time to digest the fact that I am a queer. Eventually, she understood. My mom did not talk for about a month with me the way she would before finding out about my queer sexuality,” Lovepreet said while speaking about the incident.
Starting Rehbar Trust:
Singh came back to Lucknow after leaving the job in Delhi thinking that the community should be empowered enough to live in such a homophobic society. He began working on his non-profit organization called Rehbar Trust.
His father guided him with the paperwork needed to register the NGO. “I am glad that my father accepted me without arguments. He helped me a lot in registering the NGO because he knows the city very well and offices of government officials,” Lovepreet added. He set up the NGO in 2018.
Rehbar Trust mainly works with transgender persons as well as the larger LGBTQ+ community. While discussing milestones, Lovepreet said: “So far we have managed to establish a Transgender Welfare Board committee in Lucknow, which is one of the biggest achievements for us. There was no such committee in Lucknow before this. Moreover, the NGO also provided food grains to more than 300 transgenders because they had no source of income during the lockdown that was imposed due to the coronavirus pandemic.” The trust also helps by providing counselling and legal aids to the community whenever someone approaches with such a need.
While talking about the experience of working with the LGBTQ+ community, especially with respect to dealing with officials and the local police, Lovepreet says that sometimes the experience is harsh. “Once I approached the police to seek help for a transgender person who was trapped in a scam. I explained to the police about what we (Rehbar Trust) do. The reaction was frightful. The police used abusive language and asked us to leave the police station,” he revealed.
Lovepreet also said that transgenders should be educated so they can lead a better life and be included in mainstream society. Many transgender people make ends meet by begging at traffic signals, birthdays celebrations, weddings or are forced to take on sex work. “Transgenders should acquire education and be prepared for opportunities. Moreover, government and private bodies should also provide opportunities for them so that they can live with dignity,” Lovepreet added.
He believes that there are a lot of things to change in society for the betterment of the LGBTQ community and that there is a long way to go.