By Muskan Sethi
From colouring books to countrywide surveys, students are reaching out to the LGBTQ+ community. During the Pride month, we look at a few such initiatives:
Add Some Colour
A mockery of gender norms and symbols of intersectional activism inform the 14 sketches in Queer AF, India’s first queer colouring book. Launched online by Art for Sale, a youth-led organisation that uses art to empower communities, the book tells stories of love, acceptance and pride.
Including the artwork of eight students across schools and colleges in Delhi, Queer AF is the brainchild of Lusha Jetley, a Class XII student of Sanskriti School, Delhi. The book’s release, on June 4, coincided with the worldwide celebrations of Pride Month. The groundwork started in April this year.
When she pitched the idea to students in Delhi, the initial response wasn’t welcoming. “The question I got most often was ‘why?’ I think that’s the best example of how undervalued representation is. Once I explained the potential impact of the book, most people were excited to be on board,” says Jetley.
Nazariya, an grassroots organisation, was started by Delhi University students Ruth Chawngthu and Shruti Appalla last year. Its purpose is to provide a safe space for students in Delhi identifying as LGBTQ+ and their friends to interact and share experiences. It has gained a following of more than 5,000 on its social media platforms.
Rishi Raj Vyas, 16, and a member of Nazariya, writes, “I am a queer Dalit person coming from a middle class family and my alliance with Nazariya has completely transformed me. Our representation in the community is very low due to internalised phobia but Nazariya has successfully created a safe space to accommodate each and every oppressed minority.”
The Queer Feminist Art, on Nazariya’s website, is a representation of intersectional activism in the form of four paintings made by students in Delhi.”We have included art in all our events, even at our protests, along with live music, slam poetry and drag shows in all our past events,” says Chawngthu.
Make Some Noise
Project Voice+ focusses on gender and sexuality and was founded by Siddhi Pal, 20, a student of Ashoka University, who is pursuing Psychology and Entrepreneurship. It encourages young people to amplify conversations by creating free-to-use educational modules on topics relating to sexuality, curating real-life stories through blogs and interviews, among others.
“As a 14-year-old, we are hardly exposed to even rudimentary terms related to sex and sexuality. One day, I read someone’s message on my school’s Facebook confessions page. The person said, “I am a lesbian but, you will never know who I am.” I was confused, not about the concept of a woman loving another woman, but about how it could be wrong to love someone in a world brimming with hate crimes,” says Pal.
“At one of our events in 2015, we invited Naina Singh, the youngest trans woman in India, who was 16-years-old and going through a sex-change procedure. She had never publicly shared her story before. She was accompanied by her mother, and they both spoke about the kind of support they felt the trans community needs and urged the students and parents to be sensitive and aware,” says Pal.
A student in UP almost committed suicide because he was pestered to be “masculine”, a Bengaluru student was bullied almost every day through middle school because of his “effeminate” mannerisms, a West Bengal girl was told by her teacher that she wouldn’t be successful if she didn’t undergo therapy or identify as straight, and a Tamil Nadu student killed herself because her best friend posted an online confession about her.
These stories were brought to light on social media by Sukhnidh Kaur, a student of Mumbai’s St Xavier’s College, who surveyed 180 school students in April from across the country on homophobic behaviour from teachers, principals and administrative staff.
“I posted these instances because I want people to realise the extent of the problem and the consequences it has on students and the way they navigate the social world inside and outside of school. Awareness is the first step towards change,” says Kaur.
The stories being posted online are being received with anger and discomfort towards the schools and school authorities from the readers. These stories, however, are also serving as a source of strength to the LGBTQ+ community as an increasing number of people come out and share their experiences in the comments section.