The Tragic Cost Of Bullying Our Gay Youth

Shame On Us. Shame On Us. Shame On Us. 

Sounds harsh?  Wait, until you hear the statistics. The society we have collectively created, not just in India, the world over, is slowly and systematically making it difficult for our young gay people to be themselves.

This week, you may have read  of a young teenage boy from Faridabad in India, jumping to his death due to the constant harassment and  bullying at school,  for being gay. As it happens, this is not an isolated incident.

In 2007, Stonewall UK launched its School Report, a ground-breaking study into the experiences of 1,100 lesbian, gay and bi pupils in Britain’s schools. Published four years after the repeal of Section 28 (equivalent to the Section 377 in India), it revealed a startling picture: two in three lesbian, gay and bi pupils had been bullied at school because of their sexual orientation, and just one in four schools said this bullying was wrong.

I tried to dig into reports in India and  have found similar alarming statistics. The impact and consequences of bullying is  scary. According to a UNESCO  (New Delhi) report conducted in India, harassment starts at primary school level. From those who participated in the survey,  60% faced bullying in middle/high school, 43% sexually harassed in primary  school and only 18% felt safe enough to report instances to school authorities.70% of those bullied suffered from anxiety and depression, lost focus in studies and 33 percent dropped out of school altogether.

In June 2021, my same sex partner and I started an online show, ‘Coming Out Stories from India’. We interviewed 25 guests, all from the LGBT community in India. Real lived experiences of filmmakers, curators, journalists, chefs, lecturers, and so on, ranging from ages 24 onwards.

Guess what was the common thread?

Most had been bullied at school. Not just by their fellow students but also by the school authorities. In some cases by their own teachers. It took me by surprise when a 24 year old talked about being bullied by her teachers as a teenager. I thought to myself, surely things would have changed since my school days in India in the 80’s. Apparently not!

Now, imagine this!

  • Imagine, you are young person confused about your sexuality, and are still struggling to understand “who” you are and  “your feelings“.
  • Imagine you are a young boy, maybe a little effeminate being called a “sissy”, or a young girl who prefers to wear jeans, have short hair, plays sports and labelled a tomboy or someone struggling with unwanted body changes through puberty.
  • Imagine you have no one to discuss and confide in at home.
  • Imagine your fellow students in your class and at your school continuously taunt and bully you.
  • Imagine your own teachers joining in or not protecting you, thus encouraging other students to continue with their harassment.
  • Imagine your teachers putting the blame on your “looks” or your “behaviour” rather than reprimanding the bullies.
  • Imagine the school authorities ignoring such behaviours and blaming you rather than taking steps to stop the bullying.
  • Imagine, your parents get to know and they make you feel ashamed, guilty and responsible for bringing shame to them.

What would you do?

Unfortunately many of  our youth feel they have no other option, as in the case of this young boy from Faridabad, and take the extreme step of suicide.

As a society we are failing our children. As an advocate for the LGBT community, I get such messages on a daily basis that makes my heart cry for the young people, particularly from India.

Those reading this and thinking I am being overdramatic, consider yourself very fortunate that you can live your life freely. Sadly, this is not true for most of us in the LGBT community – young  or old.

Bullying comes in many forms. Name calling, stealing,   overt discrimination,  ignoring the person, gossiping, physical and  assault, threatening them with rape,  even death and outing them to the wider community. 

Can you even imagine the psychological impact of this on a young person?

We all expect our homes and schools to be a safe place to learn and grow. If we don’t make our children feel safe at home or at our schools, where they spend so much of their formative years, who will our children turn to?

Statistics show a decline in focus, grades, participation in school activities, poor behaviour, absenteeism from school as key areas of concern as a result of this kind of bullying.  There have been several instances of students dropping out of school due to the constant mental trauma faced by them, as the UNESCO statistic reports.

Coming back to the Stonewall UK survey, the interesting part of this was that based on the findings from the original report, over the past decade Stonewall has worked with governments, schools and local authorities across Britain to help them combat this bullying and create more inclusive schools.

Stonewall’s later School Report 2017, a study of over 3,700 lesbian, gay, bi and trans (LGBT) pupils across Britain, demonstrates the continued positive impact of this work. Since the 2007 School Report, the number of lesbian, gay and bi pupils bullied because of their sexual orientation has fallen by almost a third. The number of schools who say this bullying is wrong has nearly trebled, and homophobic remarks are far less likely to be heard. Thanks to the dedication of teachers, schools and government organisations across Britain, more LGBT young people than ever are able to be themselves at school. (Source: Stonewall and Centre for Family Research at the University of Cambridge, 2017. School Report: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bi and trans young people in Britain’s schools in 2017)

Perhaps it is time for us to create a partnership between schools, government organisations and families in India as well and introduce laws and policies that address this serious issue.

At the least, as parents we need to check if our schools have anti-bullying policies because this matters.  Today there is greater willingness among institutions to engage with issues related to sexual orientation, but these are still in the minority.

For parents and teachers who struggle with understanding of LGBT issues , there are many resources available these days, including a parent group based out of India, Sweekar the Rainbow Parents. There are community leaders like myself, who are available for any guidance.

Schools need to reassess the curriculum and include sex education and LGBT sensitisation. This needs to start with the teachers first. Include parents, families as well as the students. There will be the initial push back, but over time things will change for the better.

In today’s global technologically driven world, we can no longer make any excuses for lack of information. If you find your child struggling with their sexuality, make an effort to find information, get yourself educated, listen and hold their hand. If they have your support, they can fight the world. If the school shows lack of empathy or seems to be homophobic, fight hard with the authorities, call out their homophobia, change schools if needed, but do not  let your child put up with this homophobic behaviour alone.

Perhaps we will then have no more young people leaping off buildings, because they see no other way out.

Perhaps we will over time create an inclusive culture.

Perhaps, at 50 I still live in an idealistic world.

Can we stop bringing shame to ourselves. After all we are THE society WE talk about!

Edited by : Nicola Fenton

 

Did Axis Bank India fail the #LGBT community? #DilSeOpen they said, but Dil Tod Diya!

#DilSeOpen #ComeAsYouAre the promo said! (Dil Se Open – Open with your heart)

I was elated for our #LGBTQ+ community. But, yeh dil hai kay manta nahi, said my heart (my heart doubts). Wait karo. Wait karo, it said. I wanted to write about it and celebrate it at that time, but I waited. I follow my heart always, after all.

A few weeks ago, I received a call from someone through a friend’s reference to speak with a senior person at Axis Bank who was keen to hear issues faced by people from the LGBTQ+ community.  I was happy to share.

I was surprised with how much they did not know. How much they assumed. When I told them as a woman once married to a man, I could easily open a joint bank account, get a mortgage for a home we wanted to buy; but I could not as someone in a same-sex relationship, they were surprised.

They promised they would create ‘products’ keeping this in mind. I felt hopeful, thoda thoda.

Kyun ki, I have run businesses from New Zealand and the UK and let me tell you doing business and banking in India ages you. The paperwork, the red tapeism, the bureaucracy and the lack of trained staff at the execution level made me all buddhi.

I have businesses in India and have a personal account as well, and seriously mera dil gets very frustrated each time I have to deal with banks in India.

So, I was pleasantly khush and elated when this senior person sent me a message one morning in September and informed me about the ‘Dil Se Open’ products that had been launched and one such product was for  same-sex couples to  open a joint account.

Mainey immediately socha, this means  we could now freely have an account as a couple and that meant, as is in case of heterosexual couples, certain benefits. Simple one being buying a house together and therefore getting a joint mortgage. Dil khush ho gaya!

I live in London. These things are part of our lives and I can easily open a bank account with my same-sex partner here. It takes perhaps less than 5 minutes. Yes, you read that right. Less than 5 minutes.  No questions asked!

I wondered about India. I wondered about how the bank was going to roll this out extensively across all the bank locations and train their staff;  first of all on LGBT matters, sensitise them and then set up processes in place to execute this.

It is a huge ask. I wondered how this was being done so quickly within a few weeks of speaking with me. No doubt they spoke with some others as well. But, it seemed too soon from my point of view.

That is why I waited before I made any comments on this service, although I was very tempted to. Dil toh pagal hai na. But, mera dil itna bhi pagal nahi hai!

I waited and I was right!

The recent experience of Anisha Sharma and her partner Bhakti at the seven bungalows branch in Andheri , Mumbai is a perfect example how the Bank forgot the basics of launching something pathbreaking. They forgot to sensitise and train their front line na. Anisha through her twitter account has shared how they went to the Bank to open  joint account as partners, and how  they were made to feel extremely awkward by the bank employees  with the lack of information and awareness of the offer.

I can share from my own personal experiences that it is very awkward when you have to come out. To come out and have to explain this is even harder. Then to explain and be made to feel awkward, embarrassed and almost shamed, is horrible. I have run away from such experiences as they leave me feeling very uncomfortable.

Aisay kaisay ho gaya?

Although, I do want to give this particular bank the benefit of doubt, as the person who Heads this particular division has good intent. And there is our friend Harish Iyer, who leads D&I, and who I absolutely know would have not wanted it to be like this.

But this is not about personal love and friendships. This is a serious matter that as a community we have been waiting for and wish to celebrate. It is high time we did get such products and it is time that banks and corporate companies come forward with such ‘products’ and initiatives. Hum dil se wait kar rahe hai! (we are waiting with our hearts open).

But, but ….Please do not offer us dreams if you cannot make it happen.

We are already facing nightmares through social conditioning.

Dil se, we will come. But, Dil koh Todo mat! (Don’t break my break)

 

(The opinion expressed are solely mine, with no intent to hurt anyones sentiments)

Reference story: 

Imagine Celebrating A Hospital Visit #NHSLondon

Hospital visits are something that have become a part of our life now – and that will remain. I feel a lot of anxiety visiting hospitals to be honest, depending upon the reason for the visit in the first place. I find hospitals intimidating!

However, I am also comforted by the fact that we will be in safe hands and looked after by Specialists and Experts.

Each hospital is different, each specialist is different. I find myself always stressed and not just because of the health issues. I stress at a deep personal level inside me. Let me share some of the reasons for such stress:

  • I have to often ‘come out’ –  Every step of the way from the introduction at the entrance to the Specialist we are meeting.
  • I am not sure if MY voice will be heard: I am not married to my #same-sex partner, which has its own issues that we have to deal with
  • How will it be in case of a medical emergency : I do not know if I would be allowed to give my permission as a partner, should we need to make medical decisions.
  • I am often discriminated basis my sexual orientation – this is a constant.

Yesterday was a special day in this regard.  We had an appointment at the #NationalHospital #ForNeurology&NeuroSurgery #QueensSquareLondon. There are strict guidelines to follow when one visits hospitals these days due to #covid-19 restrictions. Typically, we are greeted by someone at the hospital entrance, who checks the paper work, you then confirm that you are visiting along with the patient (in my case,  my partner)  and then they take you to the respective area for the appointment.

The Specialist asked me to leave my partner for assessment  and return in two hours. I left the building, did a bit of book shopping (nothing like a book retail therapy – I bought 3 fab books from an iconic book store called ‘#Gay’sTheWord), had a coffee and made my way back, very nervously working out all kinds of scenarios in my head on what to say to gain entry (because I was not the patient) and then how to ensure I navigate through all this.

When I reached the hospital, a young man who was checking the paper work greeted me. I said, ‘I am here to fetch my partner who is upstairs getting assessed‘, He said, ‘hmm, I see‘. This made me a bit nervous. I was thinking of worse case scenarios in my head. I am now so used to the prejudice, the passive homophobia, that it lives in me.

He  quickly took me to the reception and repeated what I had said, ‘She is here to pick up her partner‘.

The lady at the reception, without batting an eyelid, smiled at me and said, ‘Oh yes, I remember you and your partner. She is upstairs on the 2nd floor right? Please go upstairs and do what you need to do. It’s absolutely fine”.

Just like that. It was so simple. I stood there waiting for her to add a ‘but..’.

She added nothing but a smile.

See, how simple it is to accept? This is what I mean – if only we can mainstream US (#LGBT) and if only everyone can be this accepting,  ‘normal’ towards us, life would indeed be magic!

People have no idea what we go through on a day to day basis. We are constantly on alert. We are always expecting someone to openly or subtly demonstrate homophobia. We have constant anxiety of having to ‘come out’ and explain. We face huge amount of mental health issues that are caused by such homophobic actions.

Educating, sensitising and making us ‘mainstream’ and including us without prejudice is so critical for an inclusive and equitable place for all in this world. After all this world that was created for all!

Watch my Tedx Talk : 50 and Out

Do subscribe to my Youtube Channel for Coming out Stories from India series (Season 1)

 

I declare July 1st as a holiday for all LGBT Voices. Do you know why?

Yaar, I am EXHAUSTED!!!!!!!!

Why? Because, I am in ‘fashion‘ these days yaar. After all, I am from the #LGBT community na. Every one wants to know me in June!

June is celebrated around the world as #PrideMonth. I love it! I celebrate it as well.

When my friends call me and wish me on my birthday, I often say “Yaar, every day is my birthday. We must celebrate each day we wake up”. Philosophical I know – and to be honest, I really love my birthday and the wishes!

Pride Month makes often brings back these words. Why can’t we celebrate this Pride every day as well, I ask? After all, I do?

When I see people celebrating Pride Month, I do feel great. It makes me celebrate the long struggles we have had as a community and it makes me feel wonderful that we now have so many allies around us. But, it also makes me wonder where “these people” go and hide for the next eleven months. 

Baba, even I have come out of hiding now. Why do you have to hide for so many months?

June gets super busy for those who are seen as the ‘voice’ for/of  the LGBT community. Every known association, club, membership organisation, corporate companies with D&I or DE&I in their portfolio, every person who wants to leverage on the brand #LGBT will invite you to their amazing platform, to share your voice. (oh, mostly they never have a budget – after all we are LGBT, why would we need money? We don’t need to eat or feed our families na. That is only for the heterosexual world!).

I received over 200++ invites from such organisations and individuals from all over the world. It was heartwarming, I swear, because every time we share our words, our voice, I am aware that someone somewhere will get impacted. And that is enough. But…..seriously, if I decline (which I often do) I get some very rude comments. If I accept, I have to mostly put up with very poorly researched moderators, who have NO idea what they are talking about – they often mix “gender” and “sexuality”. They often do not know the difference between a ‘lesbian’ or a ‘trans person’. 

June becomes the token month …!! Yes, that’s one month every one wants to be tagged to one of us. For some reason, more so now – LGBT is the latest fad, after all!!

Tomorrow is 1st July – I don’t know what your plans are for the day or the month ahead or the next eleven months; but I know for a fact that it will not include LGBT.

You know why? In June, we become fashionable. In June you can leverage knowing us.

July onwards, something else will become fashionable.  We will be forgotten again until the next Pride.

Therefore, I declare 1st July as a holiday for all voices in the LGBT community. Actually, I declare the next 11 months as a holiday. 

Tomorrow, I will be sleeping in – finally.

Do subscribe to my YouTube Channel for #ComingOutStoriesFromIndia

Do watch my TEDx Talk:50 and Out

Do follow me on my insta | FB | Twitter: @TotallyOutNow

Are you sure, you are a lesbian? I get asked!!

“But, you don’t look like a lesbian? Are you sure you are a lesbian?” I was asked by a very alpha male friend.

I looked at him, and with a straight  face (yeah, the only thing straight about me) asked, ‘So, what do lesbians look like’?

He responded, ‘array, you know. They have short hair, they dress up like men, they also behave like men’. I said, ‘You mean, the butch women‘? He said, ‘okay, perhaps, if that is what they are called’.

I was curious, I asked. ‘So, you think I am not a lesbian, because I don’t fit into your stereotype of what a lesbian should look like?”.

He looked a wee bit uncomfortable as he said, ‘I mean, look at you. I have often seen you in a sari, you wear dresses, you don’t have a typical boy cut, you wear lipstick and make up. That’s why I wondered if you were a lesbian‘.  I waited for him to finish.

Do you know that being a lesbian is about being attracted to another woman?. How one self expresses is not about our sexual orientation. What we wear, our look is just an expression of ourselves‘.

He said, ‘Oh! But you can be feminine and still love another woman‘?

I had to smile at this, and said gently to him, “Yes, my dear friend. I am attracted to women emotionally and physically, regardless of whether I seem feminine or butch. Does that make sense’?

He said sheepishly, ‘Oh and here I was hoping you got it wrong. I thought perhaps you had not met the right man‘ …..

I looked straight at this man, and said, “And you thought you were THAT man?“.

Do subscribe to my YouTube Channel for heartwarming #ComingOutStoriesFromIndia

Do watch my TEDx talk : 50 and Out 

You have kids? But I thought you were a lesbian?…..

Oh dear dear. I get asked this all the time! In the past, I would ignore such comments. At times, I would even sit and draw diagrams and tell people how biology works! Later, I would send them links…..but, hey, why do we even have this question?

The other day, I had commented on an insta post about how these days there are various kinds of parenting – a child can be raised not only by a single parent,  two mum’s, two dads, a trans couple as the world is becoming beautiful and accepting.

Guess what happened? Some thickhead human (man in this case) decided to troll me. He first said, ‘but you homo, how can you have kids’? Then he went on to make personal comments and attacked me with his dumb a##e words targeting other parts of my anatomy.

Strange how people stoop to their absolute low  when they cannot respond to an argument with logic. 

So, those of you who do not understand biology or missed this class altogether, here it is!

I am a woman. I choose to be with a woman in an emotional and romantic relationship. It does not mean I do not have a uterus or that I cannot bear children.

I have two beautiful children – twins, who were born from my womb. Being from an LGB community does not make us infertile. Biology does not get switched off.

So, next time, you see a lesbian with kids, please do not get all confused. 

Don’t you wish you had concentrated more during biology lessons!!!

Do watch ‘Coming out Stories from India’ to listen to such stories of gay men, lesbians, some of them parents to wonderful children.

Do watch my Tedx Talk on ’50 and Out’. – why did I come out at 50!!