In a homophobic world where being an LGBTQ is condemned, let alone LGBT rights objectively discussed, April and Shivakumar set up a support group called Nestam Vizag in hope of creating awareness and to get people talking.
When Shivakumar noticed a lack of awareness, tolerance and support amongst Vizagites for the LGBTQ community, he decided to create a safe haven himself instead of waiting for someone else to do it. It was then that he met April – a transgender woman – through mutual friends, and she was thinking along the same lines. Taking everything they had gone through in the spirit of experience, April and Shivakumar founded Nestam and after that, like they say, there was no looking back.
The Work They Do
Celebrating their first anniversary this August, Nestam Vizag, apart from being a support group for anyone in need, conducts awareness drives in government schools to fight misconceptions and teach them that the LGBTQ are normal and nothing to be ridiculed at. Through their work they’ve come to realise that no child is born with any averseness towards LGBTQ, they are taught to ridicule and mock as they grow up. “Most of the teachers we come across are supportive but some of them have asked us if we’re trying to turn the kids gay. It scares me that these are the people shaping the minds of the future”, says Shivakumar.
April and countless transgender individuals like her are personally affected whenever the transgenders are called hijras. “Transgender is a person whose identity/expression does not match with what he/she was assigned at birth. On the other hand, Hijra, also known as third gender in India, is a cultural identity with its own rituals and customs, unique to our country. The hijra community comes under the transgender umbrella but not all transgenders are hijras,” says April.
Nestam plans to reach the next level and start creating awareness in colleges. It is Shivakumar’s dream to hold a Pride Parade in Vizag and to have everyone participate, irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender, in a show of solidarity. He hopes to create a comfortable atmosphere through Nestam such that the LGBTQ don’t feel a need to hide or be forced to pretend. When asked about their rights he says, “I want to put it as human rights rather than LGBTQ rights because we’re asking for nothing special other than basic human rights.”
April is working on developing a support website called TransgenderIndia.com for transgender individuals and gender variant people.
Nestam Vizag is supported by a team of lawyers and doctors. Any person in need of guidance can contact them via their FB page or call Shivakumar at 9948506239.
Voice of Vizag
India has come a long way from being the country it was under colonial rule. We are an independent, democratic community that fought oppression with peace and went ahead to form a constitution that serves the well-being of our country. And yet, we chose to keep on some colonial laws that seem to hold no prominence in 2016. Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code is a shining bright example of that.
The law that was introduced in 1860 states that ‘unnatural offences such as having carnal intercourse against the order of nature’ are punishable by law, which includes by definition, a physical relationship between people of the same gender. Many religions consider being homosexual a ‘sin’ and society brands the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer) community with various labels like ‘pervert’ and ‘mentally unfit’.
Talking about homosexuality is such a deep taboo in our country that most kids in India grow up confused about their sexuality only to become adults and be told that it is illegal. In 2009, The High Court of Delhi decriminalised the law with respect to homosexuality but the Supreme Court overturned the decision in 2013 after it was challenged that the decision should be Parliamentary and not Judiciary.
India took a huge leap forward when the Supreme Court recognised transgender people as a legal third gender (a wrongful recognition, but a recognition just the same) and determined gender identity to be the fundamental right of every citizen in 2014. The Supreme Court recently agreed to revisit Section 377 and have it reviewed by a five-member constitutional bench in lieu of a petition submitted by the Naz foundation, a Delhi based NGO.
Realisation is needed that being an LGBTQ is not a ‘degenerate western idea’ that is alien to Indian sensibilities, treating them different and denying them basic human rights are the borrowed ideas. India has been influenced by so many different rulers, that along the way we have lost respect for people who were once an accepted part of society It’s Gay Pride Month and we ask Vizagites what they think.
“It is basic human right to be able to choose whom you love, especially when the mutual love is between two responsible adults. So denying that based on gender is inhuman. Homosexuality is not as abnormal as people make it out to be. There are many species who participate in this, it’s nothing new.” –Sanjana Vupala
“Homosexuals are such from birth and you can’t erase that. I know intelligent and prominent people who are homosexuals, they are as normal as a heterosexual. We used to get cases of homosexuals where one of the partners wanted to change gender due to taboo. We should stop being ignorant and stigmatising them. Sometimes even childhood abuse plays a part in a person being homosexual, so one must be tolerant.” – Dr. Rohini, Gynecologist, Sanjivi Hospital
“The growing LGBTQ community has impeached our societies and become a global issue. While most countries embrace it there are far too many reasons why it does not seem ideal to create a legal right for them in our country. It is a fad that surveys have marked up to be a phase. Allowing this to become an institution in marriage and to go as far as allowing adoption for something that can change at any time is too large a risk. While I don’t wish or support harm to members of this community, I believe India is right to maintain its stance in keeping such relations against the law. It is too volatile an issue for a struggling country like us to take on.” – Pranamya Sequeira
“This so called ‘problem’ of being LGBT has cropped up all over the world. It was not a problem for our ancestors, why should it be now? Everyone has a right to their sexual orientation and no third person should have any say in it whatsoever. I myself am bisexual and when I tell people about it they react negatively. How does it affect another person what I am? My mother is comfortable with the fact that I’m bisexual. We call ourselves a free and progressive country and yet we aren’t even allowed to be open about our orientation. Let’s learn to respect everyone.” – Sudhanshu Basuroy
Myth: Every man who is feminine and every woman who is masculine is homosexual.
Fact: These stereotypes have been proven to be untrue, most homosexuals don’t fit into these moulds.
Myth: Homosexuals never marry.
Fact: People who don’t marry aren’t automatically homosexual and vice versa.
Myth: Homosexuals are trying to turn heterosexuals into homosexuals.
Fact: They can’t do that, it is as impossible as turning homosexuals straight.
Myth: Homosexuals are mentally unfit.
Fact: Homosexuality has nothing to do with a person’s mental ability. There is enough data to prove it has nothing to do with mental functioning. The largest amount of rape and physical abuse is in fact done by heterosexuals. There was a time when homosexuality was diagnosed as a mental problem, in fact, in 1973, American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Psychotherapy cannot ‘cure’ homosexuality. It has been proven to be a failure, resulting in mental trauma.
Dr. K Madhu,
Professor – Department of Psychology & Parapsychology, AU