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A Global Look – How NGO’s Promote LGBTQ Rights in the South Asian Diaspora

by May 4, 2017
filed under Activism
Topics ,

Sometimes your most spontaneous decisions are your best decisions. About a year and a half ago I was looking for a GPA boosting class for my winter term at Rutgers University. I selected a ‘Gender, Race, and Sexuality’ course that challenged me to explore the most taboo subjects in modern day society. I loved it.

I come from a South Asian background, one flooding with diversity on a plethora of levels. However, coming from a South Asian background I have a tendency to question the orthodox beliefs of my culture vs. the new waves of western thinking.

The United States is currently run by a right-wing president and a government that believes the best way to promote moral behavior is by controlling personal decisions of human beings (i.e. abortion rights, immigration bans, etc.). While these matters are being handled far from ideally, there’s a faint silver lining around the fact that, in the United States, people have been exposed to the broad spectrum of gender identities and orientations. Other countries are still working to get there. This gap in exposure inspired me to research the triumphs and failures of NGO’s in promoting LGBTQ rights across three major countries – Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. 

WHOEVER VOLUNTARILY HAS CARNAL INTERCOURSE AGAINST THE ORDER OF NATURE WITH ANY MAN, WOMAN OR ANIMAL SHALL BE PUNISHED WITH IMPRISONMENT FOR LIFE, OR WITH IMPRISONMENT OF EITHER DESCRIPTION FOR TERM WHICH MAY EXTEND TO TEN YEARS, AND SHALL ALSO BE LIABLE TO FINE.” (Section 377 of the indian penal code)

It was an eye-opening experience that also made me realize the governments of all three countries impose a hierarchy within the LGBTQ community. In the media we see the pride countries have for acknowledging the transgender population as a third gender, but I always noticed a lack of discussion around the rights of lesbians and women transitioning to become men.

For instance, the Bandhu Social Welfare Society of Bangladesh(BSWS) targets specifically MSM (Males who have Sex with Men) and Hijras (transgender people born male) for their assessment of HIV/aids and other social issues. BSWS organized the 1st national consultation meeting on male and sexual reproductive health in Bangladesh, but it was targeted towards maintaining the rights of the Hijra and male community.

Even in India, local NGOs target HIV/Aids education towards Kothis (feminine men/ cross dressers who don’t live in the same intentional communities as Hijras/ haven’t necessarily undergone body modification) and MSM over other members of LGBTQ community. In India there are other transgender categories, especially those who are female but identify as male. In Tamil Nadu, there are the Thirunambigal, in Andhra Pradesh there are the Magaraida and in Karnataka the Jogappa.

I think the richest experience that defined this disparity within the LGBTQ community was when I had the opportunity with my peers to chat online with a Bangladeshi woman who was hiding her sexuality from her parents. She was in her late 20’s and emphasized that if she was more open about her sexuality, the main concern wasn’t solely around being disowned by her parents. She knew that, as an out lesbian, she would be vulnerable to physical attacks within her community. I remember wondering how someone could stand living their entire life as someone other than their authentic self?

I don’t mean to discredit any work NGO’s have done so far as members of these groups risk their lives on a daily basis to help others. My purpose was to study the extent of progress keeping legal forces in mind.

Strides of progress do include:

  1. NGO’s in Pakistan such as the Naz Male Health Alliance conduct HIV testing for LGBTQ groups. Their office has no solid security, but we do see doctors shielding their identity to help LGBTQ citizens. There is no government protection. 
  2. CARE in Bangladesh provides education on HIV/AIDS prevention to MSM, drug addicts, and lesbian individuals. 
  3. In India, two NGOS, the Humsafar Trust and Naz Foundation Trust received a 50 Lakh cheque from the Reliance Foundation for their efforts with LGBTQ justice on national TV. The Humsafar trust stated it will use the money to answer queries from those in remote villages, and support initiatives for Lesbian, Bisexuals and Transsexuals including job opportunities. Naz will use this money to continue fighting against the 377 penal code and helpful hotlines. We also see high profile celebrities such as Celina Jaitley and Amir Khan openly support LGBTQ rights. If more celebrities/government officials partnered with these NGOs I would assume further strides of progress would be made. 
  4. The Equal India Alliance partners with Naz, MINGLE, and others to bring equality into the workplace as well. Currently, companies such as Goldman Sachs, IBM, JP Morgan, and several others have upheld equal treatment of their employees as a result of these workshops. 
  5. India currently does not recognize marriage between same sex couples, however we do see smaller scale courts defying national law. A Gurgaon court recognized the marriage of two women in 2011. Other good news is that it is legal for transgender individuals to adopt and change their gender as of 2010.

I admire the people who really go out and challenge taboo topics under conservative roofs, because LGBTQ equality is an international human rights issues that we can’t ignore.


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