In the list of social media hashtags that have gained prominence these days, one that is globally popular is #StayHome. Citizens in most countries have been advised to stay indoors as much as possible to keep themselves safe from contracting the coronavirus. But what about those who do not have the option? Medical professionals and essential services staff are working round the clock and risking their lives to protect humanity. We then have the sad tales of the homeless on the streets and the migrant workers who have walked miles at a stretch and faced shattering hardships.
Motivational speaker and author Raga Olga D’Silva highlights the issues faced by yet another community. In a Facebook Live session (April 10) “LGBT In Lockdown”, she lay bare certain facts that may not have crossed our minds as we stay indoors pampered with love and affection by our dear ones. There are many from the LGBT community who feel like outsiders in a house that does not feel like a home and a safe haven for them. Others simply undergo a sense of loneliness. And there are those from the transgender group that face uncertainty because having a roof over their heads depends on their ability to pay the rent.
With normal life being disrupted, it has been agonizing for those who have been having mental health issues because of their sexuality or gender identity. Raga Olga D’Silva’s journey of life was fraught with emotional upheaval until she came to terms with her sexual identity, and she empathizes with those who have been going through similar conditions. The discussion had as its participants the immensely gifted director/film maker Onir, mental health professional Richa Vasishta, and transgender activist Urmi Jadhav.
What did the speakers have to say about the LGBT community during the lockdown?
Most people need to open their hearts to a loved one. Onir said that he is fortunate to have very supportive parents. But there have been times when he had wished that he had a companion to share his thoughts with in this lockdown situation. In response to a hypothetical question about what he would do if he was stuck with a hostile family and an abusive partner, he voiced his thoughts. He said that although he would have to compromise, he would be extremely careful and not aggravate the situation.
Richa Vasishta has extensive experience counseling LGBT individuals. She recounts the mental stress the members have been currently undergoing. Because they have not been able to attend therapy sessions, they are going through an acute crisis. Not in a state to vent out their emotions openly and discuss their problems in the limited space of their houses, they have called her from washrooms and terrace tops.
Urmi Jadhav talked at length about the transgender community that is facing multiple problems. She shared that it has been extremely challenging for them. Most of them earn their livelihoods on a day-to day basis. It’s a question of survival for those who either beg in the streets or are sex workers. These are the people who are undocumented, and in the absence of official records, they are not able to get financial assistance even if the government has offered help. They typically live in slums or in rented apartments and are unable to pay rent in the absence of income during the COVID-19 situation and lockdown.
Extremely heartbreaking is the plight of those who need medical help. There are HIV-positive patients who need medicines on a regular basis. Running short of cash is one issue, but in the absence of public transportation, it is not possible to even get to the government agencies where the medication is distributed free.
Altruism is something that can stem in human beings even if they themselves have gone through turbulent times. It was so heart-warming to hear Urmi talk about how she had led her community in preparing 800 ration kits for those among them who were in need of greater help.
A very important issue was addressed in the discussion about family support being of utmost importance in difficult times. So should one in this current situation come out in the open upon discovering that he or she is a gay or lesbian? The speakers felt that the individual needs to pause and keep this action on hold. The entire globe is caught up in a volatile state of affairs, and one cannot be certain whether he or she will be accepted with that truth. Therefore, it is not wise to take a chance lest it endangers the relationship with the family. To quote Richa, “It’s not the time to test the waters” because no one knows what the consequences would be. LGBT individuals now need to look upon their “family of choice”, which means those people who can provide them the emotional support in these trying times.
The magnitude of the problem is indeed large, and it is indeed hard to contemplate how the different issues can be addressed. It is very important for the LGBT community to reach out to the right organizations and helplines who can provide assistance. It is encouraging that Nazariya, Snehalaya, and Humsafar Trust are among the list of organizations that provide aid. Some members do not have access to helpful information. Therefore, the ones who can avail these resources easily should consider it their moral responsibility to spread the word around.
There is no magic solution, and the speakers in their own way conveyed their messages to the LGBT community.
“Stay away from the negativity; lock it out”, said Onir. According to him, every small bit helps and adds up, and people can contribute in whatever way they can to organizations who accept donations and provide assistance to the needy. His appeal to the LGBT community is also to share their anxiety with others and not keep it within themselves. He urged them to seek the help of social media platforms, if needed, to voice their concerns.
With confidence and positivity, Urmi expressed that if her fellow members can survive today, they can do it tomorrow as well.
As a counselor, Richa asks the community to think about their safety and look at one day at a time. She says it is fine to be angry and frustrated and express their emotions openly.
Sad as it may be, we cannot ignore the truth that in spite of societal progress and an increasing number of activists raising their voices, stereotyping, discrimination, and misrepresentation of the LGBT community still exist. We have witnessed some change in the mindsets of people, yet there is a long way to go. Lockdown situation or otherwise, we need a change. Let us hope that with time, education, and awareness, inclusion of and respect for the LGBT community increases, with the world envisaging the philosophy that all human beings under the wide sky are equal.
(This article appeared as a Featured Post in Women’s Web )