Sixty-eight percent of LGBT community in State are school dropouts: Queer Pride

We want to be recognised and live like any other citizen in this country, assert members of Queer Pride Keralam as they begin another year of busy activities and programmes.  The annual march of the members of LGBTIQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, inter-sex and queer) community in Kerala, under the auspices of Queer Pride Keralam, was held in Kochi on August 12. This time, the march was flooded with participants with more than 1,000 individuals coming under the sexual minority group taking part in various programmes.

Prajith, one of the programme co-ordinators of Queer Pride Keralam 8th edition said that the event was successful with an unprecedented number of individuals coming out of their nutshells to organise and empower. “We consider this itself as an achievement for the organisation which was launched in 2009 to mark the historical declaration of Delhi High Court quashing section 377 of Indian Penal Code. Section 377 criminalised sexual activities “against the order of nature.” The Delhi High Court in a landmark judgement in July 2009 struck down the section saying that it was against the provisions of Constitution which upholds right to equality and the fundamental right to life and liberty for every individual. However the judgment was later reversed by the Supreme Court of India.

Queer Pride Keralam, an umbrella body of around 10 different community-based organisations working among sexual minority groups, celebrates the anniversary of pronouncement of this judgment with varied cultural programmes.

Though Kerala is one among the advanced States in India, the laws and social norms here have not yet been elaborated to include sexual minorities, says Prajith. Right from childhood a transgender person or people with different sexual orientation face social and political taboo.

“Almost 68 per cent of the sexual minority individuals in the State are school dropouts. A very few attend school after Class-VIII. Even though a gay or lesbian person does not face staring from public when he or she is out in the crowd, a transgender individual easily gets noticed. Bullying, harassing and demoralising are usual. So most of them choose to avoid socialisation and coming out in public. Queer Pride has been working to instil confidence in this marginalised section by letting them speak out and stand for themselves,” Prajith said.

Though the State boasts of its vibrant politically-conscious population, the transgender community lacks the opportunity to cast their vote as there is no option in electoral identity cards to mark their gender identity. In the last Assembly election, two people from transgender community cast vote and both of them had undergone sex replacement surgery.

The Queer Pride leaders also pointed out that owing to the increased insecurity born out of the alienation they face from their own societies, transgenders choose to flee their native places and end up in unhealthy circumstances. “The transgenders who flee Kerala find solace in any of the hijra communities, Tamil Nadu or other States and they are offered sex replacement surgery by those people. They collect at least Rs. 1 lakh from the migrated ones and conduct the surgery in unhygienic circumstances which may cost only around Rs.10,000. Such financial exploitation is also taking place. These surgeries are not only unhygienic, but are life-threatening at times,” Prajith said.

Queer Pride continues to educate the community members on their basic rights and conducts workshops and seminars to boost their self-esteem. Ramp walks and cultural fests are often held at various localities and Queer Pride Keralam annual edition acts as a culmination of all these activities held in a year.

Participants in the Queer Pride March

Things have started changing as the Kerala Government has kick-started welfare schemes and programmes for sexual minorities. The state literacy mission has initiated literacy programmes to include transgenders. Kudumbashree units have been formed for the community and gender identity cards have been issued to the transgenders which can be used for various purposes. Even then, the transgender community faces dearth of employment opportunities. The Kerala Public Service Commission (PSC) does not give opportunity for the transgender individual to attend the examination as they cannot apply in their own gender identity. Right now, there is not even a single transgender person in the Government offices apart from two people who are working on temporary basis at two district offices in the State.

But the Queer Pride leaders are hopeful and wish a fundamental change will happen in the near future. “We have been pressurising the State Government to address the issues of our people. The State should at least do away with section 377. This would be a bold step towards the change and yes, more and more social welfare schemes and Government-level intervention in educating the public on sexual minorities should happen. We hope in the near future, things will fall in line for us,” Prajith quips.

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