Before the pandemic, life was hardly a fairytale for most queer and trans people in India – it was only in 2018 that the discriminatory Section 377 was struck down by the Supreme Court. But the pandemic has only worsened things, especially for many youth who belong to two-tier cities and small towns. As it is, the conditions that such youth experience in small towns is very different from what they experience in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai.
Generally, many folks who identify as queer or trans try and move out from their homes for work or for college. But due to the lockdown, many have been compelled to move back in with their families – making it very difficult for them to be their authentic selves due to the lack of acceptance and awareness in smaller towns. As a result, such folks can’t express gender roles and many have yet to come out of the closet, knowing that if they express themselves for who they truly are, they would end up experiencing bigotry and queerphobia.
“My parents keep putting pressure on me to get married. My brothers tell me that ‘being a lesbian is a myth’, I’ve ‘probably not met the right man yet’ and that I should try meeting some of their friends,” say Noor, who is from Jabalpur.
Being stuck in a queerphobic environment with little or no resources has meant that there has been a spike in mental health issues among members of the community. This is unsurprising, since they face pressure to get married, get beaten for expressing themselves and experience hate in various forms. Day after day, their identities are put on a platter and discussed.
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“My 18-year-old sister works at a boutique, my mother is a homemaker, and my father is paralysed and has been bed-ridden for eight-nine years. I moved out of home before the lockdown in order to conceal my identity and to earn a decent salary to support myself. I worked at a small hotel as a waiter, where I was sexually exploited by another worker because I am quite effeminate. During the lockdown, things got worse. I lost my job. I had to experience a scarcity of food and basic necessities. I didn’t have anyone to reach out to for help except for a few friends. I was even harassed and beaten in the street,” said Sourabh, who is from Sagar, Madhya Pradesh.
He continued: “I had a fight with a friend, who then went to my sister’s boutique and outed me to my family. Soon after, my dynamic with my family changed completely – I was forced to move in with them again. Since my family doesn’t quite understand what LGBTQIA+ means, they think that I am under some ‘bad influence’. They have confiscated my phone and personal belongings and my every move is policed. I am not allowed to meet or talk to anyone.”
Many young queer folks have gone through similar ordeals. As for their family away from family – their queer family – chances of meeting have reduced drastically. As it is, many young queer folks don’t have many safe spaces, the pandemic has ensured that they have no place to truly express who they are without feel of being belittled or chastised.
There has also been an increase in the number of crimes taking place via datings apps. Since the lockdown, several people with criminal intentions have joined queer dating apps, only to dupe and loot members of the community.
“There have been many problems with gay dating apps before, such as profiles seeking women. These profiles try to take over our safe space and to drive us out of where we belong. I won’t blame them because they seem to be very uninformed about what a gay dating app is. A few days ago, I stumbled upon a YouTube video where this person claimed that you can get women on the gay social networking app Blued,” said Ankush, who was born in Agra but is now based out of Dehradun.
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“The community has always been threatened by the presence of such men – recently, a gay man was murdered in Delhi by two men who he met on a dating app. Luckily, the police caught them overnight, but that’s not always the case. The community should really open their eyes and look for immediate red flags, and in most of the cases, the red flags are large enough to be noticed,” he added.
Hopelessness, gender dysphoria, anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts have become common among those in the queer community this year. It is difficult for them talk to someone or to even find a support or a therapist who is queer-friendly or trans-friendly in a small town. If you know an LGBTQIA+ person in crisis, and are in a position to help – it’s as simple as lending an ear to listen to them.