In the midst of all the bad news that shook the Indian queer community during Pride month this year, Varta Trust, a trust based in Kolkata that works on gender and sexuality issues launched a useful online locator for queer-friendly services in India. This portal was released in an effort to address the various complaints on discriminations and bias faced by community members while seeking services in India and bridge the online gap between queer folks and access to legal, sexual health, and mental health services in various sectors. The locator was launched in collaboration with Grindr For Equality and SAATHII on 28th June in Kolkata.
With petitions challenging Section 377 going under review and the Trans Rights Bill being expected to be brought up again in parliament, it is highly likely that the demand for queer-friendly services will increase. Thus, this initiative is a welcome move for the community. The locator provides information about inclusive services on a wide range of health and legal aid concerns including issues specific to youth, women, transgender people, people with disabilities, people living with HIV and other queer individuals in 30 towns and cities in 16 states of India with Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, and Assam having the maximum number of entries. According to the developers, the data in the locator in some ways reflect the ground work done by civil society groups in generating sensitivity towards queer community concerns of well being, and to a certain degree, government responsiveness too.
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Pawan Dhall, Founding Trustee of Varta Trust explained how marginalisation online and inaccessibility to services poses a perpetual problem for the community, “Presently, certain sections of the LGBTQIA+ communities approach drop-in-centres run by community based organisations while most others access services through word of mouth among peers. Even with lot of social interactions, communication, information dissemination and debates or discourses shifting to the digital world for everyone, slowly or increasingly across classes, there continues to be serious gaps in online services provision, especially for queer people.”
The launch event was organised at The American Center as part of the of the multimedia “Reach OUT” campaign where an online demonstration on how to use the locator was also held followed by a panel discussion consisting of eminent health professionals, legal experts and activists. “LGBT issues today has come to mean only HIV. Other concerns of the community members like mental health is not addressed and is often denied,” said panelist Sudeb Sadhu, a transgender rights activist.
Indeed, not much awareness exists when it comes to the mental health concerns of the community such as the high rate of suicide, and the queer community still faces a lot of stigma from the medical community. For instance, MSM (men who have sex with men) as well as other members of the queer community are still barred from donating blood in India.
Queer women have higher rates of breast cancer than heterosexual women but get less routine health care than other women while trans* people may have less access to health care because of the lack of providers who are sufficiently knowledgeable on their issues. One of the major reason for the lack of access to certain services is due to negative experiences with health care providers.
LGBTQIA+ people are subjected to innumerable discrimination especially in the healthcare sector and the rate is especially higher for marginalised groups within the community like trans people and queer women. Additionally, many queer people face emotional blackmailing and criminal intimidation even from law enforcement and this locator provides assistance in such cases. Hopefully, this locator will pave way for many more initiatives over the years that will help the community gain access to non-prejudiced professional services.
Online Locator For Queer-Friendly Services
Featured image source: NPR