Although section 377 has decriminalised homosexuality, queer negativity is still very much around. As a result, people from the LGBTQIA+ community are still constantly forced to defend their gender identity and sexual orientation. They also face discrimination in healthcare access, employment and education opportunities and housing availability. Understandably, this state of affairs can lead to substantial mental pressure for community members. “Mental health of queer individuals is at risk due to limited facilities that can provide care, comfort and support. These systemic issues arise from insufficient government funding and investment for the queer community,” says counselling psychologist Manavi Khurana, the founder of the Karma Centre for Counselling and Well-being, New Delhi.
There is a general lack of sensitivity in society, stemming from being either misinformed about the queer community or uninformed, Khurana says. “A pathologised version of the queer community and their lives is often given to individuals. This keeps many people from coming out or even talking about their gender and sexuality openly,” she says. It becomes a pattern leading to further stigma and discrimination. “Stigma and discrimination often arise when there is a lack of consideration, understanding and empathy for the unique lived experiences of queer people,” says Khurana.
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Dr Roma Kumar, co-founder and chief psychologist of Emotionally, an emotional healthcare firm headquartered in New Delhi,points out that LGBTQIA+ individuals face unique life stressors such as familial violence, discrimination and violence in public places and institutions, as well as struggles with self-acceptance.
Her views are shared by Anshuma Kshetrapal, founder of the Indian Association of Dance Movement Therapy. Feeling unsafe in one’s own body and among family can give rise to a heightened psychosomatic response, especially if one has a genetic predisposition for depression.
Families conflicted about a child’s LGBTQIA+ identity often believe that the best way to deal with it is to help them fit in with their heterosexual peers. “But this makes the young adolescents feel like their parents want to change who they are, or that their parents don’t love them. Lack of communication and misunderstanding between parents and their LGBTQIA+ children increase family conflict,” says Kumar, adding that invalidation, humiliation or, in extreme cases, abusive conversion therapy harms people of the queer community.
So, what can one do instead to support their friends and family? Three queer-affirmative therapists offer their opinion.
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Manavi Khurana’s suggestions
1. Adopt inclusivity
Adopting inclusivity provides queer people with a space to feel safe and secure. Inclusivity revolves around distancing ourselves from stereotyping queer people and their realities, unlearning patriarchal and regressive views, being active listeners and offering a readily available support system.
2. Advocate for queer rights
Actively advocate for queer rights and lives by being active and consistent allies
3. Be queer-affirmative
Take a stance and constantly educating yourself. Be conscious of how language plays a role in supporting queer individuals, allowing for unlearning and relearning specific queer-supportive words.
4. Understand that sexuality and gender are a journey
Gender and sexuality are not specific destinations that individuals need to reach. Acknowledging this allows queer people to know that their experiences are being validated, not questioned.
5. Attend community events
Attend events in the queer community. Provide support by outwardly advocating and showing them that they are not alone in their journey.
Roma Kumar’s suggestions
6. Be aware
Create more awareness. We need to radically alter medical and mental health syllabi to help practitioners recognise inequalities in the health system .
7. Queer-affirmative therapy
The LGBTQIA+ community members need mental health therapists who are inclusive in every sense. Queer affirmative therapy helps them deal with stressors by emphasising a positive view of the LGBTQIA+ community, embracing their unique personality/identity and interpersonal relationships. It also discusses the effect of transphobia, heteronormativity and homophobia on the community.
Also read: The hard truth about creating an inclusive workplace
8. Be genuine
Be genuine and curious about someone’s life without being intrusive.
9. Get access to helplines
Helplines can play an important role in supporting LGBTQIA+ communities, whether they use expert-led or lay-counsellor-based models. The anonymity of these services helps create a safe space to talk about prejudice and ostracism.
10 . Create a culture of tolerance
Engage only with media that reports on LGBTQIA+ issues with sensitivity and promotes a culture of tolerance and freedom for minorities.
Anshuma Kshetrapal’s suggestions
11. Don’t set rules, deadlines
There should be no pressure from anybody to live up to preconceived ideas of what it means to be queer. They need to be free to express themselves however they want and form an identity they are comfortable with. Don’t ask intrusive questions like “Why don’t you come out?”; let people have their own journeys. There’s unnecessary pressure on coming out. We should take that conversation off the table.
12. Ask the right questions
Be open to conversations and ask open-ended questions. Do not ask questions that humiliate people. Rather ask them questions about their experience. Ask them how they would like to be supported.
13. Educate yourself
Ask your queer friend/family if it’s getting irritating for them to answer all your questions. You can find answers from Google for most questions unless they are personal. You also have the option of approaching experts online if you really feel the need to educate yourself.
14. Create a safe space
Creating a safe space where someone feels comfortable talking about themselves should be a priority. Do not assume someone’s sexual preferences/identity just because of the way they dress or behave. Talk to people using gender-neutral terms. Ask questions using the term partner instead of the stereotypical boyfriend/girlfriend.
15. Use gender-neutral terms
There’s no need to wave flags or go to the Pride March. What you can do is stop assuming genders/identities, and instead use gender-neutral terms. Using a gender-neutral term gives people the option to engage in the conversation on their terms.
Divya Naik is a Mumbai-based psychotherapist