How to Make College Spaces L​G​B​T​Q​+​ Inclusive

Imagine a world where nobody judges you for being yourself. 

There isn’t one. What there is, is scope for betterment; for learning empathy and giving the space to unlearn hatred. Having an identity, not conforming to the norms and being sidelined from the mainstream for holding that identity close to you leaves you covered in a shroud of lies. And now, anticipate how it must feel to exist without a sense of belonging.

A ​multidisciplinary journal​ stated that ​many LGBTQ+ teens feel like they have to hide who they are to avoid being rejected. ​According to the ​Youth Survey​ conducted by CSDS-KAS in 2016, 3 out of 5 youth in India considered same-sex relationships wrong.

It’s been two years since Section 377 of the ​IPC​ was revoked in India. Because of this verdict, members of the community have greater visibility and inclusion than before, but they still face immense scrutiny and undergo ​injustice​ regularly.

WHAT IS THE PRESENT SCENARIO IN INDIAN COLLEGES?

Few colleges across India have established peer support groups for LGBTQ+ youth. Some noteworthy examples include ​Queer Qrew at SSLA​, the ​Queer Collective at NUALS​, the Spectrum Community at NITK​, and the ​Queer Collective at AU​!

The diverse culture at Manipal allows one to meet individuals from various backgrounds. Manipal’s first pride support ally march was held in 2017. Since then, several student-run (Literarti.Manipal, Article 19, MAFIA, and HC at Manipal) organisations have focused on the importance of promoting inclusivity. However, there aren’t any dedicated support groups for the queers in Manipal at the moment. 

Ashoka has a queer collective, which is probably one of the biggest initiatives it has, to unite queer voices on campus. It aims to encourage students to feel at ease expressing themselves and their sexuality on campus. Further, at Ashoka, tolerance initiatives are introduced from the get-go during orientation-week in accordance to a large and vocal swath of students who identify either as queer or queer allies. Unlike many Indian universities, Ashoka has many openly queer faculty members who inspire by example. They pose as confidants, and discussions in class are often weighted towards inclusivity. 

 

WHAT CAN YOU, AS A COLLEGE STUDENT, DO TO CREATE A SAFE SPACE FOR LGBTQ+ YOUTH IN YOUR COLLEGE?

A safe space is important for someone to seek emotional security and respect from others. A place that is free of bias, conflict, criticism, or potentially threatening actions, ideas, or conversations. Existing student-run support groups for members of the community have set an example for us. They regularly hold events, curate content for their social media, and work towards creating a safe space for queer people.

A few ways in which you can help out:

Support Groups​ –​ ​Starting a queer peer group at your college will help in creating a safe space for those who may not feel comfortable openly expressing their identities. It could encourage them to interact with someone with a similar journey. ​Here​ is a step by step guide created by Youth Ki Awaaz​ on ‘How to Start a Queer Collective in Your College.’

Calling Out Bullies – Almost ​91% of LGBTQ+ adolescents have faced at least one experience of bias-based bullying. ​Cyberbullying of the LGBT youth in India​ is more prominent than ever. Bullies tend to resort to aggressive methods. It is essential to ensure the safety of yourself and the victim at all times. How can you help? ​Reach out​ to the victim. ​Speak up​ if you see someone get bullied. Report it.

Read! Unlearn and Relearn – ​A lot of people who do not identify as queer may excuse themselves from understanding the lived experiences of queer folk in India just because they have no first-hand knowledge. Read more and understand what queer folk go through to make their voices heard. Understand that you dwell in society, and often what your thoughts and ideas are have been shaped by society itself. Realise that you can have your ideals, different from what you have been raised to believe. If you have fear and hatred, question its origin, think about its validity and know that you can unlearn it.

Being queer in India is an arduous long-drawn battle that many fight. The spaces around us have been cishet-centric for a long time. But it is high time we start looking inwards - at ourselves and the choices we make to try our best to make our peers feel safe, secure and accepted. Take, for example, the student-run queer resource group at IIT Bombay called ​Saathi (Companion). Saathi started in 2011, and it was after eight years of continuous work that they managed to get themselves constitutionalised representation in the student affairs of the college. The precedent has been set; it can be done; all we have to do is be each other’s ​Saathi​.

This guide just mentions a few efforts from our side that can bring about impactful changes in the lives of the LGBTQ+ youth of India. Thinking of one’s struggles to understand the importance of being accepted as a member of society is a good starting point in understanding why compassion is essential. Allyship is more than a performative trend; it is a means of stepping back and amplifying the voices of those who've gone unheard for too long. Do your bit.