Analysis by Tania Gupta, Ashwin Sridhar, Venkat Natarajan, Shrikar Banagiri, Manu Aatitya, Akaash Preetham, Srivaths Parasuraman, Saif Khan
Designed by Harish Raj, Sivaprakash, Harshini Ramanujam
“Denial of self-expression is like death. Social morality cannot violate the rights of even one single individual. Sexual orientation is natural and people have no control on it”
Justice Dipak Misra
On September 6th, the Supreme Court of India delivered a landmark judgement that overturned parts of Section 377, an archaic law that for decades was used to justify the criminalisation of the LGBTQ+ community. By stating that the court could no longer ignore the rights of a section of the population just because they were in the minority, they set the foundation for acceptance of LGBTQ+ individuals in the society.
But how accepting is our society? How accepting are we, the students of a premier educational institution, of LGBTQ+ individuals? These were the questions we set out to answer through our survey. While there is a long way to go in terms of making LGBTQ+ people feel welcome in this campus, we hoped this survey would start a dialogue that would force people to re-examine their beliefs.
On their reaction to the ruling and awareness about the LGBTQ movement
The recent Supreme Court order on the Section 377, was considered by the civil society as a step forward towards a more inclusive society. In our campus, the verdict appeared to have elicited an overwhelmingly positive response. Among the 484 participants who filled the survey, 82% of the participants described their reaction to the recent ruling results as positive, while 9.1% rated their reaction as extremely negative or negative. The rest stayed neutral.
It was interesting to note that, 4.9% of the respondents who believed that the movement stood for equal rights and freedom from harassment, also believed it diverted attention from the more pressing issues in India. Most people who acknowledge the fact that the LGBTQ+ movement is about equal rights, also ranked it far lower when it came to the issues that deserved their attention. This could be due to the popular notion that the problems of such a few could not matter to the majority (this was the rationale behind the SC order in 2012, which stayed the ban on homosexuality) or the lack of awareness about the problems faced by the community.
While no official census has been conducted of LGBTQ+ individuals, the Supreme Court of India accepted the estimate that up to 8% of India’s population – 104 million people – might be LGBT, one of the largest such populations in the world.
Attitude and reasons towards homophobia
The survey was designed to gauge the standpoint of the student populace on general and specific matters concerning the LGBTQ+ community.
The fact that 56% of survey takers had a favourable impression about the LGBTQ+ community bodes well for LGBTQ+ individuals on campus. For those that had their reservations, they were asked their reasons for the same. The replies covered the typical range of qualms, stating that such tendencies were either against their religious beliefs, Indian culture, or laws of nature. Some people said they were conditioned to feel uncomfortable with the idea of orientations other than straight, while a few others were of the belief that such inclinations are characteristic of a transient phase in life.
While the intention behind this effort is not to delve into the history or biology of LGBTQ+ propensities, it is worth mentioning that there exist religious and cultural texts that make mentions of this community. Whether these are qualified by some sort of judgement (which vary) is not the point, but the bigger point is that such practices were prevalent and documented and not out of the ordinary. Also, there is no scientific basis to the claim that such individuals are biological anomalies.
Opinions on Homosexuality
Since homosexuals make up the majority of the LGBTQ+ community, survey takers were asked to identify what they think of homosexuality.
Interestingly, 3.5% of the respondents classified homosexuality as a curable condition. These claims are no longer valid as both the American Psychiatric Association and the Indian Psychiatric society have categorized homosexuality as a “stable” mental condition. Moreover, the Indian Psychiatric Society has formed a task force to address the LGBTQ+ issues. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has also removed it from the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Health Problems (ICD).
3.7% of the respondents thought that homosexuality is a ‘phase’. Research has shown that ‘sexual orientation is likely caused partly by biological factors that start before birth’, which means it is an innate quality. While it varies from person to person, terming homosexuality a ‘phase’ shows the lack of willingness to accept homosexuality as a legitimate orientation. In a country such as ours, where LGBTQ+ individuals face harassment almost on a daily basis, coming out of the closet takes considerable courage. Terming it as a ‘phase’ not only undermines them, it can also send a message to the young person that to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual is an undesirable and inferior sexual orientation.
On marriage and parenthood
As an immediate consequence of the abrogation of Section 377, a question arises as to whether LGBTQ+ individuals should possess the right to marry whoever they want, as long as they are a consenting adult. The survey’s results indicated a huge 72.3% in strong favour of the notion. However, nearly 7% were in outright disagreement. The negative response may be rooted in the religious stigma associated with marriages or the absence of conventional gender roles in same sex marriage.
When asked whether LGBTQ+ individuals will fare well as parents, around 16% expressed their disapproval, with 10% worried about children not getting exposed to conventional gender roles. The rest were afraid of parents “passing on” their biases to their children, which itself borders on an aversion towards the idea of being LGBTQ+.
While parenthood is what constitutes a child’s upbringing at home, societal acceptance is what shapes it outside. A clear majority of 89.9% believe that children of LGBTQ+ parents will be subject to bullying. It is possible that some disapprove of LGBTQ+ parenthood because of a genuine concern for the ordeals that the child has to go through. However, this can be addressed by a mere shift of perspective. Bullying may be a consequence of LGBTQ+ parenthood, but the real problem of societal acceptance is not tackled by avoiding said parenthood.
On bullying, support and pejorative terms
What constitutes bullying? Humiliation, isolation, offensive gestures, verbal jokes and even the usage of words associated with the LGBTQ+ community in a pejorative connotation can be termed as bullying. The survey results show that 17.8% often use such words without putting much thought into it and 37.2% claim to use them rarely.
51.4% agree that this practice adds to the stigma around the LGBTQ+ community, alienating them further. Usage of swear words and insinuations date back to times when the scenario was distinctly homophobic. As a consequence, people, especially children, start using such words and phrases in a negative sense without even knowing its true meaning.
Most schools in India impart little to no education about LGBTQ+ issues. Hence, it is not uncommon for LGBTQ+ students to get bullied for displaying behavior that is different from the accepted gender norms. This bullying often has a lasting impact on the self-confidence and on the psyche of students, even throughout adult life.
Section 377 was repealed to recognise the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals. It is only justified that this be supplemented by sensitizing our schools, to enable LGBTQ+ students to learn in a safe and inclusive environment.
When asked about the support available in campus for the LGBTQ+ , 46.1% responded that there’s little to no support. 36.4% opined that there’s moderate support available.
Accepting LGBTQ+ peers
People’s perception of the idea that gender and sexuality need not be binary is generally arrived at from a third party point-of-view, without much education. This perception is put to the test when somebody close to them comes out. When asked how people would react if a friend comes out, a healthy 77.9% of survey takers shared the perspective that their friend’s orientation does not matter to them and would continue being their friend. 9.1% of survey takers said they would take some time to fully educate themselves about what it means to not be straight and then come to a conclusion. In a time when we are quick to form opinions on half-truths and whole lies, the fact that there are people who would like to know what the truth is, before drawing any conclusions, is encouraging. A further 3.9% of survey takers would feel uncomfortable and avoid their friend if they came out. Generally, strong opinions of this sort are malleable when subject to the right stimuli. Disapproval in the mind could change to acceptance in real life.
Given the response to the above question, it is then unsurprising to note that nearly three-fourth of the survey population are not against being roommates with someone who identifies as LGBTQ+. A discrepancy of around 8% between the answers to the two questions could be ascribed to the mentality of “acceptance from afar” – being open to LGBTQ+ individuals as long as they are not too close for comfort.
The answer to the next question may perhaps raise a few eyebrows, causing a reader to doubt the authenticity/validity of the answers to the previous questions.
On interaction with the LGBTQ+ community
38.6% of the survey takers confirmed that they had spoken to a member of the LGBTQ community. These could be interactions with friends inside or outside the campus or even family members or relatives. Of these, a majority – 69.7% reported that this interaction had a positive effect on them, while 6.9% reported a negative experience.
We arrive in this campus with a certain set of preconceived notions about certain communities, which tend to get challenged when we personally interact with them. This is the major advantage of studying in a multicultural environment such as NIT Trichy where regional and cultural stereotypes are easily broken, and a healthy respect for different linguistic/religious communities is gained as we start acquiring a diverse peer circle. On the other hand, ingrained biases towards LGBTQ+ community have no scope for being challenged, as most of the respondents have never interacted with someone who identified themselves as LGBTQ+. This might be attained by making the campus LGBTQ+ friendly, which would make it less challenging and traumatic for individuals to come out of the closet.
On the question of LGBTQ+ guest speakers, 47.1% of the respondents suggested they were willing to attend such a talk, whereas 36% were ambivalent about it. This is especially heartening, as it shows that most people are willing to take the time out to educate themselves about LGBTQ+ issues even when it did not necessarily affect them personally. Such initiatives can definitely go a long way in challenging deep rooted biases.
On the need for support groups
65.7% of the surveyees are in favour of a support group within the campus, while 25% have indicated a neutral stance towards the same. Campuses like the IITs and a few IIMs have LGBTQ+ support groups which strive to provide a safe space for their members to tackle difficult issues like accepting their own identity, guidance and mentorship. Membership in these groups is not just restricted to LGBTQ+ individuals, but they also include straight individuals called allies. With most survey takers in campus agreeing to the need for such a support group, it shows that students are comfortable with the idea of an LGBTQ+ friendly campus. Some could even be willing to call themselves allies.
This was apparent in the feedback received, where 4 respondents expressed their enthusiasm at the idea of a support group. One person advocated caution when going about it.
“While it is a good idea to have a support group for the community, with the amount of social stigma associated with it and the bullying that’s bound to happen, it might do more harm than good for the individuals.
But, awareness and destigmatization campaigns can be carried out to slowly evolve into a more inclusive community.”
Films and representation of the LGBTQ+ community
It is only in recent years that the LGBTQ+ community has found sizable representation in the film industry and in the media in general. Hence, it is not too surprising that 38.5% of the people surveyed have said that films and media have not influenced their opinion on the LGBTQ+ community in some way. Given that 61.5% of people who filled out the survey have said that they have never spoken to anyone who has confirmed that they identify as LGBTQ+ community, this points to the fact that the media is, perhaps, slacking off in its role of providing awareness on such topics.
42.7% of the surveyed people said that films and the media helped them see the LGBTQ+ community in a positive light. The reasons for this could be any or all of the following. It could be that more stories are being told which don’t reduce LGBTQ+ characters to their stereotypes. Steadily, stories with LGBTQ+ characters who are fleshed out and are important to the story have increased in popularity. Their sexual orientation is not the sole reason for them to exist in the story.
It could also be that most of the media that we are exposed to today showcases a liberal perspective in this aspect. The presence of the internet, which removes any restrictions as to the type and amount of content that one is exposed to, has perhaps helped in increasing awareness. Familiarity is said to breed acceptance, and we are becoming more and more familiar with the LGBTQ+ community through the media than ever before. Regardless, this seems to be the viewpoint that most of the surveyees subscribe to.
18.5% of people surveyed mentioned that the media has made them feel uncomfortable of the LGBTQ+ community. This is not a small percentage. This could be because of the feeling that there is now much more content relating to LGBTQ+ people nowadays than a few years back. It could also be due to the fact that although LGBTQ+ representation in films is increasing, they aren’t portrayed realistically. Rather, they’re confined to roles which exaggerate their so-called ‘queerness’ in order to appeal to an increasingly liberal audience.
Addressing the feedback
Given that this survey received feedback from around 100 respondents, we thought it would be remiss of us to not address some of them. In this section we have addressed some of the most pertinent and recurring opinions.
“The survey does not ask the individual if they identify as LGBTQ. It assumes that everyone filling this form is straight”
The question of asking people about their orientation did crop up. After much deliberation, we decided not to include it on the grounds that it would be too intrusive, too soon. The survey was created to start a conversation about LGBTQ+ rights in the campus. The number of LGBTQ+ members, was immaterial to the goal of the survey – to spread awareness about LGBTQ+ issues. It was agreed that we would not force them to come out to us, but rather they would do it in their own time, once they perceived that the general climate in this campus was conducive for them to do so. Furthermore, we believe that an individual’s opinion on the issue is not necessarily dictated by their orientation.
“This survey is biased”
While some of the respondents praised the survey for its range of thought-provoking questions, some respondents also reported that the survey did not cover the whole range of opinions about the issue. We acknowledge our own limitations to come up with the whole range of options for particular questions and thank the respondents for their opinion, which will help us design better and more probing surveys in the future.
“… I say this because I had seen a group of transgenders in CBS and had this repulsive feeling which I hate myself for…”
“They should stop bullying for money, during train and bus travel. They should know that there is nothing to celebrate about their sexual disorder.”
“… one of the issues faced by many people is begging gays in train …they give a negative impression …”
Some survey takers incriminated the LGBTQ+ community because of unpleasant experiences in the past with destitute transgenders. There are two issues to be addressed here. Firstly, people’s judgement of the entire community pivots because of a segment within the community. Secondly, one has to understand that transgenders do not aspire to beg in trains. It is a product of decades of societal marginalization. They’re left with no choice but to beg when no organization or company is willing to hire them. Even when transgenders get employed somewhere, workplace harassment ensures that they call it quits. The disrepute of transgenders bore ugly repercussions. An exclusionary hierarchy was born, a hierarchy in which gays and lesbians grew transphobic and biphobic tendencies and disregarded them as ‘confused’ and ‘foul’. To get to the bottom of the issue, it is of the essence to educate oneself about transgenders and how they’re different from gays and lesbians.
“The battle to decriminalize homosexuality is over. It’s time our country moves onto more pressing problems. We are not a developed nation to be focusing on such matters now.”
The battle to decriminalize homosexuality, unfortunately, has only begun. The recent Supreme Court order struck down parts of a colonial law, that criminalised sex between two consenting homosexual adults. There has been no legislation on the legalisation of marriage or adoption by the LGBTQ+ individuals. Think about it – a section of individuals in this country lives without the provision to marry or adopt legally, provisions that are needed by any individual to live a healthy, happy life! And let’s not forget, that the narrative is focused so far on the urban, educated member of the LGBTQ+ individuals who can afford to raise their voice against the injustice meted out to them. What horrors are perpetuated in the rural parts of the country – still torn by caste based violence, is anybody’s guess. Fortunately, the impetus provided by the recent ruling has propelled India into the one of the few countries in the world that recognises the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, which puts us in the unique position to fight for these laws.
Society doesn’t change overnight. Deep rooted biases don’t disappear because of a law.
Change requires concentrated effort and dialogue to happen. India will progress as we act, not the other way around. And so, the right time to act is now.
This survey was inspired by an initiative by Insight, IIT Bombay. Read our interview with the current Chief Editor of Insight, Aparajeya Dash to know more.
Read an alumni experience here.
Read an account of a current NITT student here.