Sunil Gangavane, India
My name is Sunil Gangavane, and I am based in India. I work as a Program Officer for Shadhika, a feminist and trust-based funding organization that is dedicated to supporting grassroots NGOs in India. My organization’s mission is to help Dalit and minority girls, as well as queer students, gain access to education.
In November 2022, I had the opportunity to attend an ILGA Asia conference held in Vietnam. This conference brought together experts, activist, and representatives from government and non-government organisations from various countries in the Asia Pacific region to discuss the current state of queer movements in Asia and to identify strategies for advancing equality and inclusion. The conference was a special and unique experience for me, it happened after a 3-year gap and the first one after the pandemic, and the opportunity to meet activists in person and connect with them face-to-face was truly special. Initially, I was nervous about being a first-timer at the ILGA Asia Conference, but I soon felt like I was among the family and felt welcomed by everyone.
One of the key themes at the conference was addressing the spiritual needs of the LGBTIQ community. The panellists discussed how crucial it is for members of the LGBTIQ community to engage with religious institutions and claim those spaces for our groups. Religious institutions, particularly conservative ones, have historically been some of the strongest opponents of LGBTIQ rights. However, as members of the community, it is essential that we strive to change this narrative and create a more inclusive environment within these institutions. One of the panellists shared her personal journey as a transwoman in a conservative Christian community. She spoke about the difficulties she faced in finding acceptance and support within her church. Her story emphasised the importance of fighting to claim space within religious institutions, and how doing so can lead to personal growth and healing for members.
Another important theme that emerged was the need for greater legal protections for LGBTIQ people in the region. Growing up in India, where same-sex relationships were criminalised until recently, I’ve seen first-hand the harm that these laws can cause. Many countries in Asia still have laws that criminalise same-sex relationships, and there is a lack of legal recognition for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. Conference attendees discussed the importance of working towards the repeal of these laws and the implementation of laws and policies that protect the rights of LGBTIQ people.
“Attending the conference was like a ray of hope shining on my journey in India, it reminded me that I am not alone in the fight for equal rights and inclusion”
The conference also featured a panel session that addressed specific issues faced by LGBTIQ people in the region. One panel discussed the experiences of LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers in the region, highlighting the need for greater support and protection for this vulnerable population. The current situation in Afghanistan was discussed at length. This panel was particularly moving for me, as I have friends who have faced similar struggles. However, sometimes the invisible conflicts which are happening daily are most harmful because they directly hit on mental health and leave deep scars.
The lack of visibility and representation of LGBTIQ individuals in the media and in public life was also discussed. Many speakers highlighted the importance of media representation in shaping public attitudes towards LGBTIQ people, and the need for more positive and accurate portrayals of LGBTIQ lives in the media. I have often felt the community systematically made invisible and underrepresented in the Indian cinema as well as other media coverages. And the small representation which we have is very stereotypical and problematic, so this issue hit close to home for me.
The conference also provided an opportunity for attendees to network and share their experiences and strategies for advancing LGBTIQ rights. One of the most inspiring moments of the conference for me was a workshop where I got a chance to interact with LGBTIQ activists from various countries in the region, who shared their personal stories and the challenges they have faced in their work. They also shared their strategies for overcoming these challenges, such as building alliances with other marginalised communities and using social media to amplify their voices and reach a wider audience. It was powerful to hear from people who have faced similar struggles as me, and it gave me hope for the future.
Overall, the conference was a valuable opportunity for me to learn about the current state of LGBTIQ rights in Asia and to connect with others working towards equality and inclusion in the region. It was clear from the conference that there is still much work to be done to advance LGBTIQ rights in Asia, but the activists, experts, and representatives in attendance were determined to continue fighting for equality and inclusion for all. The conference was also a personal inspiration for me.
“The conference was a valuable experience for me, it connected me with other activists and provided new ideas and strategies to push for LGBTIQ rights in India.”