The Humsafar Trust, India
“For us, Pride symbolises existence of queer lives! Where we come together, celebrate and fight for our rights collectively! With the same spirit we will organise Pride online as nothing can demotivate us and take away the strength of our community.“Tinesh Chopade, Advocacy Manager of The Humsafar Trust, India
The Humsafar Trust (HST) is India’s first community-based organisation (CBO) working on the health & human rights of LGBTQ since 1994. Every year, through targeted HIV interventions and outreach work on physical sites, social media and online programs, we are currently reaching out to 7500 Gay identified, Men Having Sex with Men (MSM) and TG/Hijra communities in Mumbai. We build capacities of other CBOs in 27 Indian states on HIV prevention, treatment, care & support. Currently we are working in the field of health, advocacy, research, and capacity building of LGBTQ communities across India. HST was actively involved in an 18 year battle to read down Indian Penal Code Section 377—which criminalises same sex activities until Sep 2018—and decriminalises homosexuality in India. We were one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court of India. For us, pride symbolises existence of queer lives! Where we come together, celebrate and fight for our rights collectively.
What activities/ program regarding pride were you as a Pride organiser providing before the COVID-19 outbreak?
The Humsafar Trust has been an active and contributing partner of Queer Azaadi Mumbai (QAM), the collective that organizes Mumbai Pride and events that have been part of the Mumbai Pride Calendar for the last 8 years. Our initiatives Yaariyan & Umang organize pride month events and celebrate the Mumbai Pride Month. Every year we organise around 5-6 different pride events which includes Flash mobs, Queer Games, Pink Fete. Workshops etc. which are managed by our volunteers and HST team members. These events help us to promote social acceptance of LGBTQ and increase visibility and initiate discussion around LGBTQ issues among mainstream society and allies
How has COVID-19 affected the work that your organization is doing around Pride?
Many of our significant events have been cancelled due to pandemic and lockdown restrictions. However, with the help of technology and different virtual platforms we learnt about innovative approaches to conduct events. Although the pandemic has brought drastic change to our lives with the social distancing norms, we cannot meet the communities in physical spaces—which I feel is a major drawback. This pandemic has forced us to maintain distance from our family of choice.
The community support spaces are now operating with limited capacities; and access to these spaces is difficult due to limited public transport facilities. These challenges are putting community members at a higher risk of HIV/STI due to limited access to public health facilities.
What have you been able to do for Pride despite the coronavirus?
Even though COVID-19 has forced us to cancel some of the LGBTQ+ events, it has never stopped us from hosting them and from remaining visible in the society through the use of technology. For example, we used various platforms to celebrate the International Transgender visibility Day on 31st March. We executed a week-long IDAHOTBI campaign through innovative posters and a video; and we were surprised that the same video had over one million views. Humsafar also hosted an International Virtual Pride Month throughout June 2020 which was well received by the community members and our stakeholders.
We will continue to organise the Pride and not go back. Even though there are some challenges with these difficult times, we can make use of online spaces and host the pride virtually, for example organise events, talks, workshops and celebrate our rainbow existence in our own way.
What are the reactions from your community (groups) hearing that there would be no physical Pride? Does it motivate people even more to think/organize events differently?
Currently, everybody is aware of the risks involved if we organise the Pride and events in physical spaces. It is indeed disheartened that we will not be able to meet others and celebrate our existence and pride. However, with the same spirit we will organise the Pride online as nothing can demotivate us and take away the strength of our community.
What were your hopes for the WorldPride 2021 Copenhagen?
WorldPride gives you the opportunity to meet and interact with global leaders and thousands of people. It is one of the best networking opportunities with LGBTQ organisations from across the globe. It is a great platform to learn the best practices and methods which are currently being used in different regions to advocate for LGBTQ rights. I look forward to the WorldPride 2021 in Copenhagen and show our solidarity.
What are the worries for your community about the ‘new normal’ without, e.g. Pride?
In India, a large section of the LGBTQ+ communities is suffering from hunger, starvation and deprivation—particularly Trans communities who have limited source of income, cf. having to beg and perform sex work. Due to a lack of strong social support, community members are more vulnerable to experience poor mental health issues. So, it is important to reach out to them and provide support. With this new “normal”, community members need to adopt and make themselves aware of avoiding risks of getting infected, by using masks, sanitizers etc.
At the same time LGBTQ+ individuals from lower socio-economic strata of society—particularly transgender individuals sharing the same space—living with poor access to basic amenities, for example the lack of well-ventilated housing, potable water and proper sanitation facilities, cannot afford social distancing and are at a greater risk of transmitting the virus.
How has COVID-19 outbreak changed the way your organisation will be working in the future?
We are yet to explore the virtual world completely and I feel, with the new normal virtual platforms and internet are the two key areas which can be used to our advantage. Different online platforms and spaces can be utilised for maximum visibility and to advocate for health and human rights of the community.
Are there any lessons to be learnt from the effects of COVID-19?
HST has been working on implementing projects which are focused on health and human rights. However, with the current pandemic situation, we provided relief work to communities on ground. We had never done relief and disaster work before, but our teams have shown a rare commitment and spirit.
Along the way, we garnered support from individuals who contacted us through social media. We also found support from LGBTQ+ volunteers in different cities like Bangalore, Pune, Lucknow, Chennai, Madurai and the Thane District. We did face challenges while providing relief to communities on ground, but we also learnt lessons which helped us improve our strategies and reach out to the maximum number of people through relief work.
Please join Humsafar’s Pride 2021 activities!
Visit https://humsafar.org/ for more information.