LGBT Voices: Report of a panel discussion held during Chennai Pride 2011

Published: August 2, 2011

For long now, the lives of sexual minorities have been shadowed by sheer ignorance and bigoted attitudes of the society. As a result, LGBT issues have largely gone unaddressed and unnoticed so far. And the lack of forums and spaces to voice out their issues has only compounded the problem. But now, the scene is all set to change positively with the increase in number of voices and representations from the LGBT community. There are also forums being created in the city to address the issues of LGBT struggle.

One such forum was the panel meet organized by Chennai Rainbow Pride in the city, as part of its month long series of events in June that celebrate the diversities of sexuality and gender. LGBT Voices: A Panel Discussion saw members of LGBT community and a committee of experts from healthcare, law and law enforcement, engage in a free-wheeling discussion that examined community concerns and issues faced by lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgenders, kothis and aravanis. The event was held at the Inter-Church Service Organization (ICSA) Centre, Egmore,  one of those rare spaces in Chennai that is completely open to LGBT events.

Panelists from the LGBT community, through their stories, raised some crucial questions to the expert committee. The expert committee in turn put forth its opinions and offered valuable guidance to the gathering.

The LGBT community panel included Sid, Sankari, Kaavya, Jaya, Ajay Gabriel, Vikranth, Srijith Sundaram, Chitra and Angel Glady.

The expert committee had Dr. Suresh Kumar (psychiatrist), Dr. Poorna (anesthesiologist), Mr. Shiva Kumar (community organizer with Sangama), Mr. Sathyanarayanan (retired police official), Poongkuzhali Balasubramaniam (Advocate), Mr. Rohan (representing the corporate sector), Dr. Venkatesan Chakrapani (STI specialist and LGBT health expert) and Magdalene Jayarathnam (counselor with expertise in LGBT issues), responding to the questions that were raised by the LGBT panel.

Sid, Ajay Gabriel and Vikranth raised important issues of workplace discrimination that a gay or lesbian person faces.

Sid shared his thoughts on why it is difficult for a gay man to be open about his sexual orientation in a workplace  that does not have any policies against discrimination and harassment towards sexual minorities. He also reflected on the immense pressure that a man faces at the workplace to conform to gender stereotypes, ranging from conservative dressing to conversation, including discussing women and projecting the image of a highly ambitious and a macho male. He wondered if it would possible to create a more accepting and an inclusive atmosphere at the workplace, where a man was less bound by gendered stereotypes, and did not have to speak about girlfriends. Is it possible for an openly gay man to grow in his career without fearing discrimination?

Vikranth, Director of Chennai Dost, highlighted the importance of sensitization of Human Resource departments of businesses to the challenges faced by people with non-normative sexual orientations. He also spoke of the difficulties of living as an openly gay man in the city, even if one is financially stable, primarily due to the lack of support from biological family.

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