Features Saturday, June 13, 2015 - 05:30
Image source: Orinam.net/Facebook At a time when there is discussion on issues faced by the LGBT community, specifically that of “corrective rapes”, what has also come to fore are the hassles faced by groups working for the community. Not only can the centres be targeted for spreading unnatural thoughts, some may also be viewed as a quick stop to have some “pervert fun”. In 2009, during the first Pride March in the city, Chennai-based East West Centre for Counselling distributed brochures which included contact details, about its counseling services for the LGBT community. Magdalene Jeyarathnam, a counselor who works with the organization, feels that it did not take them long to realise what a “big mistake” it had been on their part to publicly distribute their phone numbers and address. Such was the mistake that they have been trying to rectify it for the last few years.  “Around that point, lesbian women were not very forthcoming with their issues as they are today. We wanted to reach out to them, but we hardly received any calls from women,” Magdalene says. But there were those who made up for the absence of calls and queries from lesbian women. Men would incessantly call them up asking the weirdest of questions. “Can I come and visit the centre?” asked one. When he was asked why he wanted to do so, he replied saying he wanted to see how lesbian women looked like and that he’d like to meet them. Another said, “I want to speak to her and ask her why she has such thoughts. I want to ask her what will change her.” Some wanted to speak to lesbian women because they thought that the women “chose” to be lesbians since they had not met the right men. They suggested that they could meet the women and make them change their thoughts. Some even reached the office. Counselors too have found themselves being subjected to lewd messages by callers. Narrating a recent incident of a caller who claimed he was from Delhi, Magdalene said how he messaged her first saying he had some sexual problems. Magdalene told him that she did not counsel over the phone and even directed him to some Delhi based counseling groups. However, the person insisted that the two become friends and started harassing her by calling her several times at night. Magdalene could not do much at that point other than ignoring him. “Some people feel they can just call and make sexual talk (in the guise of asking for counselling),” she says, adding that even in the most progressive of places, they had to maintain enough precautions. When Indian Community Welfare (ICW), a Chennai-based organisation that also works with the LGBT community, set up a helpline for lesbian women around four years ago “70% of the callers were men.” “Some were plain curious and wanted to know what was it that the organisation was exactly doing. Some wanted answers to questions like ‘how will I know if my wife is lesbian’”, says AJ Hariharan, Founder Secretary of ICW. And then there was the third kind, the kind that was upset at the organisation for setting up such a helpline. “Why did you start it”, “This goes against the society”, “You will encourage other women to harbour such thoughts”, and “God will punish you”, were some of the feedback they received. However, not all such organisations have faced backlash, although many have recorded a few unpleasant incidents. “We initially got a few calls from gay men wanting to get into ‘marriages of convenience’ with lesbian women. But we did not get calls from straight men wanting to meet lesbian women in order to ‘cure’,” says Shruta who is part of Umang, a Mumbai-based LGBT support group which runs a similar helpline. One reason for this, Shruta feels, could be that Umang has been extremely careful about passing on their numbers. “We only give our numbers to select groups,” she says. They however did get occasional calls from people who had fantasies about lesbian women having sex, and so Umang wanted to avoid such persons who were just looking for a space to have some “pervert fun”. The stigma surrounding the LGBT community is a strong one, one that cannot be shed easily. But the situation, activists say, is improving. Though a majority still feels that marriage can put an end to gender non-conformity, today the LGBT community is much more, if not totally, comfortable about putting across their thoughts. “We now get calls from lesbian women from not just the country, but also from several other parts of the world, including Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle east. These women not only discuss their problems, they also seek a solution to them,” says Hariharan. Read: 'Corrective rapes' for LGBT are for real, but they aren't a new trend
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