It is no secret that the LGBTQIA+ community faces discrimination not only in society but also when it comes to accessing basic healthcare and legal aid. But thanks to an initiative by Grindr for Equality in Los Angeles, Varta Trust in Kolkata and SAATHII in Chennai, the community can now access queer-friendly medical and legal services in different Indian cities at the click of a button.
The database was formally launched on June 28, and is an effort to address the number of queries and complaints of rights violations that the Varta webzine has been receiving since it came into being in 2013. The locator allows you to find mental health professionals, sexual health specialists as well as human rights lawyers, filtered by location and nature of services required.
The database so far contains information from 30 Indian cities and 16 states, which the makers say will increase as fresh data is collected.
âItâs 10 times easier today to find online sexual and romantic partners with a whole variety of preferences and expectations. But where to go if one gets into trouble â health wise or if a relationship doesn't work out, or if one gets blackmailed? Commensurate availability of points of help and services is not there. So, this locator is also an effort to fill up that gap, for as many queer people as possible all over India,â Pawan Dhall, Founding Trustee of Varta Trust, observed during the launch.
Highlighting the bias against the queer community, Sudeb Sadhu, transgender rights activist, said, âLGBT issues today have come to mean only HIV. Other concerns of the community members like mental health are not addressed and are often denied.â
Pawan added that while some sections of the LGBTQIA+ communities do approach centres run by community based organisations, most other queer friendly service providers are popularised by word of mouth. However, gaps continue to remain when it comes to online services provision for queer people.
Compiling the database
Pawan Dhall, Founding Trustee of Varta Trust, tells TNM that they started the process of putting together the database in August last year. Through their work on gender and sexuality advocacy, they had some service providers already in their pool of contacts; the same went for SAATHII which has offices in 14 cities.
They also took help from community-based organisations. âAnd then there was the snowballing method. One service provider would know three others and so on,â Pawan says.
Once the identification was done, service providers were required to answer a questionnaire â either over the phone or face to face. On a basic level, the questionnaire asked them about contact information, qualifications, the services they provided, affiliation to hospitals if any and so on. Then, their confidentiality practices, disability-friendliness of their premises, attitudinal issues were also assessed.
âWe also broke down the subheads of sexual health, mental health and legal services into almost a dozen sub-heads so that we could categorise the professionalsâ services further,â Pawan shares. For instance, âlegal servicesâ were further broken down into adoption, property rights, police harassment, workplace harassment and so on.
While it was challenging in terms of getting people to respond in a timely manner, Pawan says that things seem to be looking better now that they have launched the locator and people are hearing about it.
The service providers listed in this locator are inclusive, and also aim to provide aid on a number of issues specific to youth, women, transgender people, people with disabilities, people living with HIV and other queer individuals.
Interestingly, the team found that the most number of entries were from Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal. The last even has the best geographical spread with service providers being in smaller urban centres as well. For TN and West Bengal, this was reflective of the on ground hard work of civil society groups in promoting sensitivity towards the LGBTQIA+ community. It was also a sign of governmental acknowledgement and response to the same.
The service will be popularised by Grindr, which is a socialising app for gay, bi, trans, and queer people. âEach state in India will have an ad which will broadcast information related to service providers in that state,â said Jack Harrison-Quintana, Director, Grindr For Equality.
You can access the locator here.