Bengaluru NGO sets up shelter to provide support to transmasculine, intersex persons

The shelter aims to accommodate eight to 10 residents for up to three months, offering legal aid, queer-affirmative healthcare, and employment support.
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In a first for Karnataka, Bengaluru-based non profit organisation 'Raahi: A Journey Towards Dignity' has inaugurated a shelter specifically for queer and transmasculine individuals who were assigned female at birth (AFAB) and people with intersex variations. Launched on June 29, the short-term shelter was established with the aim of housing eight to 10 residents for up to three months, providing them with access to legal aid, queer-affirmative healthcare, and employment support. 

Speaking to TNM, Raahi’s executive director Suchitra KK said that they opened the shelter because the organisation handles numerous cases of AFAB community members migrating to Bengaluru in search of support. The transmasculine community does not receive as much recognition or aid as their transgender sisters, she said, adding that 90% of the cases Raahi handles are runaway cases. “The AFAB community does not have a culture of support like the AMAB (assigned male at birth) community does, that is why we set it up. They see Bengaluru as a safe space where they can find support,” she said.

Raahi was founded in 2018 by nine people — Suchitra, Sathyakala, Sonu Niranjan, advocate Deepta Rao, Sunil Mohan, Rumi Harish, Sreekanth Kanan, Sravanthi Dasari, and Radhika Raj — with the purpose of working towards the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community in Karnataka, especially for the needs of transgender men and their partners, queer, lesbian and bisexual women, gender non-conforming and non-binary persons, and people with intersex variations. The foundation specialises in crisis intervention work and provides pro-bono legal assistance and access to mental health services for the community.

The director told TNM the plan to open their shelter had been in the works for the past two years but had just seen fruition now. She said that due to financial constraints, they cannot provide long-term shelter services at the moment. The shelter will house residents for a maximum of two to three months, depending on the severity of the crisis. During this time, the organisation will look after their needs, including healthcare and legal intervention, and support them in finding employment. “Until they become independent, we will support them,” said Suchitra.

Acquiring legal aid and navigating the existing social and economic institutions to access life-saving healthcare and housing are often difficult tasks for LGBTQIA+ persons. According to a report by The Wire, transgender persons are less likely to receive healthcare as they face discrimination and exclusion from healthcare providers. Almost two-thirds of the population do not have access to treatment for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and due to a lack of sensitivity and knowledge, encounter barriers in obtaining mental health services. 

Aid from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) and non-profits working for the rights and protection of gender and sexual minorities has alleviated this burden from the shoulders of community members. Organisations like Raahi conduct gender sensitisation and advocacy programs in collaboration with the Karnataka Women and Child Development Department for police departments, private and public hospitals, and educational institutions in the state. 

Suchitra said their organisation holds frequent training sessions and workshops with AFAB community members, informing them of legal changes, their rights, and how to handle crisis situations independently. “As a gender and sexual minority community, everybody has a right to live as per their wish which is supported by the law. But they are not aware of their rights, and that is the challenge we face,” she said. 

In a bid to increase awareness among community members, Raahi has started reaching out to districts to identify AFAB community members and to inform them of support systems that are available to them, Suchitra said. She also stated that the new shelter would provide AFAB community members and intersex people with a safe and secure space where they can access resources to navigate their challenges. The project is funded by the Azim Premji Foundation. 

Suchitra, however, pointed out that they face challenges in assisting minors. Since the Karnataka government has established that they will support gender non-conforming children, the capacity of non-governmental organisations and non-profits to intervene in such cases is limited, she said. “We can’t accommodate minors in the shelter, though we see many cases of gender non-conforming children running away from home and asking organisations for help. We are helpless because we are not allowed to intervene,” she added.

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