Haq Se… We (He, She and Ze) are all Equal!

Haq Se… We (He, She and Ze) are all Equal!

Fighting for the social acceptance of LGBTQ* community

Farhaz Haidar (name changed), a 24-year-old champion from UP, belongs to a middle-class Muslim family from Lakhimpur tehsil in UP. Farhaz identifies himself as a human rights activist and works on the issues of violence against women and girls and LGBTQ community, primarily gays, bisexual and transgender people. He advocates equality of rights for all genders and sexual minorities.

But his journey hasn’t been smooth. Farhaz faced severe opposition from family, friends and community. His friends would ridicule him about the fact that he worked with this group and many even stopped interacting with him. His father refused to support him during his higher studies. Notwithstanding the opposition from his father and community, Farhaz completed his Masters in Social Work and started working with Humsafar tirelessly to advocate for the rights of the LGBTQ community.

Oxfam India partnered with Humsafar, a Lucknow-based NGO to build a supportive network to raise community responsiveness and preparedness to address deep-rooted societal norms perpetuating gender inequalities and violence against women and girls. Farhaz is a one of the 30 champions in UP and has formed a network of around 100 LGBTQ people in Lucknow and encouraged many to come out openly about their sexuality. Farhaz mentors this network and also works on the issues of gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls.

He says, "Violence perpetuates when there is inequality in any relationship. Hence, to have violence-free relationship, one must embrace equality." 

Since childhood, the gender-based discrimination in his family and ostracisation of LGBTQ community members disturbed him. He was especially troubled by the low social status of trans people, where they were ridiculed, excluded and had no freedom to choose their partners. “A family is (traditionally) defined by man, woman and child… LGBTQ community has no space in the definition of a family,” reflects Farhaz.

“I started exploring the lives of, and the discriminations experienced by the LGBTQ community because I personally identified myself as a part of them” said Farhaz. His observation is sharp — LGBTQ people are often ostracised by their families and later by the community. Transgenders face the worst brunt — not only are they excluded from the education system, they are also unable to take up normal jobs. Even religion considers them as outcasts. This exclusion from the society leaves the LGBTQ community living in extreme mental and psychological trauma.

When he started, Farhaz met members from the community individually as well as in groups several times. Initially, winning their trust and confidence was a huge challenge, as the community members do not disclose their status. Farhaz worked hard with the community  and went on to form a network of Queer people (which included gays, bisexual and transgender people), which has over 100 members from Lucknow and nearby areas. He also started a WhatsApp group for the community to be in regular contact and so that they could share their problems.

He has become a mentor of sorts for the his network. On one occasion he recalls receiving a call at 2 am from a friend who was being thrown out of the house by his parents; his parents had found Farhaz’s friend dressed as a woman. Farhaz immediately reached his friend’s house and counselled his parents to accept their son's choice and treat him with respect.

There has been an active attempt to reclaim identities amongst this community so they may live a more dignified life. “People called them names like Hijra, Queer etc without knowing what they mean. They have embraced these terms, given them dignity and made it their identity,” Farhaz remarked. Significantly, he was able to encourage and motivate 20 of his friends from the network to come out openly about their gender and sexuality identities and participate in the Pride walk. The Pride walk was held in February 2020 in Lucknow for the rights of LGBTQ community.

Being a champion motivates you to be responsible and take initiative. We are role models for many others” says Farhaz.

Back home in his village, when his sister was getting married in 2018, he asked his parents to invite Sapna Aunty, a transwoman. His parents refused as it was against the social norm to invite a transwoman. “She will come on her own…. Whether we invite her or not”… said his father referring to the age old tradition where transgenders came asking for money after weddings and child brith.

However, Farhaz was able to convince his parents after several rounds of arguments and discussions about treating the LGBTQ community equally and with respect. Farhaz’s sister personally visited Sapna Aunty’s house to invite her. This changed the social norm in the village and now Sapna Aunty gets invitations from everyone in the village.

Farhaz is optimistic, “Today the villagers are inviting her and accepting her gifts/blessings, a day also will come when the community will openly participate in her celebrations”.

(Shama Afroz is from Karak and has closely with Oxfam India's gender team)

*LGBTQ or LGBTQIA+ is an abbreviation for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersexed, Agender, Asexual and Ally community. These encompass gender and sexuality identities which do not find acceptance in the traditional hetero-normative cultures, but are very much a part of the human gender and sexuality spectrum. Because of non-acceptance they often face severe discrimination and ostracisation which is described here. Definitions of each of the terms can be found here: https://www.uis.edu/gendersexualitystudentservices/about/lgbtqaterminology/

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