What are we doing for inclusion in our own spaces?

Participants at the LGBTQ+ advocacy conclave in Dimapur on February 29. (Morung Photo)

Participants at the LGBTQ+ advocacy conclave in Dimapur on February 29. (Morung Photo)

Living & letting live: LGBTQ+ for tolerance, acceptance, empowerment

Morung Express News
Dimapur | February 29

Gender and sexual orientation as a matter of choice is an apparently taboo topic. The notion of antagonism, however, took a backseat, while acceptance, tolerance and empowerment featured as a recurrent and underlying message at an LGBTQ+ advocacy conclave in Dimapur titled— Voices of Diversity: Action for Inclusion, Nagaland Conclave.

The conclave, which featured participation of individuals from diverse backgrounds,  was part of the ‘Rainbow Dialogues: All in this Together’ project supported by the US Consulate General, Kolkata, being implemented in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur, Nagaland, Odisha and West Bengal, by Story Center, USA, in collaboration with BRIDGE India and Prodigals' Home, India. Prodigals' Home and Guardian Angel Society are the state Conclave Partners for Nagaland.

The project aims to initiate conversation towards social acceptance, inclusion and employment opportunities for the LGBTQ+ individuals through evidence-based dialogues, storytelling and network building.

Dr Bernice Dzuvichu Thapru, Joint Director, Nagaland State AIDS Control Society, Directorate of Health & Family Welfare set the tone of the conclave with her opening remark, “Acceptance is the first step towards positive thinking and when we have positive thinking, the impossible becomes possible.”

It was an open house dialogue incorporating a panel discussion oriented around ‘What are we doing for inclusion in our own spaces?’ Mahua Seth, Consultant, Bridge, moderated the discussion that converged on the principle of giving space. 

It featured a panel of six personalities— Anna Hairang Thou, a social activist; Dr Hotokha Hesso, Senior Medical Officer of the ART Plus Centre, Dimapur;  Imti Jamir, Media Coordinator, Dimapur Ao Youth Organisation (DAYO); Imti Aier, incharge of the district branch of the National Viral Hepatitis Control Programme, District Hospital;  Neiba Keisiezie, Gaonbura, Murgipatti, Dimapur; and 
Imliben Lemtur, a job creator. 

Anna Hairang Thou, whose activism have let to working closely with the LGBTG+ community in Nagaland, maintained that the idea of acceptance should not be confined to the wider community coming to terms with the LGBTQ+.  Acceptance of one’s sexual identity is also important, she said. 

She added that so long as the desired “acceptance” does not come from within the individual, change would not happen. 

Imliben Lemtur laid emphasis on verbal solidarity accompanied by practical action. Lemtur, who runs a business, said that her objective, as an employer, has been to financially empowering the LGBTQ+ individuals by giving them the opportunity to earn a living. She revealed that her firm has a policy of reserving a few positions particularly from the LGBTQ+.

According to Imti Jamir, quest for social acceptance rests fundamentally on perception, independent of social norms and on self-esteem. Sexual orientation and gender identity, he said, are innate characteristics, or as normal as being left-handed. On that note, he said that the process of acceptance should begin from a supportive family environment complemented by building self-esteem and recognising one’s worth. From a human rights perspective, there is no distinction, he said. 

Dr Hotoka Hesso, noting an almost negligible LGBTQ+ footfall at the hospitals, said that measures for inclusion should start from public spaces, including care-giving institutions. As medical professionals, he said that doctors go by conventional medical principle that assigns two genders, and which often leads to practical difficulties. Recalling instances of opposition from other patients, he emphasised the need for more awareness. “There needs to be understanding. With more awareness, I believe time will heal,” he said.

Neiba Keisiezie acknowledged the treatment of the topic as a taboo in the Naga community. But with greater community dialogue and advocacy, he said, “We will be more open to listening.”

The conclave featured screening of films and personal stories by LGBTQ+ individuals about their life journeys. Lima, who identified as a transgender, narrated her story of exclusion by family but eventually going on to assert her identity. Assigned male at birth, she said that she always felt like a woman, which led her on a quest to changing gender identity on official papers. It was problematic but she prevailed. 

“When society doesn't accept us, it becomes difficult to open up and makinga living for ourselves. What we need is acceptance,” she asserted.
Prithviraj Nath, Director, BRIDGE, shared insights from a perception survey of the LGBTQ+ community; and employers, educators and service providers from across the seven states covered by the project. As per the survey, parental acceptance turned up as the biggest hurdle to the quest for social inclusion.