New Delhi: “It was the year, 2017, when we realised one of our child identified as queer. What followed next was different phases of shock,” says 58-year-old Ashish Garg, an Education Futurist and Founder & CEO of Discover Tomorrow Campaign, a not-for-profit advocacy platform that aims to educate and create awareness among all the stakeholders that impact the life of queer child.
To understand Ashish Garg’s personal journey of acceptance and the valuable lessons she has learned in this period, Team Banega Swasth India decided to speak to her on Mother’s Day about how can parents handle the situation when a child comes out to them, be it managing their own reaction, their interaction with the child and understanding what the child is going through.
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Sharing details of her initial days as a parent when her child came out as a queer, Mrs Garg said,
It definitely took us a few months to understand. We had phases of self-blame, we even thought we didn’t do the upbringing right. But, soon enough, we gave all our thoughts a back seat and started to listen to our child. It is then we realised that even the child was suffering a lot and that’s when we stood up. Because, if we as parent will not stand up for our own child then nobody else will.
Mrs Garg added that for her family things were different as during that time things in India were changing a lot when it comes to LGBTQ community. She adds,
It was during that time only when the decriminalisation of section 377 was happening, so it was easy for us to understand the truth. But, like every other parent, we went in shock. The problem is that there is not enough education in India about the topic, we as a society don’t talk much about this issue and that’s when I realised the need for educating myself and families like ours. And that’s how my campaign Discover Tomorrow kick-started.
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Phases Of Acceptance of A Child Who Identifies as LGBTQIA+
Explaining about the different phases and reactions that comes when parents get to know that their child belongs to a different identity, she said,
Like everything, obviously this too comes with different forms of phases and reactions. The first phase is shock, the second is when you try and fix it and the third stage is when you realise that all this is not a sin or illness and you just cannot do anything to cure it, neither is there anything to fix it. It is in this phase you start your journey of acceptance.
Emphasising the importance of acceptance of a queer child, Mrs Garg said,
The solution is basically to accept them for who they are. These are children who deserve a perfectly normal life. It is not something that they have done, it is how they were born and as soon as you realise this, it will all be normal.
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The Issues Of A Queer Child
Life is full of challenges for a queer child. These children are full of anxiety, they are traumatised by years of rejection and bullying both in school and outside. All they are looking for is family’s love and acceptance. And when they don’t get it in their own families, they start to face a lot of mental health issues, says Mrs Garg.
She further said that when you start to give them love and acceptance these children can use their full potential and can-do wonderful things in their life and contribute towards the community in a big way.
Accepting a LGBTQIA+ Child: How Can Parents And Society Be More Supportive?
Talking about what she learned through her own journey of being a parent of a queer child, Mrs Garg said,
Parents will go into deep shock. That’s normal. But we need to learn and look beyond these things.
Sharing an example, Mrs Garg said when a child is born and you hold him/her for the first time, you don’t think of their gender, you don’t think of them being gay, lesbian, transgender or anything – all you do is that you hold your child, love them and pray for their wellbeing. She adds,
So, why do we react in a different way when they come out? Why do we start behaving or reacting out of fear? Questions like the society won’t accept the child, they won’t find a suitable job, or they won’t be able to get married, start filling up our mind. And, I think, most of these comes because of the ecosystem around us, if the ecosystem will change, the acceptance will come more quickly.
She further advised parents of queer child to not be impulsive and curb the urge to be irrational. She says,
It is neither your child’s fault nor it is your fault. Start to educate yourself on the issue. You must stand up for your child – as soon as you start to see changes in their behaviour, you should contact the school coordinator or counsellor. These are the things that are often sidelined but are very important because initial things will negatively affect the psyche of your child.
Talking about the society and community, Mrs Garg emphasised on bringing in LGBTQ community in the school curriculums. She adds,
We have to teach our children that everyone is equal. We need to learn to accept and live together, that is the basis of an inclusive society. The acceptance of LGBTQ community has to begin at school level. We teach our children about all the social evils from school itself like dowry, the practice of Sati, death and life, but in all this we don’t include the third gender. We don’t teach them about the community and that’s why we see so much school bullying.
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LGBTQ Community In India – Where Are We
Mrs Garg says that the problem for India is actually huge. She adds,
We are talking about 7 – 8 per cent of population in India that is now identified as gender diversified. It is a huge number. The problem is that if we keep this section away from the mainstream, our overall economy will also suffer. There are various reports and studies that have been done in past years that highlight the crisis. In fact, World Bank also states that in India there is lack of data on queer.
Stating the World Bank report, Mrs Gard says,
Do you know, India is losing 30.8 billion dollars annually due to homophobia.
Mrs Garg adds though there has been a lot of noise about the issues in our country, though a lot of good things have been done in India on this topic, but the problem is that on ground the reality is not changing. She says,
If today a person from LGBTQ community goes to rent an apartment or buy a house – 99 per cent of times they won’t get it. In our schools, nobody is talking about all the bullying that happens, there is some weird silence. If the child comes out openly, mostly the parents are called and asked to remove the child from the school. Even today, there are just handful of multinational organisations that actually hire and create and inclusive environment for the LGBTQ community. So, there is a lot that needs to be done in order to change the ecosystem.
The Road Ahead
The only way forward, the only way to fix all these issues is by increasing the visibility of LGBTQ community. And all this starts with acceptance. Today’s generation will actually decide if the gender diverse group will become a liability or demographic dividend for our country. It is this generation that can actually create a flagship of what India will be tomorrow in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion, Mrs Garg signed off.
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