(On 6 September 2018, the Supreme Court of India read down IPC's Section 377, decriminalising homosexuality. FIT is re-publishing this piece in honor of its one year anniversary.)
It’s a common story unfortunately. In schools, hostels and other academic places. In an incident a colleague narrated to us, at her boarding school, two girls in class 10 were hounded, publicly humiliated and their dorms separated by school authorities because they were attracted to the same sex.
In a landmark case, the Supreme Court decriminalised homosexuality in India. It also directed the state to create awareness and sensitise. But it’s also up to parents, friends, relatives, teachers neighbours, colleagues, and not just authorities to echo this judgment in our lives.
Kids, be it tweens or teens, spend half their days in school. A lot of their character, opinions and behaviour can reflect what they see and learn in school. And we need to teach our kids that it’s okay to identify as gay, and support them and give them an environment to come out without fear.
Child psychiatrist Dr Amit Sen says it’s not just kids, we need to start with sensitising teachers and school administration.
Kids only learn what they see around them and if they don’t see any homophobia around them in school or see acceptance of differences, they’ll mirror it in their behaviour.
The stereotypes people hold can reflect in teachers as well through biased and derogatory behaviour towards kids who don’t fit in their idea of normal.
Sensitisation should first begin with workshops for teachers, school counsellors and management.Dr Amit Sen, Child Psychiatrist, Children First
Most teachers or counsellors in Indian schools are awkward in even mentioning anything about sexuality or gender, adds Dr Sen, that should be changed first.
Schools have been grappling with not just with gender sensitivity and sexual orientation but sexuality as well, which is why learning about it and sensitization should begin early. The conversation about gender and sexuality should first start when they’re small, to protect children against sexual exploitation.
Maybe in Class 4 or 5, some of these issues should begin to be introduced, differences in gender, boys and girls, growing up issues etc. In a broad way, it can be called sex education. But people get backed up by the term thinking that it’s corrupting the kids. That attitude needs to change.
However, it can’t be a one off workshop it has to be an ongoing conversation. Kids have to be sensitised in everyday conversations, in attitudes. Sensitization has to be an ongoing, constant learning process.
For example, if a student makes fun of someone by calling them gay or lesbian or queer, instead of being reprimanded or punished, the moment should be used as a conversation starter. And then after they know that it’s biased, if they still continue to bully or tease, then it should be called out and there should be a consequence, explains Dr Sen.
Mindsets need to change, and what better place to start than with children in schools?