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“A Rainbow Journey: Empowering LGBTQ+ Inclusion in East and Northeast India”

Over a period of 20 months, individuals from diverse backgrounds came together to discuss the rights, lives, and challenges faced by the LGBTQI+ community across seven northeastern......

A Rainbow Journey: Empowering LGBTQ+ Inclusion in East and Northeast India- The Final Advocacy conclave titled ‘Voices of Diversity – Action for Inclusion’ took place on April 24, 2024, at the American Center in Kolkata. This marked the conclusion of a project called ‘Rainbow Dialogues: All in this Together’, implemented by the U.S.-based non-profit Story Center, in collaboration with BRIDGE, India, and with support from the U.S. Consulate General, Kolkata.

Over a period of 20 months, individuals from diverse backgrounds came together to discuss the rights, lives, and challenges faced by the LGBTQI+ community across seven northeastern and eastern Indian states: Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jharkhand, Manipur, Nagaland, Odhisa, and West Bengal.

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Participants engaged in interactive discussions on issues in education, healthcare, workplaces, and other sectors during the final conclave. The event also featured screenings of short storytelling films developed during Rainbow Storytelling workshops, aimed at stimulating further public discourse.

At the heart of the conclave was the focus on integrating LGBTQI+ community members into larger society and enabling them to live fulfilling lives of dignity, access, and equal rights. The project aimed to achieve this through a multi-layered approach, including a survey of LGBTQ+ individuals, employers, educators, and service providers to gauge perceptions and find workable solutions towards inclusion.

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Amy L. Hill, Director of Silence Speaks at Story Center, U.S.A., and lead for the project, expressed pride in being part of the work to bring visibility and awareness to LGBTQIA+ issues in East and Northeast India. Speaking at the final conclave, Elizabeth Lee, Director of the American Center Kolkata, remarked on the significance of human rights and acknowledged the intertwined struggle of LGBTQI+ individuals for rights and recognition with the broader fight for human rights.

During the 20-month period, representatives from West Bengal, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Nagaland, Manipur, Odisha, and Jharkhand engaged in constructive dialogues, brainstorming sessions, and advocacy efforts. The conclave, intentionally designed to reflect India’s diversity, proposed actionable strategies for enhancing the inclusion of the LGBTQI+ community in the formal economy and beyond.

Yuma Narah, Doctoral Fellow (Psychology) and Project Research Scientist (ICMR) from Arunachal Pradesh, one of the panelists at the conclave, shed light on the socio-cultural context of the state. Narah highlighted various challenges, including societal alienation based on appearance, insufficient healthcare infrastructure, lack of educational institutions offering psychology programs, and inadequate remuneration for mental health professionals.

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Narah stressed the urgent need for increased awareness among mental health practitioners regarding LGBTQIAP+ specific stressors to promote mental well-being for all. Narah also advocated for Arunachal Pradesh’s inclusion in the AP QueerStation, marking a significant milestone in the history of sexual and gender minorities in the state.

Prithviraj Nath, Director of BRIDGE and Country Coordinator for the project, described the initiative as an attempt to create evidence, initiate, and strengthen conversations around inclusion and equal rights for LGBTQ+ individuals. Nath highlighted the project’s success in creating networks, forging new paths, and garnering commitments from institutions across the seven project states to take tangible action towards inclusion and equal rights.

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Sawang Wangchha from AP QueerStation, one of the project coordinators, expressed gratitude to BRIDGE, StoryCenter, and the U.S. Consulate General in Kolkata for involving queer individuals and professionals from Arunachal Pradesh in the event.

Wangchha noted that the event empowered queer individuals from Arunachal Pradesh to openly share their stories, instilling confidence and hope for more diverse events in the future aimed at uplifting LGBTQIA+ individuals. With the visibility of Arunachal’s queer community on the rise, Wangchha anticipated greater inclusion from organizations to support their rights and dignity and to combat societal taboos.

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