‘Save us from the saviors,’ say LGBT Indians, sex workers (video)

The Indian organization Sangram urges outside evangelists and progressives alike to respect LGBT people and sex workers. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
The Indian organization Sangram urges outside evangelists and progressives alike to respect LGBT people and sex workers. Click this image to see the video. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

American religious evangelicals aren’t the only ones who need to learn to respect LGBT people and sex workers.  Progressive activists do too, says Meena Seshu, the founder and secretary-general of the Indian health and human rights advocacy group Sangram.

“I was trained as a social worker,” Seshu said. “And you know social workers — we guide communities. That’s our job. So I was all ready to go and start working with this community and guide them. Can you imagine my surprise when the community resisted it totally and said you have no knowledge about sex work, you have no understanding of what it means to be a sex worker? What do you mean by saying you want to guide us?

“And, whoa, I was like, ‘I’m sorry. I agree. I know nothing. Can you please teach me?’ “

Meena Seshu, founder and secretary general of the Indian health and human rights advocacy group Sangram. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)
Meena Seshu, founder and secretary general of the Indian health and human rights advocacy group Sangram. (Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

A result of that insight was a Bill of Rights formulated by Sangram (Sampada Gramin Mahila Sanstha), which is based in Sangli, Maharashtra, India. Seshu  describes that Bill of Rights in the latest video in the “Quorum” series of 11 discussions of international LGBTI issues. Excerpts from the video are here, including five rights enumerated by Sangram:

1. People have the right to be approached with humility and respect

“The middle-class, upper-caste woman in India has no clue how the common poor sex workers live but, yes, we have the education and the privilege to believe that we can teach them anything, even about their own life and their own experiences. We learned that you can’t do that. You have to let the community lead your programs. You have to go there and be humble and you have to be respectful of the community to be able to get any kind of justice for the community” Seshu said.

2. People have the right to reject harmful social norms.

“If trans women are saying that they are women, then the women’s rights movement will have to accept them and say that they are women, they have rights as women, and their rights will be honored. It’s activists like us from the women’s rights movement that have to learn that these are harmful social norms that we have imbibed also as feminists and part of the women’s rights movement. This has to change,” Seshu said.

3. People have the right to stand up and change the balance of power.

4. People have the right not to be “rescued” by outsiders who neither understand nor respect them.

5. People have the right to exist how they want to exist.

The Seshu video is the sixth of 11 discussions of international LGBTI issues that overall are designed to “reverse the megaphone,” allowing activists from abroad to tell Western viewers about the challenges that LGBTI people face worldwide. The videos were recorded at a December 2014 meeting in New York.

The series, under its full title “Quorum: Global LGBT voices,” is presented by The Daily Beast. The Erasing 76 Crimes blog, as a member of the advisory board for the project, helped The Daily Beast select Quorum speakers.

The video is on the Quorum page and on YouTube.

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at info@76crimes.com. Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.

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