India 2017/18 | volunteer service

1. When and where were you abroad?

I was in India in 2017/18 through the “weltwärts” program.

2. When you applied, did you know that you were bisexual, transsexual or homosexual?

It was clear to me relatively long before I applied that I identified as homosexual.

3. Was your sexual orientation or sexual identity an issue for you during your stay?

Definitely, but in different ways. In India in general, homosexuality, even more than the topic of sexuality itself, is taboo in large parts of society. For example, homosexual couples B. neither recognized nor allowed to adopt; they are also denied the highly respected service in the army. There are no anti-discrimination laws in India, but there is Section 377 in the Penal Code, which criminalizes same-sex sexual activity from ten years to life imprisonment. [Note: The law dates back to British colonial times and was ruled unconstitutional by India's Supreme Court in 2018.] However, the paragraph is used more as a means of pressure and reprisals against homosexuals than to condemn them. Even if in liberal areas (e.g. the big cities, or even parts of Bollywood) discussions are slowly emerging as to how far homosexuality could not also have a place in Indian society, even before the voluntary service I was confronted with the fact that I could be considered "illegal". With these thoughts in the back of my mind, it was a challenge for me to go into every situation with an open mind and not let it negatively influence me.

In everyday life, homosexuality is mostly conspicuous by its absence. Because the concept is so taboo here, z. B. no one thinks it's "weird" when two boys or girls walking around in public holding hands, cuddling, etc., as is normal around here; That's perfectly fine, but neither gay nor lesbian. Open homophobia is also rather rare in everyday life, but the methods and arguments with which those affected are suppressed are just as perfidious.

From conversations and encounters with homosexuals, it quickly became clear to me how difficult it is for Indians who identify as homosexual in everyday life; shaped by the struggle for one's own recognition, the ability to express yourself. They are not infrequently subjected to mental, physical, emotional and/or economic violence committed by families, the local community and the police; So don't expect any help. Also, it's very difficult to exchange ideas with other like-minded people because there aren't really any official spaces or easily accessible opportunities to do so yet; even in the cities. In order to escape these legal and social repressions, to avoid local problems and harassment, not to lose their reputation and their place in the hierarchy of society, many people refrain from 'coming out' and live undercover to the end. In order not to attract attention, marry e.g. B. those affected, despite their actually different attitude, have children and simulate the image of a happy and intact family.

Not only did this always make me very sad, perplexed and angry, but it also reminded me again and again that I should be careful about my own sexual orientation. I have therefore tried to avoid the unpleasant situations as far as possible with a healthy degree of sensitivity.

In my Christian project itself and also in the church, I did not address my sexuality. On the one hand as protection against possible consequences, on the other hand because I didn't have the feeling that it would have been fundamentally relevant. I don't think the guys I worked with could really understand or classify that and I didn't want to bring it up with my contact person/virtually host father, who is an openly conservative person. But e.g. B. on my travels, where I was in contact with mostly younger students, I had many interesting and constructive conversations, discussions and also funny moments.

When the rights of the LGBT movement in India were strengthened at the end of August 2017 and a review of Paragraph 377 was announced at the beginning of January 2018, that was not only big for me and could be followed live in the media, but also encouraged me once again to go my own way to continue to do so consistently during the voluntary service and to try to do as much as I can for this cause.

If you had a coming out:

1. How were the reactions of those around you (host family, circle of friends, AFS people, supervisors, school or project)?

In India itself I didn't "come out" because I don't think much of it as a matter of principle (keyword normativity: what is typically hetero? What is typically homo?); we are all human.

The other volunteers all reacted positively and some with interest, so I didn't have any problems with my two roommates during the year. Even my organization in the host country (FSL India) was almost empathetic and supported me to some extent through the coordinators in my being. The few Indian friends I met there were more interested than shocked and we always engaged in constructive discourse.

2. How did those around you in your home country react?

Actually, everyone at home already knew, so there was no negative feedback from this side either, at most concern and well-intentioned advice on how I could deal with it in India.

3. What helped you? What would you have wished for?

What helped me the most was that I had good contacts and good friends on site when I was unsure or needed someone to talk to, which enabled me to emerge stronger from such situations. It was also easier for me, for example, to be able to authentically explain my thoughts and views, since I had already dealt with the topic of "sexual identity" a lot and consciously before my year and was encouraged by various parties during the preparations.

Of course, I would have wished that the social situation in India had already changed, so that the subject was not dealt with in such a negative way, i.e. better timing, so to speak. However, I am confident that the public discourse will continue to develop in this regard.

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