The amount of lives that you impact are the only deeds that eventually matter

My story of becoming an ally started when I joined Tagore International School, Vasant Vihar, more than one and a half years ago as a Project Director. As a part of my role, I head the various social awareness campaigns at school which are all student driven. One such campaign is Breaking Barriers. It is a sustainable human rights awareness initiative which started in 2013, with the aim of sensitizing the youth, especially school students, about the LGBT+ rights. Under my leadership and training, the members conduct gender sensitization sessions in schools and colleges across the city in order to spread awareness about gender equality, bullying and discrimination at school level as part of the campaign.

Very soon, I started collaborating with like-minded people like Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, Parmesh Shahani, Harish Iyer and Richa Vashista along with organizations like High Commission of Canada, Naz Foundation, Keshav Suri Foundation and Lakhsya Trust for the campaign. So far, we have sensitized 4000+ students and 35+ schools. Many of these institutions today also take our help to initiate similar campaigns in their institutes. Our campaign was also featured in Parmesh Shahani’s book, Queeristan as a case study and model for all other educational institutions to take inspiration from.

Currently I live in Delhi and am working as a Project Director with Tagore International School. My job gave me the opportunity to not only conduct gender sensitization workshops with young adults but also to be a panelist and speaker of important social issues. Apart from being an ex-model for a decade in the past, I have also been a freelance soft skills trainer with schools, colleges and corporates and an Emcee. Somewhere in 2017, I decided to pursue my passion for writing and became a blogger. Since then I have written 100+ articles for leading blogging platforms like Momspresso, Women’s Web, Fuzia, Blog Chatter and Blog Adda to name a few.. I’m also a TEDx Speaker.

I always believe ‘The amount of lives that you impact are the only deeds that eventually matter’. I am a straightforward person who believes in voicing my opinion no matter what and standing up for the rights of others. I have been blessed to be raised in a family that encouraged open dialogues so there was ample room for healthy conversations and decision making.

I was not exposed to the LGBT+ until I was 18 years old or even more. I studied in a convent girls school so nuns used to teach us. We never even had any male students to interact with, so forget about discussions or awareness around gender and sex. We only received basic information in our school’s biology books about male and female organs. I was first exposed to the community when I entered the modelling field at the age of 18. I had some models and designer friends from the modelling industry and that’s when I learnt about sexuality, but that also wasn’t in-depth learning but superficial. It was based on what I could gauge or understand from my perspective of all that I was seeing about a person on the outside. And of course, in those days the exposure at school/college level was not as much as it is today. Even parents can participate in these talks at some homes and schools right now.

Yet, many aren’t open and comfortable about these conversations, and I really wish this changes soon. Luckily, my parents were always welcoming of the transgenders and respected them as equals whenever we encountered/faced them on the streets. This is how I learnt to respect them too.

Being an ally has definitely added to my perspective and broadened my thought process. Especially when I started interacting with people from the community and learnt about some of their hardships, I was touched. I wanted to create a positive change in two ways. Firstly by changing their situation, by making them independent financially and morally. Secondly, by spreading awareness to the ignorant ones to the reality of their existence.

I started conducting online soft skills, mental health wellbeing, spoken English sessions with the community members along with my students. This would engage them productively as well as give them the confidence to apply for respectful jobs. Apart from this, in my own work place which is a school set up, we conduct workshops for teachers from nursery to 12th standard on how to deal with students by not stereotyping them into a single category. These workshops are conducted by professionals like doctors as well as our students to spread awareness on gender and sexuality along with basic human rights.

In my personal life, I make it a point to engage in conversations with friends and family around equal gender rights at social gatherings and raising children to be respectful citizens. A lot of my friends are open to being allies now and respect people from different sexuality. They even ask me questions to know more about the community and their rights. I engage my toddler in gender neutral story books and also sing rhymes where gender is not stereotyped. For instance, a rhyme where ‘A spoon runs away with another spoon instead of a dish

I also believe in having open dialogues with my kid because it clears up a lot of thoughts in her mind at an early age. Like I tell her, some children have two mothers or two fathers instead of always having a regular set up of a mother and a father like she has. In this way she will grow up to respect all and not bully or be a part of bullying at any point in life. I have also introduced her to gender fluid coloring books in which girls are riding dinosaurs, running bike repair shops and boys are doing ballet, playing with doll houses, have long hair, and some kids are dancing on wheel chairs too. As a parent and as an adult, it is our responsibility to choose what is best for our children and also give the right upbringing, which lays a strong foundation rather than hiding things from them thinking they will learn on their own when they grow up. This will confuse them.

I would urge all of them to put themselves in others’ shoes (community members). One needs to experience what it feels like to be called ‘abnormal’, ‘not natural’, or feel discarded from the rest of the society, only then will one understand the hardships. Fighting for the rights that one is already born with can be insane and highly painful. It is important for each one of us to take up the responsibility to spread awareness about the history of the existence of the community because many of us feel this is a foreign/ western culture whereas, it is very much Indian. Secondly, please make sex education and gender discussions normal at home and educational spaces. Many feel children’s minds get polluted with these talks. While I do understand there is an apt age for everything, I also feel there is a right age to introduce these topics subtly to the children in different ways that will not harm, but help them. The more you talk about these, the less children will depend on Google/internet for answers.

We must adapt and change with changing times. Let us raise empathetic human beings with open minds. Lastly to all the young adults and kids – Please believe in yourselves. There may be many who will pull you down, will hush you away or even tell you that you are wrong, but you must believe in yourself. There is a lot of help you can take from counsellors and your loved ones. It’s important to talk it out and have healthy conversations with people you trust. Believe in the power of conversations.

It is also important for educational and workplaces to represent queer role models, include characters from the community in the books to talk about them, create jobs and hire members from the community in every work space to create allies.

-Vedica Saxena