Coming Together, Staying Together: Panel Discussion on LGBTQ+ networking

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Forging connections remains at the crux of any community building exercise. In this day and age, there are multiple ways of connecting with each other through the use of social media, apps, and other forms of digital technology. These avenues have been useful in creating networks, safe spaces, and structures of support, helping members to connect and look out for each other.

A panel discussion on Thursday May 24, 2018, highlighted the manner in which these avenues, including venues, businesses, and organisations can enable all of this for people who identify as LGBTQ+, leading to stronger networks and increased productivity within the community. The panel discussion was held as part of the 9th edition of KASHISH Mumbai International Queer Film Festival at Liberty Carnival Cinemas. The panel discussion was sponsored by Delta Apps.

The panel discussion featured Ashok Row Kavi, chairperson of The Humsafar Trust and founder of Bombay Dost magazine, Sakshi Juneja of Gaysi and Ishaan Sethi of Delta Apps. The panel discussion was moderated by Veda Nadendla.

The discussion attempted to throw light on the progress the LGBTQ+ community has made in terms of acceptance by society and even acceptance of other emerging sexual and gender minorities by the predominant sections of the LGBT community. Ashok Row Kavi shed some light on Bombay Dost, India’s first openly Gay magazine, and said that it wasn’t just a form of print media. “The magazine informed and educated the LGBTQ community. It was the 1980s – a time when AIDS cases and the panic regarding these was spreading like wildfire through the society,” said Row Kavi.

When asked about responsible media, Row Kavi pointed out that Section 377 had designated him and the LGBTQ community members as criminals and that his responsibility as a journalist was now to his community which was at risk.  “There has always been a need for safe spaces to share stories and to disseminate information,” said Row Kavi.

Sakshi Juneja said that the Gaysi family was started due to a similar need felt to create safe spaces for Queer women (lesbian and bisexual) to speak up. “This was a section which was practically invisible in the LGBT+ diaspora and for a long time only conversations of gay men had dominated the narrative,” said Juneja.

Ishaan Sethi said that the existing social media/dating apps like Grindr and Planet Romeo had no security and were hyper sexualized. They did not share stories, said Sethi. An example that was common for all was the coming out story which Juneja pointed out was ‘evergreen’ and not ‘passé’.

At the core of it, all the panelists agreed on the point that there was a fundamental need for open conversations and that the biggest support that the community gets is from straight allies. It would be these conversations that would sensitize the masses and bring about more support for the community.

About the Panelists

Ashok Row Kavi is a journalist and an LGBT activist working in the field of sexuality and gender issues that serve as barriers to access health services for sexual minorities in India. He started India’s first registered magazine for the LGBT community, Bombay Dost, in 1990 and co-founded The Humsafar Trust in 1994.

Ishaan Sethi worked in the marketing & analytics arena in New York City, after completing his undergraduate degree in economics from Brown University (USA). He then moved back to India in 2014 & co-founded a startup in the analytics space. On exiting this venture, and as someone who identifies within the LGBTQ+ community, Ishaan wanted to leverage his skill set to address some of the needs based on his own experiences & based on what people had voiced. Delta is building the first homegrown LGBTQ+ app in India that addresses concerns centered on meeting like-minded people in a secure space, access to a platform where people can explore shared interests, access peer support and also helping brands adopt more inclusive policies enabling mutually beneficial relationships with the LGBTQ+ community.

Sakshi Juneja is the co-founder of Gaysi Family, a platform for LGBT voice and expression. She is the soul of Gaysi’s social media and off-line existence. Gaysi Family was started as a blog to provide a voice and a safe space to Desis (people from the South Asian Subcontinent) that identify as LGBTQI. What began as a simple idea of sharing stories about what it meant to be gay and Desi (thus, Gaysi!) has evolved into a space with a roster of authors worldwide, diverse content and traffic from countries all over.

Veda Hrudya Nadendla is the Head of Content & Communication at The Delta App. Having previously been an Editor for Youth Ki Awaaz and President of Fundraising at Make A Difference, she has spent 3 years as an English communication teacher in shelter homes and government schools across the country all the way from Chennai to Ladakh. She is experienced as an organization development specialist for businesses like Tata, Postergully.com, ITC Gardenia & Makemytrip.

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