Sexuality is still a very controversial topic in Indian society. Adolescents find it difficult to discuss it with adults, at home or in school, because of the stigma attached to it. Topics like safe sex, STDs, etc are barely ever discussed. The only sex education is to not have sex. It's that simple.
Now imagine being queer or not fitting into society's gender norms and living in a country such as ours. Judgement, prejudice, bullying, discrimination. These are all things people from the LGBTQ community have to face on a day-to-day basis. The community is often misunderstood because of the lack of awareness around it and is hence treated poorly.
Therefore, it is important to sensitise kids from a young age to eliminate myths and misconceptions about the LGBTQ community. To create an inclusive and safer environment at schools, it is essential to start a conversation around it.
For children to be able to seek help and support, it's essential to create a welcoming and supportive environment in schools and at home. The first step in doing so would be to start a conversation around topics like sexuality and gender roles with children.
Manavi Khurana, counselling psychologist and founder at Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing, emphasises on the importance of dialogue and sensitivity training in schools as a means of spreading awareness about the LGBTQ community.
Ms Khurana says, "It is important to provide sensitivity training to adolescents and also children younger than their teenage years on how to accept differences and the uniqueness that we all come with. It may be in the way we look externally or in the way we behave."
Ms Khurana adds that along with students, it's also important to include parents and teachers in such conversations because they're the primary caregivers for these children. But parents barely touch upon sexuality with their children.
Ruchika Kanwal, clinical psychologist at Karma Centre for Counselling and Wellbeing says,"
It's better to start having conversations around sexuality at an early age because that's the time they're just beginning to explore their own bodies. That's the time they need to be spoken about how biology is not the only way to decide your gender, you might get attracted to people of the same gender or the opposite gender and that everything is normal."
"It's important to normalise it. The more we make them feel it's not normal, the more we're cutting them off from seeking help or support," she adds.
Bullying and its impact on mental health
Bullying can have severe long-term consequences on people. It can negatively impact one's mental health and wellbeing. Kids who are bullied are likely to experience depression and anxiety.
Yet, harassment is not something uncommon. On the contrary, bullying is rampant in Indian schools and colleges. Besides physical bullying, harassment of all forms, like teasing and cyber bullying are also common among school kids.
For children who don't fit into the society's definition of 'normal', going through school becomes all the more difficult without being ridiculed, shamed, or made fun of, which is mostly because of the lack of awareness and sensitivity.
Ms Kanwal says bullying and discrimination based on any factor is detrimental to a child's personality. But, she adds that if a child is bullied for being overweight or a slow learner, he or she can still go home and talk about it. But if a child is bullied for being homosexual or bisexual or for being a feminite, he or she can't even go home and talk to their parents about it.
"So a child bullied for these reasons actually has restricted ways to cope with it because he or she is openly not talking about it. So they keep piling it all inside, some of them go by the norms and have issues later. There are some who take a stand for themselves later in life but the period between 12-18 years is the most difficult time for them which also contributes to a lot of clinical issues later," she adds.
So the only solution is to start talking about these issues and to start normalising them. Students should be encouraged to talk to their teachers or an adult about anything that they're going through. But for students to be able to approach someone for help, they need to be assured that they're not going to be judged and that they're going to be understood. They should be in an environment that makes them feel secure.