‘Naz’ of the LGBT community
Naz Foundation (India) Trust is doing ground-breaking HIV/AIDS prevention and care work and is also a strong advocate for sexual health/rights for sexual minorities…
An award-winning NGO that has changed the lives of a plethora of people including a large number of members from the LGBT community for the better, the Naz Foundation (India) Trust (Naz India) is an organization that has adopted a holistic approach to fight HIV. One of the first organisations in the country to offer care and support to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS, Naz India was founded by the gritty Anjali Gopalan in 1994.
HIV Prevention and Care
Throwing light on the idea behind the foundation and its work, Anjali Gopalan, who is the Executive Director of Naz India, says, “We are aHIV/AIDS prevention and care organisation. That’s been the focus of our work from the beginning. We work with different communities so that people don’t get affected by HIV. One of our first programs was for men having sex with men (MSM). The idea was to work on building a community so
that people learn to protect and value themselves because if they don’t value themselves, the chances of protecting themselves are extremely low.” The NGO works with transgenders and lesbians too. They have a core team, board of trustees and staff for each of their programs. Internationally renowned star Richard Gere has worked with the foundation previously and iconic popstar Lady Gaga too has visited Naz to spend time with HIV-positive children.
Apart from their work in the LGBT community and advocating for equal rights for sexual minorities, the other services provided by Naz are a care home for orphaned kids living with HIV, home-based care where they reach out to families affected by HIV, capacity building/training workshops for people and organisations on HIV/AIDS, sex and sexuality, rights-based care giving etc and empowering girls through Netball and life skills education.
“We respond to needs at the ground level as theyemerge . Some amount of research has been part of our work, but it’s not the focus of our work and is not really something we are skilled at.Earlier, we used to be involved only with prevention, but now, we are involved with the care aspect too. Our prevention became well-established and people wanted to know the status, so we set up the first HIV clinic and then when people started coming in, we had to actually set up a couple of wards because back then, there was no Government response. Later, we closed down the wards when the Govt started its program,” reveals Anjali, adding, “We set up care homes because children were being abandoned by extended family once the parents died, so our response was very much tailored to emerging needs.”
LGBT Community Work
When it comes to the often snubbedLGBT community in the country, NazIndia has been doing remarkable and ground-breaking work for them. A supporter of equal rights to social inclusion, sexual health education, and career opportunities, their Milan Project (2004–2008) was India’s first targeted involvement program in the LGBT community. The project focused on transgenders and homosexual men and provided safe sex education, training programs, and interventions to make their lives better. Outreach, counseling, medical treatment and legal support are provided by the foundation.
A strong advocate for sexual health and rights of the sexual minority community, the NGO has been greatly vocal about the need to decriminalize homosexuality. Along with the Lawyer’s Collective, Naz India leda legal battle against Section 377. In 2001, Naz filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) to decriminalize sexual acts between consenting adults and end the outdated law. While the Delhi High Court ruled in favor of Naz India in 2009 and declared Section 377 an infringement on individual rights, the ruling was unfortunately overturned in December 2013 by the Supreme Court. At present, a curative petition against the order filed by Naz India is pending with the Supreme Court.
What other kind of projects have they planned for the future to empower LGBT people? “We continue with advocacy because it’s integral to our work in the community and we are committed to it. We will also continue to do training and counseling for families and community members,” reveals Anjali. The organization is now embarking on a piece of research on pre-exposure prophylaxis in the gay community.
Medicine Needs to get Inclusive
A massive change is needed in the way the medical community in India treats LGBT people, believes the organization. “The fact that the medical profession is not inclusive is a huge problem. Even in this day and age, they take great pride in talking about conversion therapy and shock treatment to community members inspite of the Medical Council of India taking a very strong stand against this. A lot of doctors are extremely judgmental about and very negative towards people from the community. Hence, to identify doctors who are LGBT-friendly is a huge task because most of them are not. Change has to happen at many levels, right from schooling system to medical school. Unless students are taught to respect diversity, we will be judgmental and therefore closed off to LGBT members,” opines Anjali.
Lack of Government Support
Having made a difference to thousands of LGBT lives over the years, Naz India has done so without any Government support. “I don’t think we need to be dependent on them. The Government is not the most benevolent of institutions here. As a matter of fact, the Govt has targeted in a way which has actually been worse for the community — they have only targeted interventions and no general interventions. They don’t have any services available neither do they provide funding. But now, thanks to the transgender judgment, things are beginning to change for them, but we still have a long way to go,” expresses Anjali, who states that there isn’t any focused kind of intervention for the LGBT community in the healthcare sector in India. “If you go to any hospital,there’s no information around anything addressing the community. What happens often is that many community members do not find doctors who they can be comfortable with as they are judged and also, many of them don’t even end up going to doctors. It is critical to have some kind of change in the medical school curriculum where they talk about these issues because doctors need to learn to respect diversity and understand what inclusion means. If you go to a Government STI Clinic, there is no information which talks about anal STI at all. There’s a lot to be done for the community,” she says.
As a foundation that has contributed immensely in making a difference to the lives of HIV-affected individuals and LGBT people, Naz India is truly a commendable organization which would benefit a great deal if more donors funded their activities. It’s undoubtedly heartening to see their undying support and persistent advocacy for sexual minorities. We only hope that their work doesn’t go unnoticed and the Draconian section 377 is overturned.
Author : IkyathaYerasala
Ikyatha Yerasala is a consulting correspondent who brings with her a varied experience in interviewing some very interesting people — from sports stars to actors and artistes. A true blue Bangalorean, she’s passionate about women’s rights, music, cricket, movies and rasagullas. She hopes to see more research focusing on invisible illnesses.