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TBI Blogs: Meet the 19-Year-Old Behind Breaking Barriers, India’s First School-Level Gay-Straight Alliance

The LGBT movement in India is still in its nascent form in many places, with more and more leaders stepping forward to raise awareness and campaign for change. Vidhi Bubna talks about one such young leader who has successfully put India’s LGBT movement on the global map.

Sexual orientation is not accepted to be fluid in India. Any relationship that is not heterosexual is rejected as being unnatural, and hence the LGBT community has to face a lot of stigma. There is a difference in the perception of homosexuality among generations due to disparity in the levels of awareness. My grandparents, for example, did not even know what the terms “gay” or “lesbian” meant before I spoke with them about it, while my parents’ generation has “some idea” about the fluidity of sexuality, but tends to reject such ideas outright as “western influence”.

Our younger generation is slightly more accepting because of rising awareness. Fortunately, things are gradually evolving, and though the laws in the country haven’t changed, people’s views on sexual orientation are changing slowly due to the work of a few individuals.

One such person is Siddhi Pal, a 19-year old charismatic young student studying in Ashoka University, who has achieved a lot at such a young age, and been recognized by various media globally.

Source: Siddhi Pal-Facebook
Source: Siddhi Pal/Facebook

As a young student, Siddhi Pal took a major step when she was studying in her high school by starting a LGBT community in Tagore International School in New Delhi. This was possible because the school administration was quite open-minded and supportive, and Siddhi took great efforts to make the community a success. “I had not expected them to allow me to start a project on LGBT rights in the school, but they gave me permission and supported the endeavour,” commented Siddhi.

“The fact that we always refer to LGBT people in third-person highlights the psychological, social, and even physical divide we have created between us and ‘them’. It is natural to reject something we know nothing about, but it is wrong to strip people of their basic human rights on the basis of our personal opinions,” says Siddhi, talking about the LGBT community in India.

Siddhi started the community in school after reading a post on her school’s Facebook “confession page” that said ,“I am a lesbian, but you will never know who I am”. The post confused her initially. How could loving someone—in a world brimming with hate crimes—be wrong?

Together with two of her friends, she approached the school’s administration to launch Breaking Barriers, the first Gay-Straight Alliance at the school level in India.

Siddhi Pal-Tagore school

Over the past four years, Siddhi has conducted numerous workshops on sexuality to nearly 5,000 people, including students and teachers in 12 schools, one university, and several organizations in India and the US. Siddhi’s work has received an encouraging response, with her winning the Global Education & Leadership Foundation’s National Youth Leader award, an endorsement by UNESCO, and being featured by some of the world’s leading media.

The ‘We Are A Family Foundation’ chose Siddhi as one of 30 Global Teen Leaders. As a result, she attended the week-long Just Peace Summit 2015 in New York. This was on the basis of her work with Breaking Barriers. There, she created Thrive Magazine with journalist Melissa Jun Rowley. The publication is an online magazine for LGBT youth to share their stories and connect.

Thrive is a confidence-building platform where people share their real-life stories to inspire others. It also has a holistic sex education module that does not focus on heterosexuality. By sharing personal stories, Siddhi and the team hope to raise awareness about the “normalcy” of LGBT people. Through this, they want to highlight that the violation of LGBT rights is a violation of human rights. After the team conducts a workshop, they ensure that the organization becomes inclusive and gender-sensitive.

For this, they set up notice boards, informative sections in libraries, and anonymous complaint boxes.

Siddhi Pal-Breaking-Barriers

Reputed organisations like GLSEN and the GSA Network now recognise Thrive Magazine. The team has also attended many Queer Pride Parades across the globe. They’ve walked with hundreds of people pleasantly surprised to see school kids from India taking such a bold stand. The magazine today has a readership of 7,000 people every month. Thanks to Siddhi’s work with Thrive Magazine, she attended the Global Changemakers Summit 2016 in Switzerland. She was there as one of 40 Global Changemakers from across the globe.

Siddhi is also a runner-up at the Queen’s Young Leaders Award in 2017. The Award recognizes exceptional people aged between 18-29 from the British Commonwealth. Taking the lead in their communities, these people use their skills to transform lives. As a runner-up for this award, she will receive a unique package of training, mentoring, and networking. With this support, she can continue and develop the work she is already doing in her community. She will also have access to Leading Change, an online leadership course developed by the University of Cambridge.

Siddhi Pal has inspired numerous people at a young age. Her endeavours have relieved many of the stigma that exists in the LGBT community. Through her awareness work, she aims to change the mindsets of people in India regarding the LGBT community.

(The author is a young writer who works for Caleidoscope.)

If you are a LGBT person feeling isolated by society, connect with like-minded people on The Thrive Magazine.

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Written by Caleidoscope

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Caleidoscope.in is an online cultural magazine that collects interesting experiences and opinion-based articles on niche subjects such as Indian Art & Culture, Nostalgia, Offbeat Travel, Alternative Lifestyle, Volunteering, etc.