There are miles to go, but milestones have their uses. Looking back, introspection, stock taking and course corrections are some that pop up immediately.

The June 28, 2018 formal launch of Varta Trust’s online locator for queer friendly health and legal aid service providers is a milestone that has been more than a year in the making.

The locator is primarily in response to numerous queries for information and support we receive from Varta’s readers and others. And as we live more and more of our lives online, there’s need also to have online access to quality and unbiased services related to our well-being.

Then there’s the possibility that major socio-legal developments around Section 377, Indian Penal Code and the controversial Bill on transgender persons’ rights may take place in the coming months. So, it may help to be connected to sources of information and support to understand and deal with the impact of these developments.

For those of us engaged in developing this database, it’s time now to spread word about it and to collect as much feedback as possible from its users. Continuously upgrading, updating and adding information and value to the database will be the next steps.

Here are 10 things you need to know about the online locator:

1. Here’s where you can reach the locator, in case you want to go straight to it

2. This locator has been developed by Varta Trust, Kolkata in collaboration with SAATHII, Chennai; and Grindr For Equality, Los Angeles.

3. It can help you quickly find and contact mental health professionals, sexual health specialists and human rights lawyers by location and nature of services needed.

4. The three focal areas are mental health, sexual health and legal aid, but a wide range of more specific services under each of these broad heads are also listed. Example: Counselling on gender, sexuality, family acceptance and relationships; STI/HIV testing and treatment; services for legal and surgical aspects of gender transition; medical, psychosocial and legal aid to mitigate the impact of sexual assault, and so on.

5. Currently 30 towns and cities in 16 states of India are covered by the locator, but this number will keep rising as we collect and validate information about more service providers.

6. ‘Queer friendly’ means the service providers listed on the locator have an understanding about gender, sexuality and the associated diversity; they’re sensitive to the concerns of queer individuals around stigma, discrimination, violence, health and larger well-being; and they possess skills required to address the concerns of queer individuals. Many of them have referral linkages to queer support forums and other services for which they don’t have expertise in.

7. Information on the service providers has been collected and validated through a process involving information referees, direct interface with service providers, a detailed questionnaire, and other forms of cross-checking of information.

8. Feedback on your experience with the service providers is welcome! We’ll pass on your inputs to them, which may help them improve their knowledge and skills. Information on specific service providers who you think should be listed on the locator is welcome as well. We’ll include them after our usual data collection and validation processes.

9. Inclusion is the guiding motto for the locator. Thus ‘queer friendly’ does not mean ‘queer exclusive’ – anyone irrespective of gender identity and sexual orientation may find the locator useful. Moreover, the locator tries to look at the specific needs of youth, women, transgender people, people with disabilities and people living with HIV among others who face multiple levels of marginalization.

10. The locator is not a stand-alone initiative – it’s in keeping with national legislations and policies around disability rights, mental health, HIV, and legal aid services.

The locator was operational since earlier this year. But its formal launch took place on June 28 at the American Center, Kolkata as part of their month-long queer pride celebrations and ‘Reach OUT’, a three-month campaign undertaken by Varta Trust, SAATHII and Grindr For Equality to publicize the locator. An audience of 50 or so – queer individuals as well as their allies – were explained why the locator was created and how to use it. See video of launch event here.

Jack Harrison-Quintana, Director, Grindr For Equality spoke from the USA through a video chat about their plans to generate awareness about the locator among the Grindr dating app’s users in India. A panel discussion followed with health and legal aid professionals and queer activists who spoke about the challenges in their spheres of work around issues of gender and sexuality.

This photograph shows a scene from a panel discussion that took place as part of the formal launch of the online locator for queer friendly health and legal aid services in India developed by Varta Trust, Kolkata; Grindr For Equality, Los Angeles; and SAATHII, Chennai. The launch event took place at the American Center, Kolkata on June 28, 2018 as part of their month-long queer pride celebrations and ‘Reach OUT’, a three-month campaign undertaken by Varta Trust, SAATHII and Grindr For Equality to publicize the locator. The photograph shows panel speakers (from left to right) mental health professional Jolly Laha; advocate Kaushik Gupta; ‘Reach OUT’ Campaign Manager Brindaalakshmi K.; HIV counsellor Piyali Ghosh; and transgender activist Sudeb Sadhu. The four panellists spoke about the challenges in their spheres of work around issues of gender and sexuality. Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

Photo credit: Pawan Dhall

The photograph above shows speakers (from left to right) Jolly Laha, mental health professional associated with Samikshani, Kolkata; Kaushik Gupta, advocate with Calcutta High Court; Brindaalakshmi K., ‘Reach OUT’ Campaign Manager; Piyali Ghosh, HIV counsellor associated with the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases, Kolkata; and Sudeb Sadhu, one of Bengal’s long-time transgender community mobilizers and activists.

Raising a toast to the well-being of our readers!

Main graphic credit: Brindaalakshmi K. and Parvathy