WHAT WE DO
DROP IN CENTEREvery afternoon our office is a riot of color and laughter as a wide range of people from across the city come to utilize the community kitchen, facilitate the prayer club and free noon meals, seek advice regarding personal crises, practice for an upcoming dance performance or simply rest and watch movies. At Sahodaran we know that isolation, shame, and stigma are some of the biggest obstacles for the LGBTIQ community trying to practice more healthy-seeking behaviors. To remedy this situation and as part of our Targeted Interventions, we operate a Drop-In Center six days a week where community members can come to socialize, seek help during crises, or participate in ongoing events. Our Drop-In Center owes its vibrancy to the fact that we are completely managed and occupied by LGBTIQ members. This makes our office an oasis for those people to find some relief from the stigma they encounter in society.
- HIV/AIDS PREVENTION AND CARE SERVICES
AIDS/HIV is an important health public problem in India. According to the last Annual Report of NACO (National AIDS Control Organization), in 2015 the prevalence of AIDS in India was 0.26. Despite the adult HIV prevalent has decreased from 0.38 in 2001/2003 to 0.26 is still a great concern for this country. Around 90% of HIV transmissions are related to unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing of injection equipment between an infected and an uninfected individual. Consequently, there are groups of population who are exposed to higher levels of risk. This groups include Female Sexual Workers (FSWs), Men who has Sex with Men (MSM), Transgenders (Ts), and Injecting Drug Users (IDUs). Stigma and discrimination towards HIV is a great obstacle for people to take up prevention, treatment, and support services. Due to all the above, one of the main objectives of Sahodaran is to create awareness regarding STI/HIV/AIDS among the LGBTIQ population.
To that end we are part of the Targeted Intervention program supported by the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society. This program is one of the most important prevention strategies in India, focused with populations in a determinate area where there are one or more high risk groups. For more information you can visit their website (https://www.tnsacs.in/targetted_intervention.php?related_links=1).
First of all, we identify and reach out to community members at hot stops frequented by MSM. We also provide condoms, lube, and we educate them about STI and safe sex practices, both individually and in groups. As early testing and diagnosis is the gateway of HIV prevention, treatment and care, we provide access to confidential STD testing services, along with preliminary diagnosis. For that matter we introduce them to community-friendly counselors for pre-test and post-test, we refer the HIV/STI patients to community-friendly healthcare providers for treatment and care. We also refer HIV+ individuals to ART dispensaries. For us is pretty important to facilitate them safe spaces in all this actions.
In addition to HIV/AIDS prevention and care, annual health camps are conducted at Sahodaran Unit I and II to provide free eye, dental, and insulin tests for community members.
CRISIS SUPPORT AND COUNSELING
Sahodaran has a crisis support team that works 24 hours, 365 days a year. The main purpose of the crisis team is to ensure that we are able to address issues and challenges faced by the members of the LGBTIQ community. The crisis support team addresses any and all concerns that may come up, from workplace discrimination, passing through police harassment, to family or relationship troubles, and anything in between. Our team strives to be available within 24 hours of contact and all encounters are 100% confidential.
One-on-one counseling is also provided in-office to all of our members who approach for help, providing sufficient information, knowledge, and an understanding about STIs/HIV/AIDS. As a part of promoting and creating awareness about safe sex, we develop and distribute IEC material, as well as Behavior Change Communication (BCC) material developed through consultation meetings with the guidance of BCC consultants. New materials are continually developed as per need.
INCOME GENERATION PROGRAMS
To foster economic independence amongst all LGBTIQ/MSM and to build our own reserve of unrestricted funds, Sahodaran has initiated several income generation programs (IGP) for community members to craft and sell handmade products. These products include hand-sewn sari blouses, handbags, mobile phone covers, glass paintings, and staged cultural performances for a fee. The office also functions as an informal marketplace where people can come and sell their products to others within the local community. One of our goals is to build our IGP potential to become less dependent on external funding.
- AWARNESS AND EDUCATION PROGRAMS
• Social attitudes
Sahodaran works to transform social attitudes, creating a conductive environment for community members to realize their full potential. Our sensitization programs educate non-community members about gender, sexuality, and the diversity of sexual orientation, through simple presentations and testimonials tailored to the needs of each audience. Our modules also emphasize the legal, health-related, and psychosocial challenges faced by community members. In addition to tackling individual prejudices, these programs build public support for LGBT rights and the decriminalization of homosexuality. Our programs aim to forge community friendly spaces at every level, from the home and surrounding locality, to advocacy for and state and national-level policy change.
• Local community and family
At the level of the home, we facilitate parental counseling to help parents accept and support their children/’s sexual orientation. We also counsel MSM on how to better approach their families, through a family member that is sympathetic to their cause. Through our sister concern Thozhi, we initiated the first sensitization program for jamath leaders (respected elders within the traditional transgender community), to help them provide better care and support to the kothis under their care. Received training for various module female partners of MSM & TG 2012 – especially Police, Shop keepers, auto drivers and landlords.
We work to transform hot spots into community-friendly spaces by educating and sensitizing locals, such as landlords, shop owners, police personnel, auto drivers, and rowdies. Impressed by our success with police advocacy, Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society selected Sahodaran to conduct police sensitization programs throughout the state of Tamil Nadu. At several hot spots, local flower-sellers and petty shopkeepers have agreed to stock free condoms to hand over to community members. During incidents of violence or harassment, auto drivers and other local stakeholders can act as witnesses or sources of support, rather than remain silent bystanders. In 2014, through Sahodaran Unit I and II, we conducted 11 sensitization programs with local stakeholders, reaching a total of 340 persons.
• State and religious groups
Sahodaran maintains ongoing relationships with influential political and social figures such as community-friendly celebrities, young politicians, progressive media outlets, and religious leaders. We also work closely with religious groups and leaders to sensitize them about community issues and concerns and honoring them at events. We have established relationships with groups traditionally considered to be opposed to sexual rights, such as the Hindu Munnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad. We draw on these community-friendly leaders for events and individual counseling to promote better acceptance of LGBTIQ people within their families and in society. On average we hold two sensitization meetings a year with political leaders and about four to five meetings with religious leaders.
As a key member of the Tamil Nadu Rainbow Coalition since 2008, Sahodaran partners with fifteen other CBOs and NGOs across the state to organize large-scale events advocating for sexuality rights and the decriminalization of homosexuality. One of our sister organizations, Thozhi, has played an instrumental role in revitalizing the currently stagnant Transgender Welfare Board in Tamil Nadu, pressuring the government to grant homes for 260 transgender women that were previously homeless. Our organization has been engaging in mid-media communication to educate the public on both LGBTIQ and HIV/AIDS issues across the State of Tamil Nadu, and to advocate for non-discrimination. Another visible contribution is the annual Pride Month in Chennai which takes place during June every year. Sahodaran facilitates the events of Pride Month by mobilizing community members and students to participate, leveraging contacts to mobilize funds, and offering the Drop In Center as a space for meetings and other purposes. Sahodaran also conducts annual day celebrations that provide a creative and empowering outlet and space for many sexual minorities to display their artistic talents. This includes members of Sahodaran who regularly perform at the Annual Koovagam festival near Villupuram, and at the annual Chennai Rainbow Pride March.