Sahodaran was founded in 1996 and got registered in 1998 by Sunil Menon.C. Since then Sahodaran has been a leader in the LGBTIQ community in Southern India. We currently run two drop-in centers and four sister organizations. We also employ 20 full-time staff, 64 part-time staff, and 250 volunteers that include physicians, advocates, academicians, and researchers.
Our founder carved out a road for advocacy and created a community which grew to be a stronghold for the LGBTIQ community of Chennai. He studied anthropology at Madras University, and while he was doing his PdH, in 1992, he got a call from an anthropologist asking him to do some work on HIV/AIDS for the World Health Organisation. In 1993 he presented his paper in Berlin at the International HIV/AIDS conference. That changed his life forever. It was then that he realized MSM where one of the main groups exposed to high levels of risks. Despite he started working as a fashion designer, he has always fought to promote LGBTIQ awareness and to reduce the risk of HIV transmission and curb the stigma of HIV. He has presented several papers all around the world related to sexual health and LGBTIQ rights. His work has been recognized has on numerous occasions by national and international organizations.
Jaya is currently the General Manager of Sahodaran. She initiated her work with Mr.Sunil Menon.C as a peer educator and has worked her way up to the general manager position. Because of this, she has a unique understanding of the LGBTIQ community in Chennai, and has personally shaped it. She has worked to make Sahodaran the safe space and powerhouse it is today. Sahodaran, the staff and the community as a whole is her new family. Even though she is a kothi activist she has a deep connection with the entire LGBTIQ movement. Jaya has participated in many national and international conferences.
Sahodaran began with kothis/gay men community. But soon we realized transgender needs and concerns where similar, due to it, Sahadoran provided technical support to the group of community and created new community based organizations to support other LGBTIQ members. Nowadays our organization is more open to every LGBTIQ person. Accordingly our main objectives are:
• To educate the community to be conscious of and be respectful to the LGBTIQ community.
• To address the sexual health issues surrounding the sexual practices and sexuality amongst Tamil Nadus LGBTIQ population.
• To create awareness regarding STI/HIV/AIDS among the LGBTIQ population.
• To foster change at the local, state, and national levels to ensure the rights and dignity of the LGBTIQ community.
Thus far, we have been consistently evolving with every year. For the past 15 years, intervention sites of our organization have expanded to include certain areas among beaches, parks, and train routes that traverse the city connecting to the suburbs. As the demographics and densities of populations in some sites changed throughout the years, the outreach has since been modified to suit the dynamics of each site.
A major step forward will be through targeting MSM who are currently involved in heteronormative marriages and behaviors. These men present a special risk for the spread of STIs and HIV. By engaging in extra-marital sex these men not only contract illness that is brought home to the wife, but then can further spread the infections to other partners. At Sohodoran we believe Targeted Interventions geared toward these men can help prevent the spread of sexually transmitted disease. We also firmly believe that our work to create a more tolerant and inclusive society will ease the burden these men feel about their sexuality.
Sahodaran is continually engaged in outreach efforts to educate and sensitize school students since they represent the leaders of our future. Our sensitization workshops range from small informal meetings of 15-20 students within our office, to large-scale gender and sexuality programs targeting 500 students at a time. We have also hosted volunteers, interns and researchers from other countries, including the United States, Uganda, Nigeria, and Japan.
Additionally, we are always seeking to promote and support our sister organizations so that we may tackle specific issues within all of the LGBTIQ community together as one.
Our endeavor to ensure LGBTIQ equal rights has been recognized several times:
• Sahodaran director Sunil Menon won lifetime achievement award from Asian book of records and TAI-VHS in 2014.
• The Family Planning Association of India awarded us the “Best Grassroots Level Award” in 2014.
• We received a Solidarity award from the South India AIDS Action Programme for our work with Pehchan TI project in 2011.
• Sahodaran received a special award of appreciation in Nagapattinam district in 2010 for the orientations conducted there.
• We received National AIDS Control Organization/’s Red Ribbon Express Cultural Troupe Award in 2010 for our dance and theatre-based advocacy.
• Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society honored Sahodaran in 2010 by awarding us a new project in North Chennai: Sahodaran Unit II. Recognizing our success in Central and South Chennai, TNSACS exhorted us to empower and mobilize MSM and TGs in impoverished areas of North Chennai. We were also asked to conduct counselors orientation and experience sharing for other NGOs implementing TIs for MSM.
• We were recipients of “Best Civil Society Award” from UNAIDS in 2006.
• The Royal Netherlands honored us for ‘Best Street Theatre/’ in 2006.