STATE AND NATIONAL-LEVEL AWARENESS
Students, researchers, and educational institutions
Sahodaran is continually engaged in efforts to educate and sensitize school and college students, since they represent the leaders of the future. We establish contact with educational institutions by directly approaching faculty members, by hosting student researchers and interns, and by leveraging the family, friends, and partners of MSM/TG community members. Our student 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 also invite student volunteers to participate in our dance and theatre programs; in return, several schools and colleges in our network have invited MSM/TG community members to be chief guests, and honored them with special achievement awards. We have also hosted volunteers and researchers from other countries, including the United States, Uganda, Nigeria and Japan.
Political leaders, religious groups:
Sahodaran maintains ongoing linkages with influential political and social figures such as community-friendly celebrities, young politicians, progressive media outlets, and religious leaders. Mr. ‘Tiruchy’ Siva, author of the recent Transgender Rights Bill passed unanimously in the RajyaSabha (upper house of Parliament) in 2015, consulted representatives of Sahodaran and its sister concerns in drafting the provisions. Sahodaran also conducted two sensitization programs last year for young politicians and councilors, identifying community-friendly leaders in key areas of the city. Sahodaran has been a member of Community Advisory Board at Tamil Nadu Social Welfare Board, since 2008. In the past year, Sahodaran’s sister concern Thozhi 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. Sahodaran also works closely with religious groups and leaders, sensitizing them about community issues and concerns, and honoring them at events. We have built links with groups traditionally considered to be opposed to sexual rights, such as the Hindu Munnani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad, as well as with interfaith groups. We draw on these community-friendly leaders for events and individual counseling, to promote better acceptance of MSM within their families and in the society. On average we hold 2 sensitization meetings a year with political leaders, and 4-5 with religious leaders.
Sahodaran, together with its sister CBO Thozhi, has also played a key role in shaping media coverage of MSM/TG community members, by honoring community-friendly celebrities, and organizing public protests against transphobic and homophobic portrayals in cinema. Members of Sahodaran’s cultural troupe have performed on established television channels including Doordarshan, Pothigai, PuthiyaThalaimurai and PuthuYugam. Community members from Sahodaran have participated in talk shows and panels debating various policy shifts regarding sexual and gender minorities.Thozhi also pioneered the first large-scale protest about the portrayal of transgender women in Tamil cinema, in 2015.
Advocacy for decriminalization of homosexuality:
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. The most visible of these is the annual Pride Month in Chennai which takes place during June of 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 planning meetings and poster making.
Sahodaran has become a key nodal point for MSM-based research conducted in Tamil Nadu, thanks to its success in mobilizing community members.
• Since 2007, we have partnered with the Tuberculosis Research Center, Chennai and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) institute for a research study about HIV/AIDS prevalence and depression amongst MSM. We also serve as a member of the Community Advisory Board at the Tuberculosis Research Centre.
• Since our inception we have partnered with the Center for Sexuality and Health Research Policy (C-SHARP) about stigma and discrimination faced byHIV-affected MSM.
• Other collaborators include YRG Care, Chennai, and Fenway Institute, Boston.
• Sahodaran is also a regular destination for research students from undergraduate and graduate programs in India and abroad, that collect data from Sahodaran’s community populations, while volunteering for the organization in return.
Cultural festivals and traditional gatherings
We honor the various cultural backgrounds of our community members by celebrating all festivals at our Drop In Center, including Pongal, Onam, and Diwali. We also honor special festivals focusing on the transgender community, based in religious myths and legends sanctioning transgender identity. We regularly participate at the annual celebrations at the Koovakkam festival south of Chennai, where we receive small grants from TNSACS to put on dance and educational theatre events. Our cultural troupe of dancers and theatre artists provides a platform for the community to showcase their talents in addition to helping generate income.