Monday, July 22, 2024

A ‘safe space’ for state’s LGBTQIA+ community


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By Our Reporter

SHILLONG, June 29: In a world where social media has now become a platform for bullying and negativity, a group of young teenagers in Shillong decided to transform it into a safe haven. They created “Safe Space Shillong,” an online community, starting on Instagram designed to offer support and a sense of belonging to LGBTQIA+ individuals. This Pride Month, the administrators of Safe Space Shillong shared their journey and motivations with The Shillong Times.
“It’s only love. What’s everyone so afraid of?” This quote from the 1998 movie Get Real rightly echoes the sentiments of many people who are dehumanized for being in love, and for whom they love.
Does one get to choose whom they fall in love with? Life would perhaps be a lot easier if it were so.
One of the administrators, Bann (23F, Queer, she/they), recounted how the initiative started: “I wasn’t present when the first and second administrators planned to start the page, but I joined fairly quickly. Our initial objective was simple: to find fellow queers we could relate to without concealing our true selves. Now, after many years, the objective remains the same — to help fellow lonely queers feel less isolated and have a place to talk about themselves without fear of judgment.”
The group places a high emphasis on anonymity and safety. “The anonymity is maintained even among us administrators for the most part. When someone does reveal their identity, we ensure not to disclose it to anyone other than fellow administrators. We’ve been transparent about this fact, and our followers are aware,” Bann explained.
Bann shared a particularly poignant story that touched her heart: “A story about losing all hope for normalcy, disappointment in love, and homophobia from their own family affected me deeply. This was precisely what we were trying to prevent as children and teenagers—the reason we created the page and a WhatsApp group. I am still closeted with my family, so thinking about vulnerable kids and teens facing such dehumanisation is saddening.”
Running Safe Space Shillong has not been without its challenges. “Adjusting to the responsibility while resuming our own lives has been challenging.
We try to communicate with each other so that no one is left out of the loop. We take longer breaks now and are less active in chats, but our members seem content with communicating among themselves,” Bann noted.
Currently, the group comprises four admins who work collaboratively. “We try not to do anything on our own without informing the other admins. Our community is filled with independent, respectful, and intelligent people, so it hasn’t been very tough. Our community is beautiful,” Bann added.
A queer individual who uses he/him pronouns also shared his experience in this harsh world.
Adding how it took him one realisation that it all ends up with one’s conscience, he said, “After years of truly embracing my own sexuality, I have come to the realization that it all ends up with our own conscience.
Being different and deviating from the accepted societal constructs of sexual orientation, fashion sense, and masculinity have made me susceptible to cat-calls, bullying, and even sexual assault. I was conditioned to believe that I was inferior and weak. And this is the truth of the experiences of many other gay individuals as well.
He further revealed, “Now that I have learned to conduct myself on my own terms, I have realized that I was the one who had suppressed my own voice. Now that I have expressed my voice without fear, things are different—no bullies, no cat-calls, and no anxiety. Hence, my experience as a gay man has made me realise that my perception of the world depends on my own conscience, my own trajectory, and my own choices.”
Muante, another admin who joined Safe Space Shillong in 2022, shared their vision: “Our shared goal is to create a neutral, safe space where everyone in the LGBTQIA+ community feels secure—a place without judgmental stares or disapproving glances. Although we are progressing at a slower pace due to other commitments, I envision the page evolving into something more substantial. I am talking about developing websites that offer LGBTQIA+-related resources, helplines, and collaborating with more admins who have connections to NGOs and the government who are willing to support our cause.”
Rosie, who was inspired to initiate the Instagram page, reflected on its impact: “I wanted to establish a secure and supportive environment for the LGBTQIA+ community to share their stories and connect with others. One unforgettable story that profoundly affected me was from a young individual grappling with their identity. They discovered courage and encouragement from our community and eventually disclosed their true self to their family, who responded with acceptance. This story underscored the transformative impact a supportive community can have on someone’s life.”
The admins have encountered challenges, including negative comments and the imperative to provide accurate information. “We actively moderate comments, eliminate hateful ones, and verify stories to uphold credibility. Regular interaction with followers helps us create a positive and trustworthy space,” Rosie explained.
Despite these challenges, the admins remain committed to making social media a safe space for people who are mercilessly trolled when they finally decide to come out of the closet. Some develop a thick skin. But many of them give in.
One such queer individual from the city, who once came out publicly via their social media platform, ended up deleting their platform because of the merciless trolls, most of whom were ‘faceless.’
“I finally gathered up the courage to come out to my family and friends. To feel a sense of freedom, since I had been hiding who I am for a long time, I decided to share about my gender identity on social media. The support was immense, but along with that came an ocean of trolls who called me all sorts of names. I also started receiving unsolicited pictures in my personal messages,” they added.
This story is not singular in nature but is the story of many queer individuals who have had to go through similar miseries. Why? Because of who they are and whom they love.
The page, however, has been a savior for people who want to express themselves and tell their stories but do not want to be identified and subjected to trolling.
“Our future plans include sharing more diverse content, collaborating with queer creators and organisations, and introducing interactive features like live discussions. We hope to make a positive impact on the queer community by fostering a strong sense of community and support,” Rosie said.
In a world that often tells queer individuals they are not enough, that they are abnormal, and all things demeaning, Safe Space Shillong offers hope and a safe space.
“Love whom you want to love and do it unapologetically, including that face you see every day in the mirror,” was the sentiment of all the admins, echoing the feelings of George M. Johnson in the book All Boys Aren’t Blue.


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