Pride Month: Inside a centre set up for the queer-trans community’s wellness

The QT Center in Hyderabad offers members of the LGBTQI+ community a range of services including free therapy, legal assistance and a safe space to just be themselves

Tanisha Saxena
First Published16 Jun 2024, 06:00 PM IST
Members of the LGBTQI+ community require safe spaces that provide them with a sense of community
Members of the LGBTQI+ community require safe spaces that provide them with a sense of community (REUTERS)

“I have often faced challenges accessing basic services such as haircuts, gender-affirming makeup, salon treatments, or legal assistance. Sometimes, to access these services, one has to hide their queerness,” says Patruni Chidananda Sastri, a Hyderabad-based drag artist.

But ever since Queer-Trans Wellness & Support Center (QT Center) opened its doors in April 2023 in Habsiguda, Hyderabad, Sastri has been able to breathe easy and relaxedly engage in activities as simple as film screenings and book readings.

Also read: Pride Month: Fun make-up looks to make a statement

(The QT Center) is a safe space for everyone—a home where one can simply sit, have tea, and feel contented just to be there, Sastri shares. “They offer free services, one of which I used when I was becoming a new parent. I sought free therapy sessions to navigate postnatal stress and anxiety. These sessions were crucial for my well-being. Without a queer-affirming therapist, my experience might have been mocked or laughed at, but the centre provided the support I needed,” they say.

For people like Sastri who identify themselves on the LGBTQI+ spectrum, QT Center has emerged as a safe haven where they can access mental health care, practice art and simply rest. The centre, in partnership with city-based NGOs, also organises occasional health camps for the community.

A safe haven instigated by the pandemic

The QT Center is an initiative hosted by Yugantar, a 43-year-old NGO based in Hyderabad, and led by queer individuals from the city. As elucidated on its website, the centre is ‘supported by an advisory board comprised of feminist and human rights organizations, queer lawyers, activists, and academics’.

“Wellness, to me, spans a spectrum and includes justice and equality. If you have access to safe, stable housing, healthcare, nutritious food, rights and resources, and are being treated with dignity in society, that is a significant part of a person’s wellness,” says Tashi Choedup, a core team member of the centre.

Incidentally, the idea for setting up the centre was propelled by the pandemic. “Covid-19 disproportionately affected the queer community, exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and creating new challenges. Many LGBTQI+ individuals faced increased isolation due to lockdowns and social distancing measures, often finding themselves in non-affirming or hostile home environments,” says Aditya Raja, a core member of the centre.

The closure of queer-friendly spaces and lack of access to public spaces further limited their social support networks and safe spaces. Additionally, economic instability hit the community hard as many LGBTQI+ people were employed in sectors like hospitality and entertainment that were severely impacted by the pandemic. “Overall, the pandemic intensified the marginalization and hardships experienced by the queer community, highlighting the need for more inclusive and resilient support systems,” Raja notes.

The issues faced by the queer community during the pandemic underscored an urgent need for a centre where they could find recourse, says Choedup, who identifies as a trans-non binary person. “We thought such a centre would provide vital support in seeking mental health care, employment, housing, and legal advice. Above all, it would offer a sense of belonging, ensuring that queer individuals have a secure and affirming space to turn to in times of crisis or otherwise,” they reveal. 

Tashi Choedup addressing a session hosted by QT Center

Comprehensive support services for holistic wellness

The essential support services it offers include mental health services, legal aid services, 24/7 helpline (+91 88975 33014), crisis intervention support and a hang out space for queer individuals.

“When discussing wellness, it is essential to recognize that it involves addressing underlying causes, whether they pertain to physical or mental health. For instance, economic difficulties and unemployment can lead to depression. True wellness encompasses both therapeutic support to manage symptoms and assistance in securing stable employment. A holistic approach is necessary; focusing on only one aspect is insufficient,” explains Raja.

Ask Rachana Mudraboyina, a transgender rights activist in Hyderabad and a member of the centre, the nature of support the queer community requires and her response is detailed. “Access to education and upskilling is crucial for the queer community as it provides empowerment, opportunities, and the ability to challenge societal norms. Education opens doors to better job prospects, financial independence, and personal growth, which are essential for queer individuals facing discrimination and marginalization,” she says. Mudraboyina adds that digital accessibility – easy access to computers and internet – would further help bridge gaps in traditional education systems and foster inclusion and equality within the community.

Making mental health care accessible

Dr. Sukriti Rex, lead psychologist and researcher at Evolve, Canada believes that members of the LGBTQI+ community require spaces that provide them with a sense of community. “Members of the community face extreme stress owing to factors such as rejection, bullying, lack of representation and internalized homophobia. This makes them 2-3 times more prone to mental health issues. To ensure they have access to appropriate support, queer safe spaces are crucial,” she notes. “These safe spaces reduce loneliness and isolation by validating emotions and offering self-care tools for resilience. They foster companionship and relationships among like-minded individuals with shared experiences.” Going by the number of calls they receive every month, the centre may be filling the void felt by the community in Hyderabad.

“We receive approximately 30 calls per month,” reveals Raja adding, “These calls encompass a variety of concerns, including employment opportunities, housing issues, finding allies, understanding gender identity and seeking mental health and crisis support.”

The centre recognises that conventional mental health care often caters to upper-class, upper-caste, and heteronormative individuals, leaving marginalized identities, including queer, neurodivergent and DBA (Dalit Bahujan and Adivasi) communities, underserved. Partnering with Pause for Perspective, a city-based mental health organisation, the centre focuses on offering mental health care services that are tailored specifically to the needs of these communities. “Our service is free of charge, and anyone can call us at any time. Depending on the nature of the case, we forward it to the appropriate specialist,” shares Raja.

“Our first aim is to make mental health care more accessible by addressing language barriers. While mental health discourse is often centered around English, we believe it is crucial to provide services in native languages. QT Center is actively exploring ways to implement this,” Aarathi Selvan, founder of Pause for Perspective, explains. The other goal, Selvan reveals, is to make mental health care accessible to marginalized queer individuals. “Adopting a community-driven approach, we are exploring how queer individuals can become key stakeholders in their own mental health care,” she says.

The community-based initiatives include weekly group sessions that incorporate storytelling through books, art and movement. Some of the topics explored include ‘the meaning of chosen family’, ‘conflicts with native families’, ‘experiencing queer joy’, ‘grieving the coming out process’, and ‘building community’.

“We also offer mental health support group sessions where participants discuss their experiences with depression, anxiety, and other forms of marginalization. These sessions, held two times a week, provide a space for individuals to share their stories, learn from each other, and understand what support looks like,” adds Selvan.

Tanisha Saxena is a Delhi-based independent journalist. She writes stories that are on the intersection of art, culture and lifestyle.

Also read: Inside wellness homes where everything is built for holistic health

 

 

 

 

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First Published:16 Jun 2024, 06:00 PM IST
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