By Vaibhav Singh*
Today, more Indian youths are accepting homosexuality and queer identities than ever before, but acceptance of their sexuality and the freedom to openly express their gender choices remain a constant struggle for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) people within the confines of their families, homes, and schools.
In my conversation with Andreas Oberholzer we have discussed how in Switzerland, as a developed nation, LGBTQ community is accepted in the society and how his journey was supported by his family and friends. Andreas is a LGBTQ rights activist based out of Switzerland, he also founded the student initiative “Pride Month” at University of St. Gallen. Through this initiative he wants to make LGBT+ a visible topic on his campus and raise awareness for diversity & inclusion.
Coming out as gay to the society is the most difficult phase. Andreas says, “I think we should start with my coming out, because my own coming out as a gay person was really tough one. It’s not tough to be gay. But you know that personal perception of the issue is always different. And for me, it was like when I discovered that I’m gay, that I was like, ah, I want to study at a business University, but I can’t do a career as a gay person. All I knew about gay people was that my father is laughing at them when he sees gay hairdressers or something in a TV series or in the movies. Now I’m part of this. I’m also one of those that my father laughs about. This was a very difficult period for me, because first, I had one half a year to figure out if I’m really gay. And then after half a year, I knew Aha, okay, I’m actually gay. But then the second part came, which was very difficult for me to accept this fact. And on the journey of accepting this fact, I had the opportunity to get some advice from “YOU ARE YOU”. It’s an organization that has a website, and they have peer advisors. So, you have a picture and a short text of the coming out stories of about 20 to 30, other 24 to 27 year old people. And you can just write them an email with all your questions, and they will reply to you within 27 within 72 hours and then after the answer is also reviewed by psychologists and people that respond to his peers. They are coached by psychologists. So, I took the chance and wrote an email and that helped me a lot. Then also, I met one of the advisors from this platform in person because I was really finding it difficult to accept myself. After this meeting, I was so happy, and I knew if this person can be good. And I can be gay too. I can also stand to myself and be open about it. And like, two days after this meeting with the advisor, I came out to my parents. And then that was about a year before High School ended. And then when High School ended, I started to volunteer for this organization, because I think I thought that that was such a good service, and it helped me so much that I need to give back something to the community. And then that’s like the starting point where I felt like, okay, for me, it was very difficult. I think that it’s going to be difficult for many other people and I want them to have an easier journey than me.”
In India there is a stigma around LBGTQ communities and but we though that the scenario might not be the same in Switzerland, Andreas discusses his experiences in Switzerland. He quotes: “The situation in Switzerland is kind of twofold. We have SSA, the city centers, the metropoles. They of course very open, very liberal. But as soon as you move apart from that, you will still have the stigma, you will have people who think that we are betraying Gods by not producing children with women, you have people who say that nature created us the way we should be, and you should not do gender transitioning things for trans people, for example. But these are also the same people who say you should not do abortions and stuff. So like, I’d say the general public is open, I think accepts it. But you still have a lot of communities that are against it. The latest example is we are voting on marriage equality right now. So in on 26th of September, we will vote on marriage equality. And imagine Switzerland, you think is quite a progressive and open and modern country, but it isn’t, we still have to vote about it. And I’m not sure if it’s a one game yet, because there are so many conservative people here in Switzerland. And there’s a lot of news shared about this vote now. And you can see so much hate under this article. It’s incredible. And then another phenomenon that has recently started to pick up and become a larger issue is violence against LGBT people in public. So when I came out five years ago, I have never read a news about gay person did not after party. But now like, every other month, I can hear and read news where somebody is beaten up on the way between the club and train station. And that’s really sad thing is going on right now.”
Although we have a perception that Switzerland is a developed and modern country and should have better social acceptance of LGBTQ communities than India, but from the discussion we can say that irrespective of the country there is a certain parts of the society who have a conservative mindset towards LGBTQ communities.
*PGP 2020-22, IIM Bangalore