KOLKATA: In the realisation that the pandemic situation caused people from the LGBTQ community great difficulties in accessing requisite medical services, three NGOs have come together to launch a pan-Indian COVID-19 services locator dedicated to the people from this community.
The said locator, created jointly by Varta Trust in Kolkata, Chennai-based Solidarity and Action Against the HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), and Grindr for Equality from Los Angeles was launched in Kolkata on late Saturday evening.
The locator has features that allow search for services by state, city, town, nature of service as well as the different queer community sub-sections served by the service providers.
Pawan Dhall, founding trustee of Varta Trust, Kolkata told IANS that the COVID-19 pandemic has only seemingly ended. "Even if it is dormant at this stage, its devastating socio-economic and health impact on transgender and queer lives is still being felt and will continue to be felt. Such an online help finder was badly needed. What if there's a fourth wave of the pandemic? Queer people need to be smarter next time around and be prepared with information where to access help," Dhall said.
In an e-mail communique, Jack Harrison-Quintana, the director of Grindr for Equality, Los Angeles said that his organisation has supported this vital project from the beginning and he is pleased to continue supporting it in the new phase. "This is important for Grindr users and all LGBTIQA+ people in the country," Quintana said.
Queer activist Susanta Pramanik, who worked on the locator with Varta as a researcher, pointed out that the locator presents easily searchable information on queer community groups and NGOs across India that provide a variety of services related to COVID-19.
"These include not just COVID-19 testing and vaccination support, but also access to quarantine centres, dry rations, community kitchens, emergency shelter, legal aid, and even livelihood guidance, STI/HIV treatment and mobile phone recharges. These are the challenges that queer people have faced because of the pandemic and lockdowns, and we wanted to make sure our research tools captured information on as many of them as possible," he added.
Calcutta High Court's senior criminal lawyer and also a reported queer-rights activist, Kaushik Gupta, that even after the Supreme Court of India turned down Section 377, that earlier criminalised same-sex relationship as a punishable offense under law, lack of awareness among a large section of the queer community still prevails where many are unaware of their rights to access medical facilities.
"So, in my opinion, this pan-Indian COVID-19 services locator will be of great help to the people of the community where they will know exactly whom to approach in times of crisis or emergency,' Gupta said.