India is a country with rich traditions, lovely people, and wonderful cities. Yet the darker side of regressive customs, narrow-minded opinions and lack of education lurk is equally strong. Sonal Giani, bisexual, activist, writer and filmmaker decided to rise up against the challenges faced by bisexuals, gays, and lesbians and to address the issues head-on.
In a country where the Supreme Court decides it is ‘illegal’ to love someone of the same sex, bisexuality and LGBTQ issues and concerns are not even considered. Apathy towards gays, lesbians, and bisexuals, constant mockery and tomfoolery around their lives and choices, the lack of job opportunities and community support are just some of the things LGBTQ people have to contend with.
Born in Pune and raised in Goa, Sonal was raised by understanding and supportive parents. Her twin sister Rupa and elder brother Dhaval both knew that Sonal was going to carve her own path. They constantly encouraged her and even when she came out as bisexual, her family and siblings only had love and care to offer her. A rare occurrence in India, this has enabled Sonal to accept and forge her destiny from a young age without having to undergo the trouble of hiding or pretending like many Indian teens.
Sonal Giani used her voice and belief and experience as an advocate for the Humsafar Trust, a renowned Indian organization working for the benefit of the LGBTQ community. Through the trust, Sonal helped lost, confused and terrified teens going through the difficult experience of understanding their sexuality.
She also offered counseling and support for teens and LGBTQ people facing abuse or threats or even blackmail. The distressing and punitive laws on homosexuality crush the spirits and hearts of Indian LGBTQ community. They can receive nasty and scary threats about revealing their identity to the Government or local authorities. Sonal held the hands of many of the LGBTQ population suffering such crimes and be their support system in a challenging time.
Determined to create a niche of her own, Sonal launched Yaariyan- a LGBTQ youth initiative in 2010. It is the young and the teenagers who can get lost bearing a burden not everyone can carry and Sonal along with Yaariyan reaches out to them in India and provides mental counseling, support and the feeling of having a home.
Going further ahead and allowing Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans women a safe haven, Sonal founded Umang in 2011. It focuses on the idea that anybody who has to stand up for their own sexuality and freedom to love can have the support of Umang and Yaariyan should the need arise.
Sonal Giani has used her fame and platform to write, act and even give interviews about real issues faced by the LGBTQ community in India. A part of the core group that organizes Mumbai Pride since 2010, Giani has spoken around the world about freedom to love and live as they are for the LGBTQ people.
The strict laws, the conventional societal norms, blatant workplace discrimination, lack of mental and physical healthcare and lack of sex education in India are some of the topics she often discusses and debates. Sonal has created a movement for the youth and the LGBTQ, offering them the much needed support, love and encouragement to stand up for themselves and demand what they deserve.
Sonal has used films, acting, theatre, dance and writing to express her emotions, feelings and journey of her life. A regular contributor to blogs and magazines, Sonal has also appeared in a popular guest show hosted by Indian superstar Aamir Khan, ‘Satyamev Jayate’ to discuss her work and life.
Her constant vocal stand on LGBTQ issues and rights have led her to win awards and accolades by local and international institutions. Sonal Giani is the female icon India needs in times like these.
Featured Photo by Fibonacci Blue