An LGBTQ+ ally training in southern India led by two Washington State University staff left participants feeling empowered and energized to expand LGBTQ+ rights in their communities.
Daniel Saud, director of international admissions and recruitment in International Programs, and Matthew Jeffries, director of campus climate and community building in Student Affairs, led the three-day training in September 2023 to teach higher education and private industry leaders how to support the LGBTQ+ community and train others to join them.
The training involved 21 individuals from three Indian states and was funded by a $15,000 grant awarded by the Office of Public Affairs in the U.S. Department of State. Saud and Jeffries applied for the grant through the U.S. Mission India Public Diplomacy Small Grants Program administered by the Hyderabad Consulate.
“When we think of our land grant mission, it means we share our values beyond the state of Washington and with the rest of the world,” Saud said. “One of our strengths at WSU is supporting the LGBTQ+ community, and we can show others what we are doing to create a university respectful of differences.”
The training included overviews of LGBTQ+ terminology, the characteristics of an effective ally, and case studies focused on challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community —bullying, harassment, coming out, and the use of inappropriate language, among others. The participants also learned how to become effective ally trainers themselves and manage the emotions they may experience when training others.
The workshops came at a critical time as India is progressing toward building a respectful society for LGBTQ+ individuals. The Supreme Court of India provided its first protections for transgender people in 2014, and in October 2023, the court strengthened its support of LGBTQ+ individuals, but stopped short of legalizing same-sex marriage.
Jeffries said the recent developments in India’s courts are spurring a lot of conversation among Indian citizens, which was very evident during the training workshops.
“Daniel and I decided to pull back on some of the curriculum we had planned to allow for more discussion,” Jeffries said. “The participants wanted to explore many areas such as how to provide better support for friends, family, and coworkers coming out, as well as the role of media, religion, and the caste system in shaping societal views.”
Participant Katiyani Juneja Sharma, a law professor at ICFAI University in Hyderabad, said not long ago it was considered taboo in India to talk about LGBTQ+ issues. Now that more people are talking about and standing up for LGBTQ+ rights, she wants to take an active role in the movement and credits WSU’s training for helping her feel ready for the challenge.
“The most beneficial part of the training was the uninhibited approach towards the discussion, learning about safe spaces and to be an ally for the community,” Juneja Sarma said. “It was a heuristic experience for me, and I am glad I invested my time.”
A stipulation in the grant calls for each of the participants to conduct four training sessions of their own during the next year involving a total of 100 people. Juneja Sharma plans to lead workshops with students, faculty, staff, and administrators on her campus.
Jeffries and Saud will check in with her and the other participants regularly during the next six months to see how the training sessions are going and address any challenges they may be experiencing. WSU will continue to serve as a resource once the grant ends.
“In all, our group will produce over 2,000 allies in the region that didn’t exist before,” Saud said. “These diplomacy grants are very small monetarily but have a large impact that change the course of a lot of communities.”