Navigating the Gender Lines

IVLP alumnus Manak Matiyani works on building inclusivity and youth leadership.

By Jason Chiang

June 2023

Navigating the Gender Lines

(Photograph courtesy Manak Matiyani)

Manak Matiyani (he/him) is a feminist and queer activist, working as a consultant in the community development and human rights sector. Matiyani’s goal is to enable systems development and power shifts on issues of gender justice, sexuality rights, health equity, violence prevention and youth leadership development.

He is a General Body member of Jagori, a women’s rights organization in New Delhi; an advisory board member with The YP Foundation, a youth leadership development organization working on gender, sexuality, education and social inclusion; and a volunteer with the Delhi Queer Pride committee. In 2019, Matiyani participated in the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor’s Leadership Program on human and civil rights for marginalized communities.

In a conversation with SPAN, Matiyani shares his thoughts on the top issues for the queer community and how he hopes to bring positive change through his efforts.

Here are some excerpts from an interview.

What are some of the life experiences that led you to work in the fields of gender and queer activism?

Growing up, I felt a severe lack of opportunities and spaces that built my perspectives on myself as well as the society around me. As a queer person, my experience of school and college was dichotomous and isolating.

I found a few spaces that connected with social reality, and I began volunteering while I was pursuing my undergraduate courses. While working with rights-based organizations and within the feminist and queer rights movements in India, I discovered the difference between a charity-oriented approach to social change and a human rights and social justice-based approach to change.

This felt much more aligned with my view of the world and continues to be my approach and lens toward learning, as well as working further toward social and community development.

Can you share your most memorable takeaways or experiences from the IVLP?

The IVLP experience had so many memorable aspects. The visit to Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and hearing about the work in the wake of the tragic shooting there was intensely moving. We also had the opportunity to meet a youth group working in Kansas to ensure that Pride remains inclusive and that the celebration aspect of it still foregrounds the discrimination and violence being faced by queer youth in America.

What do you think are the current top issues for the queer community?

A significant takeaway from the IVLP, for me, was learning about systems to prevent violence and discrimination against minority communities. Creating and training these systems within the constitutions of different countries, and especially here in India, is one of the biggest struggles for queer people today.

The nonrecognition of marriage, lack of safe and nonjudgmental health services, the impossibility of adoption, nonrecognition of family units other than patriarchal heterosexual models of marriage — these all exacerbate this issue which is the biggest one facing queer communities today.

Can you share examples of outcomes that resulted from your activism?

In my own circle of influence, one of the last things I contributed to before transitioning out of my role as the executive director of The YP Foundation was a program to support young queer leaders to prevent violence and discrimination. A stellar team ran that program across one year—26 young people in 19 states were able to build their capacities and leadership to reach out to communities in educational, health and legal service provision agencies. The program helped create systems to prevent discrimination against queer people on the ground.

Please share any other anecdotes from your work that would inspire more people to advocate for the queer community.

One of the key programs I worked with provides comprehensive sexuality education to adolescents in and out of schools. This made me realize that young children can very quickly understand diversity, model inclusive behavior, and become champions for diversity and inclusion.

Hearing a 10-year-old girl talk about the world like a plate of food, which contains many wonderful food items that make that plate rich, nutritious and healthy, in a video interview for her school was a huge reward for all of us involved.

It reaffirmed my belief that young people have the capacity to be reflective, inclusive and charismatic leaders.

Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.


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