Social activist and IVLP alumna Jaya advocates for transgender rights, care and HIV/AIDS prevention in India.
(Photograph courtesy Jaya)
Jaya (she/her) is an LGBTQIA+ activist who has been working in the field of HIV/AIDS prevention and transgender care for more than 20 years. She is the general manager of the Chennai-based nongovernmental organization Sahodaran, one of India’s oldest LGBTQIA+ organizations. Established in 1996, Sahodaran works with low-income communities that are at high risk of HIV/AIDS, combining HIV/AIDS prevention and care services with social support, counseling and crisis intervention.
“My passion is social work. I do it for the happiness and satisfaction that I get with this kind of work,” says Jaya. “Additionally, there are not many trans people who work for at-risk communities.”
Jaya started her life as an activist in 1999 with Sahodaran, where she was an entry-level peer educator. She has won awards for her work and filled a number of roles at the organization.
Besides working with Sahodaran, Jaya is also project director of the targeted intervention project by the Tamil Nadu State AIDS Control Society. Her goal is to help empower LGBTQIA+ community members to become leaders and pave the way for greater recognition of sexual minorities nationwide.
Sharing an example of her work, Jaya describes how she and her team worked on HIV/AIDS prevention in 10 low income areas across India. “We placed boxes where people could anonymously drop a letter about their HIV/Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) status or doubts. We identified and treated 17 STI cases and nine HIV positive cases,” she says. “It was the first time an outreach activity created such impact in these areas. We also provide comprehensive services to transgender and MSM (men who have sex with men) communities on the prevention and care of HIV/AIDS and STI/STD, like counseling, testing and medical treatment.”
The IVLP experience
In 2016, Jaya participated in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on “Understanding Transgender Issues in the U.S.” The IVLP is the U.S. State Department’s premier professional exchange program. Through short-term visits to the United States, participants from a variety of fields learn about the United States and cultivate lasting relationships with their American counterparts.
“I had two key takeaways from the IVLP,” says Jaya. “I learned about PFLAG, a network of parents of the LGBTQIA+ community created by the mother of a gay person. It was an amazing experience. And I learnt about the growing number of homeless trans women in America.”
Jaya’s experiences during the IVLP have helped her work on motivating parents to be supportive, by sensitizing them and encouraging interaction with other parents. “We are also motivating the community and the office staff to use [gender] pronouns by providing pronoun badges and stickers,” she adds.
Talking about her new projects, Jaya says Sahodaran recently collaborated on a study with UNESCO on gender-based violence and bullying in educational institutions. “We now also provide tuberculosis education, prevention, screening and care services for transgender women under SAATHII (Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India) through the Stop TB Partnership.”
Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.