Global Roundup: Indigenous Trans Visibility, Journalists in Sri Lanka share #MeToo Stories, Black TikTokers Strike, Roma Band in Serbia Empowers Young Women, First Drag Conference in India

Compiled by Samiha Hossain

Morgan Teiakonwathe Curotte was among the first people in Kahnawake, a Kanien'kehá:ka community south of Montreal in Canada, to come out as transgender. She first came out as gay at 25, and then as transgender a year later. It was a difficult experience for her, especially talking to her family. She hopes that being out for the last five years is helping provide a positive impact on community members who may be questioning their own gender identities.

It's pretty scary, but I like to think that with more of us being out just being ourselves, it will make it easier for the people who will come after us…It's a part of bringing to life a Haudenosaunee philosophy where decisions today benefit the next seven generations into the future. - Morgan Teiakonwathe Curotte

Curotte discusses how embracing her identity was important for her mental health. She was concerned about her risk of depression and potential suicide. Although the transgender community in Kahnawake is small, more visibility will help reduce stigma.

We need to have a place made if there isn't already a place in our culture for queer folks…Just making that space because we're here, and we're here now. - Morgan Teiakonwathe Curotte

According to Rebecca D'Amico, clinical supervisor of secondary prevention at Kahnawake Shakotiia'takehnhas Community Services, LGBTQ people are more at risk for mental health issues, bullying, substance abuse, and suicide. The organization promotes education and awareness around gender and sexual diversity. For instance, they had a campaign with rainbow balloons and a message of celebration of gender and sexual diversity across community organizations and businesses to mark the international day against homophobia and transphobia on May 17.

MC Snow, 55, is in the process of coming out as trans and changed their name on Facebook a few months ago. The balloons were the first time they noticed anything in the community recognizing transgender rights – something they would like to see more of. 

I think for a lot of the young people coming out, they don't want to come out into a world where they don't feel accepted. Normalising it would go a long way towards making our kids comfortable and OK with themselves. - MC Snow

Visibility can be incredibly powerful for marginalized communities, particularly LGBTQ+ people who too-often have to hide significant parts of themselves to protect themselves from discrimination. When people like Morgan Teiakonwathe take the first step, they are asserting that LGBTQ+  people exist and are here to take up space rather than navigate their identity alone and in silence.

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The flood of claims began after a journalist tweeted last week that a male colleague threatened to rape her while working at an unnamed newspaper [File: Issei Kato/Reuters]

Sri Lankan journalist Sarah Kellapatha tweeted last week that a male colleague had threatened to rape her while working at an unnamed newspaper from 2010 to 2017. Sharing her story led to a stream of #MeToo allegations from other newsroom staff, which resulted in the government ordering an investigation into sexual harassment in the media. 

It was almost impossible for any female to wear a dress to work, without having to endure salacious remarks from male colleagues about their legs and bodies in general, or they would utter a loud ‘sexy’ whenever they felt like it. - Sarah Kellapatha

Another journalist, Sahla Ilham, shared that she was sexually abused by a “famous editor” at a now-defunct paper who had pressured her family to keep quiet.

While US journalist Jordana Narin was interning at a Sri Lankan newspaper, a senior colleague had subjected her to a campaign of sexual harassment before the chief editor forced him to resign.

[He] was the best journalist Sri Lanka had ever seen. I couldn’t wait to learn from him … Instead, I spent the next two months being favoured by him, then yelled at by him, embarrassed by him, and groped repeatedly by him. - Jordana Narin

Government spokesman and Minister of Mass Media Keheliya Rambukwella said he has asked the Government Information Department to investigate and ensure women journalists could work in a safe environment.

Abusers and enablers of the patriarchy have tried to coerce these journalists into silence for far too long. In taking the brave step of sharing their stories, - which undoubtedly puts their safety and careers at risk - they are demanding that sexual violence in the workplace be taken seriously rather than a pervasive issue that remains hidden. 

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Jalaiah Harmon Credit: Thiree Pinnock and Ty "Creed" Smith via Variety

Black creators on TikTok have gone on strike to highlight how the platform relies on Black creativity to power viral trends. The strike includes refraining from sharing choreography to Megan Thee Stallion’s latest song Thot Shit. It is also part of the ongoing conversation of how white and other non-Black creators use choreography created by Black content creators (in many cases, women) without crediting the person who came up with the dance moves. For instance, well-known TikTokers like Charli D'Amelio and Addison Rae have been critiqued for enjoying immense fame off of Black creators' choreography.

Last week, Erick Louis posted a video set to Thot Shit that has over 426,000 views now, where he’s about to dance to the track as the words "MADE A DANCE TO THIS SONG" are displayed on the screen above his head. Then, he holds up both middle fingers as the text displayed on the screen changes to say, "SIKE. THIS APP WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT [BLACK] PEOPLE."

It just speaks volumes. We have these experiences outside of TikTok. As Black folks, we're used to galvanizing, marching, protesting, having to scream and yell to have our voices heard. It's weird that it's also having to be translated onto a space where people are supposed to divulge their creative endeavors and engage creatively. It's supposed to be a safe space but even in those spaces we're forced to make a statement and protest. - Erick Louis

Black creators have been choreographing many TikTok viral dance trends. Jalaiah Harmon choreographed the iconic "Renegade" dance when she was 14 years old. The trend was popularized by white creators who did not credit her initially. After The New York Times reported that Jalaiah had created the dance, she began to get widespread recognition — but by then, the trend was winding down. Addison Rae also came under fire for performing the dance on the Jimmy Fallon Show. Fallon later addressed the controversy by having the creators who originated the dances on his show.

This is yet another example of the creativity and work of Black women being invisibilized and co-opted. Black women are an essential part of digital spaces like TikTok. It is crucial that they get the credit they deserve. This strike has been generating important conversations around this topic and hopefully it results in more Black creators getting recognized for their work.

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Members of the Pretty Loud band, practice at a music studio in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, June 16, 2021 (AP Photo/Marko Drobnjakovic)

An all-women Roma band in Serbia called “Pretty Loud” is using music to promote women’s empowerment in their community as well as challenge patriarchal traditions. The band was formed in 2014 and gained popularity and international attention performing last year at the Women of the World Festival in London. The music is a combination of rap and traditional Roma folk and mainly targets a younger generation of Roma girls about to make important life choices. The band hopes to encourage these girls towards education and away from the widespread custom of early marriage. 

We want to stop the early marriages ... we want the girls themselves, and not their parents, to decide whether they want to marry or not. We want every woman to have the right to be heard, to have her dreams and to be able to fulfil them, to be equal. - Silvia Sinani, Pretty Loud band member

A UNICEF study published in 2020 showed that over one-third of girls in Roma settlements in Serbia aged 15-19 are already married. Of them, 16% were married before they were 15. Another band member, 27-year-old Zlata Ristic, gave birth at the age of 16. As a single mother, she wants other women in similar situations to know that their lives are not over once they have children, and that they can still pursue their dreams.

My biggest reward is when 14-year-old girls write to me and say they want to become one of us, that they now attend school thanks to us, that they have improved their grades. - Zlata Ristic

Members of Pretty Loud teach at music and dance workshops run by GRUBB, which was established in Serbia in 2006. Diana Ferhatovic, 18, first came to the center four years ago, initially seeking help with school lessons before joining the music program and finding her way into the band.

Roma are among the most marginalized groups in Serbia and Europe. They live in segregated settlements and face high levels of poverty and prejudice. Activists have voiced concerns that the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the social isolation of marginalized groups and increased their poverty. Disruptions of regular schooling due to the lockdowns have made it even harder for Roma children to stay in the system.

It is uplifting to see that Roma girls have Pretty Loud to look up to. The members have an intimate understanding of fighting against age-old misogynist traditions and they are not afraid to use their voices to speak out against them.

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Drag artist Patruni Chidananda Sastry from Hyderabad, India Photograph: Marc OHrem-Leclef

Patruni Chidananda Sastry is organizing the first ever drag conference in India, as part of Dragvanti, his online initiative to bring together drag artists from across the country. It is a one-day virtual event on June 25 with an expected 250+ attendees, including popular drag artists. A wide range of topics will also be covered such as drag in classical arts and the globalization of Desi drag via Bollywood.

The idea is to give the drag community a space to talk about themselves and all the issues that are relevant to our lives. - Sastry

Sastry began to learn classical Indian dance at the age of 5. Now he’s 29 and working as a business analyst. He performs Tranimal – a postmodern drag concept born in Los Angeles in the mid-2000s – and more conventional drag using the avatar of SAS (Suffocated Art Specimen – how he describes himself).

For a few years before he got into drag, Sastry was using classical Indian dance to explain complex concepts of gender and sexuality and raise awareness about the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in India. He has also used drag to protest discriminatory and regressive legislation and the right-wing government’s discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority. More recently, he has used drag in support of the farmers’ agitation in northern India. 

The way the world is changing, any artist has to be political. And drag by its very nature is political. Without going into a march or protest, I am protesting because I believe drag can be influential in bringing about change. – Sastry

Although Sarstry says traditional drag performances have always existed in various Indian communities, a new wave of drag has emerged in India in the past 10 years, with influential artists like Maya the Drag Queen and Miss Bhenji at the forefront. The drag scene has greater visibility in the cities, but those in smaller towns lack the resources to connect with the larger community or find space to present their art.

Hiten Noonwal, who teaches at various fashion and design colleges, is a gender fluid performance artist, fashion designer and speaker at this weekend’s conference. They are excited at the idea of this event shining a light on how drag is a medium for storytelling and social change. 

When I finally found drag, I knew that I had found my calling. Art became my companion from then on. - Hiten Noonwal

Sarstry is uplifting various marginalized communities using drag as a medium of activism. This conference will go a long way on starting the conversation on issues emerging in the drag community in India. It will also be a space for LGBTQ+ people to meet others and celebrate their identity.

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Samiha Hossain (she/her) is a student at the University of Ottawa. She has experience working with survivors of sexual violence in her community, as well as conducting research on gender-based violence. A lot of her time is spent learning about and critically engaging with intersectional feminism, transformative justice and disability justice.

Samiha firmly believes in the power of connecting with people and listening to their stories to create solidarity and heal as a community. She refuses to let anyone thwart her imagination when it comes to envisioning a radically different future full of care webs, nurturance and collective liberation.

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