VISAKHAPATNAM: When Shivkumar Lanka and Harsha Hayathi — a cisgender man and a transwoman — founded Visakhapatnam’s only LGBTQIA+ support group NESTAM, they didn’t realise the difference they were going to make.
Since its inception, NESTAM has been helping to spread awareness on a plethora of issues pertaining to the queer community through film screening, Human Library Visakhapatnam, Pride Month celebration, and so on.
With the initiative, Shivkumar wants to change the severe lack of awareness and support towards the community in the city. “Initially, even the idea of forming a support group wasn’t understood by many. I didn’t receive the full support of the community in the city as well until I met Hayathi. It took me three years to finally find someone who understood me and how my intentions aim to change the lives of the current and future generations,” Shivkumar said. Upon being told, Hayathi loved the idea and immediately wanted to get it working.
“We want the awareness of non-binary existence of people in terms of their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression to begin from educational institutions, where such people are subjected to bullying, discrimination and harassment,” Hayathi and Shivkumar said. Being a part of the queer community, the duo mooted NESTAM in an attempt to provide a safe space to people who have faced hostility because of their sexual orientation.
In the last five years, NESTAM conducted Vizag’s first Pride parade, and various online conferences in collaboration with other queer-friendly organisations in an attempt to spread awareness on the need for pronouns, gender inclusion, and talks about trans, bi and gay rights.
While Hayathi is a bank employee, Shivkumar works as a teacher. NESTAM has people with almost all kinds of identities as its members, which makes it possible for the group to support non-binary persons, the founders explained. It hopes to dismantle the many stereotypes and myths built around the LGBTQIA+ community.