A Voice For the Voiceless


The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

My RSS Feed

Twitter: #apfellows

It’s really just about human rights

Meredith Williams | Posted July 11th, 2011 | Asia

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sam Syverson wrote a blog earlier this summer in response to the question “aren’t there bigger problems in India?” In it, she argued that advocating for transgender rights is just as important as fighting poverty and other traditional issues people think of when working in a developing country because transgender individuals deal with these same problems, often at a magnified level. Even in the United States, one of the most developed countries in the world, transgender individuals struggle to access basic services like healthcare (see Dagen’s video on transpeoplespeak.org).

One of the most significant hurdles that advocates face in the fight for equal treatment for transgender individuals is that most people do not think of transgender rights as human rights. The United Nations disagrees. On June 15, 2011, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) passed a resolution on human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In the resolution, the UNHCR expressed “grave concerns” about the acts of violence and discrimination that people around the world face as a result of their gender identity and sexual orientation. The Council also commissioned a study “to document discriminatory laws and practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.” The study will also explore “how international human rights law can be used to end violence and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

The resolution was based in part on the Yogyakarta Principles, launched at the UNHCR meeting on March 26, 2007, which begin with “the right to the universal enjoyment of human rights.” Some of the other twenty-eight principles include: the right to recognition before the law, the right to security of the person, the right to privacy, the right to an adequate standard of living, the right to education, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to freedom of movement, and the right to found a family. They seem pretty simple, right? For most of the individuals that Parma works with, these are not much more than a dream.

Parma is currently conducting a survey of transgender individuals in Gujarat, India, the community that they serve. While every story is different, at least some of the respondents thus far have indicated that they:

1)      Are self-employed, because the harassment and discrimination that comes with working for a public or private organization is not worth the job stability;

2)      Are unable to move freely within or outside of India because they cannot obtain a passport or other form of identification that matches their true gender;

3)      Are unable to obtain adequate health care because the gender on their identification document does not match their gender expression (external manifestation of their gender identity) or they require sexual reassignment surgery that is unavailable;

4)      Did not obtain a sufficient level of education because they were not able to wear the uniform of their true gender;

5)      Are unable to start a family because non-heterosexual marriage and civil unions are illegal in their country, which also blocks access to all of the rights that come with a legal recognition of their commitment to their partners.

While there is hope among India’s LGBTI community that the Supreme Court will recognize at least one of the Yogyakarta Principles – the right to privacy – by upholding the Delhi High Court’s decision to decriminalize sodomy, transgender Indians in particular still lack even the most basic human rights, as recognized by the international community.

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in India

Meredith Williams | Posted July 1st, 2011 | Asia

Today marks the 2nd anniversary of the reading down of Section 377 in India, but the fight for equal rights for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and particularly transgender individuals has barely begun. While the Delhi High Court decriminalized sodomy between consenting adults in private two years ago, conservative groups have appealed the decision in the Supreme Court of India, and oral arguments for the appeal are scheduled to begin on July 11th. LGBTI advocates are hopeful that the Delhi High Court ruling will be upheld, but until the Supreme Court issues a decision, nothing is certain. And even if the Supreme Court does uphold the High Court’s decision, it will simply be decriminalizing certain sexual acts.

As a comparison, eight years after the United States Supreme Court finally decriminalized sodomy in all 50 states and US territories in the landmark case Lawrence v. Texas, LGBTI individuals are still fighting to enjoy the same rights as other US citizens. 10 states plus the District of Columbia (and hopefully soon Rhode Island) issue same sex marriage or civil union licenses. In other words, only in 1 of 5 states can homosexual couples enter into marriage or a similar union, something that traditional heterosexual couples can enter into or end at almost any time. Numerous other obstacles for LGBTI individuals also still exist, including issues with obtaining and using the same identification documents as other citizens, getting access to health care, and obtaining and guaranteeing child custody.

This post is not meant to rain on the parade (literally and figuratively) of the queer community in India, because this is a day for celebration. However, it is important to remember that this incredible achievement is just the first step in ensuring that LGBTI individuals enjoy the same human rights that are guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution of India.

Preamble to the Constitution of India
Preamble to the Constitution of India

3 Responses to “Commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the decriminalization of homosexuality in India”

  1. Meredith Williams says:

    Hi Iain,
    Right now, there seems to be a pretty good chance that the Supreme Court will uphold the Delhi High Court’s decision. However, this morning, it looks like the date for oral arguments may be pushed back again, as there are about 67 issues on the Court’s docket before this one. India is ahead of most Asian countries in hearing this issue, but there are some surprising countries that are further along, including Nepal.

  2. iain says:

    Hope to get a full account of the July 11 Supreme Court appeal, and of course the subsequent ruling. Which way is the wind blowing on this one? And is India ahead of the rest of Asia on this issue?

  3. [...] Advocacy Project Blogs – Commemorating the 2nd anniversary of the …While the Delhi High Court decriminalized sodomy between consenting adults in private two years ago, conservative groups have appealed the decision in the Supreme Court of India, and oral arguments for the appeal are <> [...]

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Adventures in Cooking

Meredith Williams | Posted June 29th, 2011 | Asia

At home in the US, I pride myself on being a fairly good cook and I generally enjoy doing it, from the grocery shopping to the prep work, to trying new vegetables, to re-imagining recipes based on my personal tastes, to sharing my cooking with friends and family. Not surprisingly, the cleanup is my least favorite part, but even that I don’t mind so much. However, I realized even before I came to India that I am really only comfortable cooking in my kitchen, where I have everything set up just the way I like it (provided my roommates haven’t moved things around on me).

When we visited in April, and since returning, I have been both intrigued and intimidated by cooking in India. The food that we eat here is amazing, especially the meals prepared by Maya, Indira, and their friends, and I would love to be able to replicate some of those recipes. But I am also intimidated by how labor intensive the cooking is and how much they seem to be able to accomplish with appliances and utensils that I need a lesson to use. For instance, we have a hot plate with gas burners in our kitchen, which is actually pretty standard in India, but when I tried to light a burner with the “igniter-thingie” (that’s a technical term) to make tea, I couldn’t seem to get it to work and had to have Indira show me the next day. Even now, a week later, it usually takes me 5-6 tries to get a burner lit, while Maya and Indira seem to do it effortlessly in one try.

Then there is the intimidation of the Indian produce. In the Indian equivalent to 7-11, Reliance Fresh, which is the closest grocery store to our office, I have probably heard of/used half of the produce there. The other half, while usually coming from similar food families (such as squash) is still completely new. Meanwhile, I’ve watched Indira buy a sack of produce from the vegetable lolly man near her house, open it, and instantly know how to prep and cook everything inside. It’ll take me more than a summer to be that comfortable. Without Indira by my side during the shopping and cooking, I’m sure pick the wrong vegetable for the dish or prep it incorrectly, but I’ve always been an experimenter when it comes to cooking.

This past Monday, Sam and I decided to face our fears head-on and give cooking a try. While the food that Maya and Indira serve us for lunch and most evenings is amazing, we feel badly for always relying on them for our sustenance. So, we queried Indira on how to prepare some Indian vegetables that we had eaten, gathered our courage, and headed to Reliance Fresh. What happened next is best summed up by this little video on YouTube, with photo credits going to Sam.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube DirektAdventures in Indian Cooking, Episode 1

3 Responses to “Adventures in Cooking”

  1. iain says:

    Quite a performance! What’s more, looks very tasty.

  2. Meredith Williams says:

    Ha! Glad to hear that we aren’t the only ones trying to find our way around foreign kitchens. As you could probably see, we also used plates as cutting boards and spoons as a substitute for almost every other utensil. I have to say though, the adventure of it all made it that much more of an enjoyable experience. I’ve been keeping up with you both via your blogs and it sounds like you are meeting some amazing women! We should definitely find a way when we get back to get together and recount our adventures.


  3. Julia Dowling says:

    Hey Meredith and Sam,

    This was amazing because it reminded me and Quinn of our own cooking in Bosnia! We didn’t actually know there was a full kitchen for us to use in our BOSFAM house. We’ve been cutting things on plates, using large spoons to spread butter, and all the other oddities of living in a pre-furnished flat. Hope you’re both well!

    Julia and Quinn

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Does “coming out” exist in India?

Meredith Williams | Posted June 29th, 2011 | Asia

Tags: , , , , , ,

This past Sunday, Sam and I went with Maya and Indira to a private screening of the documentary “I am.” I highly recommend this movie, even if you do not have a particular interest in LGBTI issues, because the storytelling is extraordinarily powerful. The movie was made by Sonali Gulati, an Indian lesbian filmmaker, who returned to Delhi eleven years after her mother passed away to pack up the family house, but also to tell the coming out story of gays and lesbians in India around the time that Section 377, the Indian law that criminalizes sodomy, was being read down by the Delhi High Court.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube DirektTrailer for "I am" on YouTube

While coming to terms with the fact that she never came out to her own mother, Sonali interviews gay, lesbian and transgender individuals, and often their mothers, to hear the diversity of perspectives and experiences of coming out to family. One thing that struck me in the movie was how different these coming out experiences were from the experiences of the people that Parma works with. Working with Parma, we had been told that the idea of coming out doesn’t really exist in India, and the best that most non-heterosexual/gender non-conforming people can hope for is that their families will just ignore the issue. However, the stories of the people in the documentary were mainly positive. Even if a family’s reaction wasn’t immediately supportive, most of the stories ended with the families coming to accept the individuals and their sexual orientation.

While the documentary showed that coming out in India is not always a negative experience, I think this is largely due to the fact that the individuals interviewed were mostly from a middle-to-upper class, urban environment. In general, most people that we meet through Parma are from rural or tribal areas and have either run away from home or been pushed out, usually after they made their identity explicit by having a female partner. This has made one of our Advocacy Project responsibilities incredibly complex and complicated. Because of previous experiences of or threats of violence, most of the transgender individuals that Parma works with are not comfortable “coming out” to their families and close friends, much less to the world at large via the internet. Therefore, gathering “personal profiles” of the people that we work with is not simply a matter of determining who has a powerful story to tell (they all do), but finding a way to let them tell a story in a way that makes them comfortable, hiding their identity visually and possibly even changing their name. Even then, many of the transgender people are not comfortable sharing their story with strangers, period.

Sharing these stories is incredibly important – hearing them has helped us to understand the roadblocks, discrimination, and mistreatment that they have endured because of the gender identity in a way that we would not have been able to otherwise, so we are working hard to find a way to share these stories with a broader audience. Over the past week or so, we have been brainstorming with Maya and Indira to generate a list of people who are more “out” and who may be more comfortable sharing their stories, and we hope to get their consent and possibly begin the process at their next group meeting.

5 Responses to “Does “coming out” exist in India?”

  1. Meredith Williams says:

    Hi Karin,
    Sam actually had a similar idea earlier this week as we were brainstorming ways to get on-the-ground thoughts and reactions to this controversial issue. However, after we proposed the idea to Parma, their response made us think it would be unwise to pursue this approach, at least in the extremely conservative area where we are living and where they work. Specifically, their feedback was that the only people who would be willing to talk about the issue would be at the far ends of the spectrum, and that it would actually be unsafe for us to speak to people who are very against the issues for which they are advocating. Should we get the opportunity to travel to other areas of India, this is still something we may think about doing.


  2. korr says:

    This looks like an incredibly fascinating and important film Meredith. Thanks for informing us of it. I wonder if there could be a way you and Sam could film others, outside of PARMA, on their impression of the issues you two are working on in India?

  3. [...] of I am by Sonali Gulati. You can read more about the film and the issue of coming out in India in Meredith’s recent blog. I just wanted to share this fun item quickly. Here I am in the “Baroda Times” section of The [...]

  4. Pegah says:

    You make a very interesting point about the relationship between the “coming out experience” and the socioeconomic status of the family. I really hope that you, Samantha, and Maya will be able to gather the stories of people who may not have had such positive outcomes when coming out to their families. It would be great to get footage of the interviews and to make their stories heard. Great work Meredith & Sam!

  5. iain says:

    Interested to read this, and glad to see you coming to grips with a difficult and sensitive issue. I suppose it’s the same everywhere – and that coming out starts on an individual level, with family and friends. That raises a lot of questions about local culture and how to portray the problem. As you say, quite difficult. But look forward to more reflections.

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

If Section 377 is struck down, what’s next?

Meredith Williams | Posted June 22nd, 2011 | Asia

On July 11th, India’s Supreme Court is scheduled to begin hearing arguments in the highly publicized Naz Foundation case. These arguments had previously scheduled for April, 2011, but the court chose to defer hearing the case until the summer. In 2009, the Delhi High Court decriminalized Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which made sodomy a criminal offence. The Indian government chose not to challenge this ruling, but in India, interested parties are also able to appeal rulings in the name of public interest.

While there are a number of parties on either side of the case, we have been working with the Alternative Law Forum, based in Bangalore, to track the progress of the case and the arguments that will be made in the Supreme Court. On their website, they maintain an excellent primer on the arguments in favor of upholding the Delhi High Court’s ruling and the history of the case.

Since the LGBT community in India is hopeful that the Delhi High Court’s ruling will be upheld, lawyers, advocates and experts have already begun thinking about what’s next in the fight for protecting LGBT individuals in India. One area of focus has been on getting the Indian government to include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected categories under the proposed Equal Opportunity Commission bill which is currently sitting in the Indian government. The current proposed bill would prohibit discrimination based on “sex, caste, language, religion, disability, descent, place of birth, residence, race or any other” and the hope is that sexual orientation and gender identity are sufficiently analogous to these categories to also be protected under this bill. Some other concerns with the bill include questions of whether the Commission will have sufficient power to enforce an anti-discrimination policy to hold employers and schools accountable and whether (and if) private organizations should be included as well.

This summer, we hope to help Parma use results from the survey of transgender individuals in Gujarat that they are currently conducting to help illustrate why it’s crucial to include gender identity as a protected category in an anti-discrimination policy.

2 Responses to “If Section 377 is struck down, what’s next?”

  1. iain says:

    You’ve identified an important advocacy goal here for Parma. Very much look forward to learning more about the survey results.

  2. [...] We agreed on several priorities and projects, including an anti-discrimination policy, which Meredith wrote about in her blog. We also agreed that couples will continue to need help navigating the difficult issues [...]

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Ready to return

Meredith Williams | Posted June 13th, 2011 | Asia

In just a few days, I leave for India to work with Parma in Baroda to advocate for transgender rights in India. I’m excited to return to Baroda exactly two months after I left in April. I’m looking forward to reconnecting with Indira and Maya, the leaders of the two organizations, to eating the delicious food, but most of all, to working with all of the amazing people that Parma serves.

My trip in April was a whirlwind. My classmates from Georgetown Law and I had an ambitious agenda for those ten days, two of which were spent traveling to and from India. After working with Maya and Indira remotely for almost three months, we were excited to meet the leaders in person and to experience up close all of their amazing work. While we returned home exhausted, we were able to accomplish everything that we had hoped and we left even more impressed with Parma and its work than we had been before we arrived. The fact that the two leaders, and all of the members of Parma’s community, are able to accomplish all that they do in the face of strict gender roles and societal norms in India makes the work that much more amazing.

The problems that we will be attacking this summer are legal issues, but will not be solved simply by changing the law.  Some of the issues that we will tackle are simple on the face, such as helping couples to create a legally enforceable will, but family and cultural pressures and a lack of clarity in the laws make them more complicated than most people can imagine. Other issues that we will address, such as the need for most transgender individuals and their partners to “elope” (or rather, run away from home) in order to be together are complex even on the face, and only get more difficult after families try to engage the police in bringing one or both members of the couple home.  In both these instances, it is necessary to change the laws to protect the rights of transgender individuals and their partners, but also to push forward changes in societal norms and encourage families to be more accepting.  There is a long road ahead of us to help these changes come about, but I am absolutely excited to return to India and get started.

Leave a Reply

Security Code:

Fellow: Meredith Williams



abuse Coming out discrimination Gujarat human rights I am India LGBT LGBTI Parma Transgender UNHCR United Nations




2013 Fellows


Benan Grams
Meron Menwyelet
Mohammed Alshubrumi
John Steies


Andra Bosneag
Chris Pinderhughes
Emily MacDonald
Jasveen Bindra
Kelly Howell
Raymond Aycock
Sujita Basnet

Middle East

Mona Niebuhr

2012 Fellows


Dane Macri
Laura McAdams
Mallory Minter
Megan Orr
Oluwatooni Akanni
Katie Hoffman


Adam Kruse
Alex Kelly
Alicia Evangelides
Heather Webb
Jesse Cottrell
Matthew Becker
Rachel Palmer


Claire Noone
Elise Filo

Latin America

Laura Burns

Middle East

Nur Arafeh
Thayer Hastings

North America

Caroline Risacher

2011 Fellows


Charlie Walker
Charlotte Bourdillon
Cleia Noia
Dina Buck
Jamyel Jenifer
Kristen Maryn
Rebecca Scherpelz
Scarlett Chidgey
Walter James


Amanda Lasik
Chantal Uwizera
Chelsea Ament
Clara Kollm
Corey Black
Lauren Katz
Maelanny Purwaningrum
Maria Skouras
Meredith Williams
Ryan McGovern
Samantha Syverson


Beth Wofford
Julia Dowling
Quinn Van Valer-Campbell
Samantha Hammer
Susan Craig-Greene

Latin America

Amy Bracken
Catherine Binet

Middle East

Nikki Hodgson

North America

Sarah Wang

2010 Fellows


Abisola Adekoya
Annika Allman
Brooke Blanchard
Christine Carlson
Christy Gillmore
Dara Lipton
Dina Buck
Josanna Lewin
Joya Taft-Dick
Louis Rezac
Ned Meerdink
Sylvie Bisangwa


Adrienne Henck
Karie Cross
Kerry McBroom
Kate Bollinger
Lauren Katz
Simon Kläntschi
Zarin Hamid


Laila Zulkaphil
Susan Craig-Greene
Tereza Bottman

Latin America

Karin Orr

North America

Adepeju Solarin
Oscar Alvarado

2009 Fellows


Adam Welti
Alixa Sharkey
Barbara Dziedzic
Bryan Lupton

Courtney Chance
Elisa Garcia
Helah Robinson
Johanna Paillet
Johanna Wilkie
Kate Cummings
Laura Gordon
Lisa Rogoff
Luna Liu
Ned Meerdink
Walter James


Abhilash Medhi
Gretchen Murphy
Isha Mehmood
Jacqui Kotyk
Jessica Tirado
Kan Yan
Morgan St. Clair
Ted Mathys


Alison Sluiter
Christina Hooson
Donna Harati
Fanny Grandchamp
Kelsey Bristow
Simran Sachdev
Susan Craig-Greene
Tiffany Ommundsen

Latin America

Althea Middleton-Detzner
Carolyn Ramsdell
Jessica Varat
Lindsey Crifasi
Rebecca Gerome
Zachary Parker

Middle East

Corrine Schneider
Rachel Brown
Rangineh Azimzadeh

North America

Elizabeth Mandelman
Farzin Farzad

2008 Fellows

Adam Nord
Annelieke van de Wiel
Juliet Hutchings
Kristina Rosinsky
Lucas Wolf
Chi Vu
Danita Topcagic
Heather Gilberds
Jes Therkelsen
Libby Abbott
Mackenzie Berg
Nicole Farkouh
Ola Duru
Paul Colombini
Raka Banerjee
Shubha Bala
Antigona Kukaj
Colby Pacheco
James Dasinger
Janet Rabin
Nicole Slezak
Shweta Dewan
Amy Offner
Ash Kosiewicz
Hannah McKeeth
Heidi McKinnon
Larissa Hotra
Hannah Wright
Krystal Sirman
Rianne Van Doeveren
Willow Heske

2007 Fellows

Johnathan Homer
Adam Nord
Audrey Roberts
Caitlin Burnett
Devin Greenleaf
Jeff Yarborough
Julia Zoo
Madeline England
Maha Khan
Mariko Scavone
Mark Koenig
Nicole Farkouh
Saba Haq
Tassos Coulaloglou
Ted Samuel
Alison Morse
Gail Morgado
Jennifer Hollinger
Katie Wroblewski
Leslie Ibeanusi
Michelle Lanspa
Stephanie Gilbert
Zach Scott
Abby Weil
Jessica Boccardo
Sara Zampierin
Eliza Bates
Erin Wroblewski
Tatsiana Hulko

2006 Interns

Laura Cardinal
Jessical Sewall
Alison Long
Autumn Graham
Donna Laverdiere
Erica Issac
Greg Holyfield
Lori Tomoe Mizuno
Melissa Muscio
Nicole Cordeau
Stacey Spivey
Anya Gorovets
Barbara Bearden
Lynne Engleman
Yvette Barnes
Charles Wright
Sarah Sachs

2005 Interns

Eun Ha Kim
Malia Mason
Anne Finnan
Carrie Hasselback
Karen Adler
Sarosh Syed
Shirin Sahani
Chiara Zerunian
Ewa Sobczynska
MacKenzie Frady
Margaret Swink
Sabri Ben-Achour
Nitzan Goldberger

2004 Interns

Ginny Barahona
Michael Keller
Sarah Schores
Melinda Willis
Pia Schneider
Stacy Kosko
Carmen Morcos
Christina Fetterhoff
Stacy Kosko
Bushra Mukbil

2003 Interns

Erica Williams
Kate Kuo
Claudia Zambra
Julie Lee
Kimberly Birdsall
Marta Schaaf
Caitlin Williams
Courtney Radsch