Published: 22nd February 2019
Meet Daniel Mendonca, the intersex social worker who campaigned for the first gender-neutral toilet in an Indian college
An intersex person, Daniel is now a social worker, working towards the upliftment of the LGBTQIA+ community. Daniel was in Chennai as a TED speaker at GLIM
Before we begin Daniel Mary Francis Mendonca's story, we want you to know about University of Mumbai's College of Social Work, Nirmala Niketan. Specifically, about the construction of a toilet on the college's premises in 2014. What could be so important about a toilet in a college, you may wonder. Here's the thing. This was probably the first time that a college in India opened a toilet for the third gender.
The credit for making this happen goes to Daniel, an intersex person, who was then a first-year BSW student. For someone who had to drop out of school in Grade IV, owing to constant physical and sexual harassment by his classmates, this 27-year-old had initially resorted to prostitution. Years later, after embracing and accepting their sexuality, Mendonca did have to go through a lot before restarting educating and obtaining a college degree. "I was quite open about my identity right from the beginning at college. My college authorities thought that it would be difficult for me to survive in college, but I took it up as a challenge," Daniel says.
But what was difficult were little things like going to the toilet. "I'd hear a taunt every time I go to the washroom. It triggered my anger and so, I decided to do something about it," says this social worker."I wrote a letter to the management demanding a separate washroom. They were shaken. The application went to the university and came back. But I still didn't give up. I was ready to even lead a rally. That was when the administration decided to break the staff toilet and make a separate washroom for the LGBTQIA+ community," Daniel proudly tells us.
But did Daniel's struggles in the college end with the toilet's construction? To answer that question, Daniel who was speaking at TEDx GLIM, told us about an incident in that happened in their third year. "In the final year, we had a paper on gender studies. Surprisingly, it only spoke about men and women. Looking at it, I was surprised. It did not talk about people like me," they say. Daniel then wrote another letter to the university stating the issue. But the reply was quite interesting. "The university asked me to write a paper on LGBTQIA+ rights. I took it as a challenge and did it in three months. I also explored other sexualities and gender stereotyping. Additionally, I spoke about issues like male rape. It was very inclusive. The university was very happy about it," says this activist who is proud to have created history twice.
Daniel has also conducted workshops on gender sensitivity in universities across the globe. A petitioner for the decriminalisation of the controversial Section 377, Daniel is now working with a few companies on their CSR projects to create safe spaces. Even though the landmark judgment on September 6, 2018 decriminalised the controversial Section 377, Daniel thinks we still have a long way to go. "I am petitioning and campaigning to implement Rape Law for the LGBTQIA+ community. I was raped when I was 16 and was in prostitution. But I couldn't file a complaint. A prostitute has the right to say no. But we still don't?" questions Daniel, leaving us helplessly silent.
Clad in an elegant orange silk sari, Daniel left the audience teary-eyed by the end of the TED talk. It was Daniel's first. The self-doubt was evident, "I haven't done enough," Daniel tells us. And when will you be satisfied with the work that you have done, we asked. The answer is contrite, "That will be the day when someone walks up to me and says that, 'because of you, I survived'. Or maybe the time when I see people like me in the churches attending the holy communion or the day I see my community as teachers and being respected," says Daniel, whose long term goal is to build an old age home for the LGBTQIA+ community. Daniel knows that it will be done one day, some day.
We also wondered what was happening with the toilet in their college. Daniel answers, "We don't have any regular student from our community. But there are students attending evening courses in the college using it. On top of that, the college now accepts the third gender and there is an option for them to identify themselves, in the application form," Daniel concludes.