June is celebrated as the annual LGBT Pride month in the US. It marks the anniversary of the Stonewall riots that broke out in New York in 1969. Manhattan hosted its first Pride parade the following year. The resistance sparked the beginning of the gay rights movement – which gradually transformed into a wider, more encompassing struggle for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.
In India, where gay rights remain a contentious legal issue, the last few years have witnessed a rise in gay rights activism. Today, Pride parades are hosted across different cities, seminars and workshops are organised to discuss vital issues, and a strong legal fight is on in the courts.
Despite a constant attempt by the government to curb their rights, LGBTQ+ activists and allies have been passionately involved in fighting for the repeal of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code.
Kolkata became the first Indian city to host a Pride march in 1999. Till a decade later, Pride parades were confined to metropolitan cities like those of Delhi, Bombay and Kolkata.
More recently, however, the tradition of organising parades has been picked up by a number of other cities, including Surat, Nagpur, Bhopal, Pune and most recently –Lucknow. The Quint spoke to members of the community in some of these cities, to find out about the challenges facing the LGBTQ+ community in their areas.
“Pride Gives us Strength in Numbers”
Anand Chandrani is the founder of Sarathi Trust, a community organisation based in Nagpur that works towards the health and rights of the LGBTQ+ community. He organised the first ever Nagpur Pride in 2016.
I thought why should I have to go to Bombay to attend Pride? We are lucky that the Pride march in Nagpur did not draw any political opposition and received a great response from many people.Anand Chandrani, founder of Sarathi Trust
People from small cities like Nagpur find it harder to come out because of lack of exposure. So many people reach out to us with stories of discrimination on the basis of their sexual identity. The police often support those who harass members of the LGBT community. Pride marches offer a needed visibility to our fight and provide individuals with strength in numbers.
“Women Face The Maximum Threat”
Toshi Pandey is a research student at Allahabad University. She identifies as gender fluid and pansexual.
Queer people have always faced discrimination. But, as a queer woman, my vulnerability increases. Our country is particularly dismissive of women’s body rights and concerns. Authorities, especially in academics, try to ‘invisibilise’ us to suppress our identity.Toshi Pandey, Allahabad University student
A few months ago, she was not allowed to present a paper on the LGBT movement at an international seminar held in Lucknow University.
Alternate media has given us a platform to assert the demand for our rights. But, the LGBTQ+ movement in India is still transphobic and Islamophobic to an extent. Women face the maximum threat.
“Pride Instills Pride”
Dharmesh is currently a student at Allahabad University and the founder of Resistive Alliance for Queer Solidarity (RAQS) – a queer-straight alliance that helps people understand queerness in Hindi.
Pride, as the word suggests, in stills pride in you. Making a political statement by claiming the streets to demand what is rightfully ours, sends out a strong message. It exemplifies the feminist idea that ‘what is personal, is political’. A record-breaking number of people have come out after Pride marches.Dharmesh, founder of Resistive Alliance for Queer Solidarity.
Dharmesh also pointed out a divide in the community that is often missed.
One cannot deny that different levels of privilege exist within identities. A lot of men within the community are upper caste and upper class gay men. Even though they have played an important role in the movement, education has been a crucial factor in providing them that platform.
“We Are More Than Our Sexuality”
Chikirsha Prakash is a student in Lucknow and considers herself non-binary or gender fluid.
I am misgendered quite often. People assume that I am a young boy. Our heteronormative society isolates women. Pride has definitely given the LGBT movement a lot of visibility but it also reinforces stereotypes about the community. I feel, more education is required to sensitise people about these issues. We are more than our sexuality, you know!
“My Classmates Used To Tease Me”
Kartik Chopra, a student at Lucknow University identifies as a gay man. He feels that even within the LGBTQ+ community, there needs to be greater acceptance of people with different characteristics.
Sometimes, marchers and the media tend to isolate you if you are not dressed a certain way. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with dressing in a flamboyant manner. But, one should not be sidelined simply because they dressed in simple clothes.Kartik Chopra, Lucknow University
My mother still seems to be in denial about my identity. Even at school, classmates used to tease me, ‘ye toh ladki jaisa hai (he is like a girl)’, they would say. But I always brushed it off. Eventually, you just stop paying attention. It is a long road to getting acknowledged and accepted.
“Pride Mobilises People”
Apoorva Malhotra is a law student based in Lucknow. She prefers not to subscribe to gender labels.
Pride parades certainly mobilise large scores of people but they do not necessarily make people immune to the patriarchal construct. Men often tend to sexualise lesbian relationships. Personally, I have come across men who do not understand these issues from a gendered perspective. That being said, I think it may be harder for men to come out because affection between two women is considered normal; they could be mistaken for being sisters or best friends.
“I’m Still Exploring Who I Am”
Nisha Joseph is a student who lives in Bhopal and is still exploring her sexuality.
I don’t really like to label myself. I’m still in the process of finding who I am. I have always been sporty and athletic. I love dressing in masculine clothing. I want to have short hair, but that often makes people say, ‘arrey, ladki bann jaa! (behave like a girl)’.
The accounts of these amazing people provide an authentic and honest insight into the Indian LGBTQ+ community, which is diverse, fierce and proud – to say the least.