Feather boas, loud make-up, masquerade masks and rainbow flags fluttering in the Chowpatty breeze – they are the first things that come to mind when you think of the Pride march. But beneath the glamour lies the struggle, and the eagerness of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community to be accepted and stop being stereotyped. After being successfully organised for five years, the Mumbai Traffic Control authorities denied them the necessary permissions this year.
In a city with the reputation of being the all-embracing, progressive cosmopolitan heart of the country, why the prejudice against those who are open about their sexual orientation? We talk to two individuals from the LGBT community, and find out what it takes to be happy and gay in Mumbai.
Monisha Ajkaonkar Photographer, 23
“I discovered I was gay was when I had a boyfriend but was still thinking about my best friend. All I could think about was her, and me holding her hand. I was falling for her. That’s when I knew.
I’m extremely open about it now. However, it was not always so. In college, before coming out of the closet, it was a struggle. I was too afraid to tell my friends about how I feel, because there was always this fear of being judged. I have now stopped caring about what people think; it is of no importance to me. And fortunately, the people around me have always been kind and understanding.
My family, for instance, have always been supportive. When I first told them, they were in shock, but they got over it. Even at work (she used to work for Rolling Stone magazine), I’ve met like-minded people, who were never prejudiced.
But sometimes, due to issues that I face on a daily basis, I feel that society hasn’t accepted us in totality. While renting a new apartment in Bandra recently, I informed my roommate about my sexual orientation. She paused and said she “had to think about it”.
Sometimes when I talk to female acquaintances or friends, people automatically assume I am hitting on them! It’s funny how it’s difficult to have a normal conversation without generating such reactions.
Praful Baweja, PR professional, 32
“I discovered I was gay pretty late, at the age of 21. I remember telling my sister about it. In the initial years, she kept hoping that suddenly one day, I would declare it was a phase and go back to my ex-girlfriend from college who she liked. But now, she’s accepting of me and understands me.
I guess I have never given into the clichés of wearing pink shirts or skinny jeans or using my hands excessively while talking. Since I didn’t do that, I didn’t even feel the need to conceal my orientation. How-ever, problems arise when we as a community are treated more as a statistic, and less as people.
Today, there are 16 PILs against decriminalising consensual sex among adults of the same gender and amending section 377 and only one in the favour of it. All that is being asked for is to retain the rape clause and making a more stringent separate law for child abuse instead of using the current law, which is vague. I feel it is prejudice when each of those PILs attack my morals, my choice to love a man, my decision to be a tax-paying individual while they call us psycho or diseased. It hurts, but it also motivates me to be my-self, despite what others think.”