The Queer Azadi March is next Saturday, but if you believe LGBT rights are human rights and want to show your support, the party has already begun.
January is Pride Month in the city, with the biggest events lined up in the week leading up to the QAM. There are photo exhibitions, screenings, talks, classical dance and rock concerts, a play, open mic night, treasure hunt, even a flash mob and free hugs.
It all culminates on January 28, as India’s biggest pride march heads to the streets, pushing to decriminalise homosexuality and demand equal rights.
CRITICALLY ACCLAIMED FILMS
“Since the first March was held [in 2008], the movement has grown in incredible ways,” says Parmesh Shahani, who heads the Godrej India Culture Lab, which screens short films and a panel discussion today. Participants have increased from 500 in that first year to 7,000 in 2016.
“You realise that this is not a movement that is going back into the closet. What is wonderful is that there are so many straight people joining us, fathers with kids on their shoulders, grandparents, supporters in wheelchairs. They’re people who believe all humans should be treated equally.”
The Lab has collaborated with Kashish, South Asia’s largest queer film festival, and the Gaysi Family, a gay-issues collective, for today’s events. The screenings culminate with a discussion on how political, social and cultural factors play into the navigation of queer desires.
What: A day of gay programming
Where: Auditorium of Godrej India Culture Lab, Godrej ONE, Vikhroli East
When: Today, 11am to 7pm
Entry is free
Also on today is an unusual initiative to warm the public to equal rights. Activist Sunil Pawar and a team of about 30 volunteers will gather at the Shivaji statue on Juhu beach holding placards that read: ‘I am Queer/Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Trans. Will you hug me?’
They’re hoping for lots of supportive embraces. “We did this is December 2015 along Marine Drive and had 200 roses to give those who hugged us – we ran out of flowers in the first hour,” recalls Pawar. “I think we did 500 hugs over four hours. Pride Month will be even better.”
The activity is designed to foster conversation about the LGBT community’s struggles and to get strangers to take a stand in casual but positive ways.
Many supplement their embrace with supportive words they’d never have vocalised; for others, it’s a confessional for support that should have come sooner.
“It’s liberating for both parties,” says Pawar, even as he recounts one instance in which a girl asked her boyfriend for permission to hug a gay man on the street.
You can bring your own placards and join the event. But remember that not all arms might be encircled in support. One man was clear that he didn’t support LGBT rights, but hugged Pawar anyway because he just felt sorry to see someone ask for hugs.
What: Free hugs
Where: Juhu Beach, near the Shivaji Statue
When: Today, from 4.30pm
Entry is free
A FLASH MOB
Elsewhere in the city — we can’t say when or where — queer issues will be harder to turn away from. Kam (he chose not to share his full name), an alumnus of the LGBT youth organisation Yaariyan, will lead a team of 35 to 50 dancers in a flash mob.
The event, now in its fifth year, has previously been held at Marine Drive, Dadar, Bandra and Vashi, and Kam promises that this time as well, it will be in an area that has buzz.
The men and women will dance, as always, to a Hindi song and aim to spread awareness about their rights.
Flash mobs aren’t quite like other Queer Azadi March affairs. “Most events are for people who’ve signed up or want to attend them. That’s like preaching to the choir,” Kam explains. A mob, on the other hand, springs up where the public least expects in, allowing it to engage unlikely crowds, pushing them to think about issues of sexuality.
Rehearsals are pretty stressful. (“Do you know what it’s like to have 30 gay people in a room together?” Kam asks jokingly.)
They started out subtle, dancing to Ma Ka Laadla five years ago, but every following instance, they’ve pushed the envelope. Last year, dancers came close to a liplock. “For viewers there was no ambiguity — we were talking about our permission to love,” he says.
Go to MumbaiPride.in for the full schedule of events