Early December, the sixth Delhi Queer Pride Parade saw unprecedented attendance, which ran into thousands (according to a media release). "We are making a statement that we exist," one of the organisers of the event was quoted as saying. The community "exists", and thrives, in our city too, even though they continue to be plagued by issues ranging from legal to discriminatory. With the success of the march in the Capital, we revisit the scene in Mumbai.
The city, too, has its annual Queer Azaadi Mumbai march (this year, it took place in February). Held at August Kranti Maidan, Gowalia Tank, its attendance of 5,000 this year (reported figure) was a huge jump from the 500 people who attended the inaugural edition in 2008.
Apart from this, the Queer Azadi Group, the Humsafar Trust (an NGO for LGBT rights) and the magazine Gay Bombay organise events around the year. There's also the Kashish Mumbai International Queer Film Festival, besides monthly parties at a few city venues.
Berlin: The city has a gay museum (Schwules Museum) and a gay memorial. The district of Shoneberg hosts an annual gay parade, while Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg have numerous clubs, bars and restaurants for homosexuals.
New York City: The communities of West Village, Hell's Kitchen and Chelsea offer a range of gay-friendly accommodation. LGBT landmarks such as Christopher Street, the Harvey Milk School, the Lesbian History Archives, and the Theater District are other gay attractions.
Amsterdam: Amsterdam's Gay Pride Week attracts about 5,00,000 people to the Canal district. Amsterdam also has a monument called the Homo-Monument.
London: Europe's largest LGBT community lives in the city. Pride London is a huge event. Old Compton Street and its adjoining area in SoHo houses gay bars.
Paris: The gay pride parade attracts hundreds of thousands of people every year. Marais, having gay-friendly bars, restaurants, cafés etc, is known as the gay-est location in the world.
Sadly, on the one hand, as participation in pride marches increases, on the other, the discrimination against the community in everyday life continues to exist. The Delhi High Court decriminalised homosexuality in 2009, but the Supreme Court reversed that verdict last year.
"The recriminalisation of gay sex has pushed people back into the closet. We have also seen a surge in cases of extortion from local gangs, and harassment from the police," says Sonal Giani, advocacy manager, Humsafar Trust.
Something as basic as renting a place has become difficult. City-based designer Inder Vhatwar says, "A friend of mine was once thrown out of his rented house when the landlady found out about his sexuality. She said that two men getting physical would bring bad luck to the house," adds Vhatwar.
Vhatwar says that although a few parties take place at venues in Colaba and Bandra (he doesn't want to name them), such incidents have compelled homosexuals to maintain a low profile. Siddharth (name changed) met his partner at one such party.
He says, "I went to a party on insistence of one of my friends. I met my partner there, and soon started dating." However, while he says they hold hands in public, post the recriminalisation of Article 377, they "feel insecure". "I can't introduce him as my boyfriend," Siddharth says.
He adds that the gay party scene in the city was at its peak after the 2009 HC verdict. However, organisers of most such parties shut shop after the SC's reversal in 2013. "The scene continues on a much smaller scale now," says Siddharth. Some people also frequent online dating websites like planetromeo.com and grindr.com, or use apps like Fridae Nite.
Vhatwar, who used to run the LGBT-friendly store D'Kloset in Bandra (W), also found himself affected directly by the 2013 verdict. He was forced to shut his store after the owner refused to renew his lease. "He said, 'Gay people are illegal in the country,' so he wouldn't renew it. I reasoned that we aren't selling anything illegal, but he refused to change his stand," Vhatwar says.
Pallav Patankar, another member of the Humsafar trust, narrates an incident, where a person who found a date on a website was swindled for money. "Someone I know went to his date's house after meeting him online. Immediately, after reaching the house, his date went to the washroom. Next, there was a knock on the door and four people barged in. One claimed to be the landlord and said what the two men were doing was illegal and demanded money. Later, my friend got to know that his date was also part of the scam."
A similar incident happened with Atul (name changed on request), who got a knock on the door, with the visitor saying his date was their relative who owed them money. "They said I had to pay Rs 1,80,000 which my date owed them. They took my laptop and iPad. I also gave them Rs 9,000," says Atul. The following day, the fraudsters were arrested by the police. According to Atul, the group had fleeced 21 gay people in the city.