Grieve for Orlando, Mr Prime Minister, but don’t forget LGBT Indians
Dear Prime Minister,
Last night was difficult for millions of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community across the world as we coped with the tragic death of 50 of our friends in an Orlando nightclub.
The worst mass shooting in American history triggered a worldwide wave of sympathy and condemnation.
Messages of hope, grief and resilience poured in from across nations, helping friends and families of the victims deal with the deaths and the bile of hate that followed.
You too tweeted a message of solidarity, as is practice by a top world leader in a time of tragedy such as this.
But while you said your thoughts and prayers are with the bereaved, did you forget to mention that the victims were queer people, the kind our nation criminalises and ostracises?
The Orlando shootings numbed many but LGBT people are unfortunately familiar with such hate crimes in every country.
A 2011 study said sexual orientation motivated a fifth of all hate crimes in the United States, a country that has made far more strides in LGBT liberation that India.
Such violence is common on bodies and orientations that look different from the “mainstream” – the rate of murders of transpeople is the highest in recorded US history, the brutal lynching of a gay rights activist in Bangladesh and terrible homophobic laws in Russia that probably kill more people than Orlando.
Back home too, the Orlando shootings invoke a familiar feeling of nausea.
The draconian Section 377 that outlaws our lives and makes us criminals exists on the books and your government has done little to ensure justice to the possible millions of LGBT citizens of the country.
The law and the associated hatred of LGBT people ensures that most people remain in the closet and don’t dare express their gender or sexual preferences. Those who come out, as they say, they face unimaginable violence.
People face daily violence in their homes, trans people get beaten up and raped on streets and gender non-conforming people are regularly harassed.
Such violence against LGBT people is seldom reported in newspapers as victims are scared to approach police or media for fear of recurring hatred or ridicule.
The few murders that make it to mainstream media are often objects of ridicule, buried deep inside the pages meant for salacious afternoon crime gossip.
Dear Prime Minister, your tweet that erases the victims from their own tragedy is an act that is steeped in this culture that denies LGBT people their existence.
Members of your council of ministers have called homosexuality unnatural and your administration hasn’t come out against section 377 despite most countries – including its parent the United Kingdom – rescinding the law.
It is this culture that forces people into closets, forces them into suicide and makes sure many of us have no avenue to express ourselves except in the dark confines of a club in one of the metro cities. This is the kind of vulnerability that Omar Mateen, the shooter, took advantage of.
It is because of this culture that homosexual people are still barred from donating blood, that educational institutions still have few trans students two years after the Supreme Court recognised the third gender and there are few jobs for open LGBT people.
We face discrimination in housing, when we go to colleges, when we step into offices and when we try to express our love. We are branded unnatural and people reportedly close to the establishment – such as Baba Ramdev – get rich by pedaling cures for homosexuality.
June is Pride month across the world in remembrance of the watershed 1969 resistance movement in New York’s Stonewall bar, where mostly queer people of colour stood up against police violence.
This month, people plan to march in Chennai and Gurgaon in defiance against the hate and discrimination that threatens to shackle our lives.
If you’re sincere about your prayers for the Orlando victims, maybe you will tweet a message of support for the millions of similar LGBT people back home. Maybe you’ll send an envoy or emulate Justin Trudeau of Canada in joining a pride.
At the very least, your government can tell the Supreme Court that the time for section 377 to go has come and enact a legislation in Parliament to the same. In the same breath, you’ll also rein in elements of your party pedaling hatred against other minorities.
Orlando is grieving but so are millions back home. Dear Prime Minister, turn your attention to them.
Views expressed are personal. The writer tweets @dhrubo127