A 'queer' discussion over chai
After the legalisation of same sex marriages in New York, the Indian LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual) community is gearing up to demand the same in India. A recent gathering at a popular counter-culture café in New Delhi gauged the mood of the community.Updated: Jul 02, 2011 13:24 IST
With New York's recent historic judgment, the LGBT community in India seems hopeful for a change. Delhi will witness a demonstration on the 2nd of July to mark the anniversary of the decriminalization of gay sex in India by the Delhi High Court. The second gay pride parade post the landmark judgment is being planned at Jantar Mantar to spread awareness and demand further rights and acceptance for the gay community.
As a run-up to the 2nd July gathering at Jantar Mantar and an extension of Pride Month (June), the American Centre in partnership with The Kunzum Travel Café, hosted 'Charcha Chai Aur Coffee-Celebrating LGBT Pride Month', in association with the 'It Gets Better Programme'.
‘It Gets Better’ program pledge reads: “Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that ‘It Gets Better.’”
The program aims to help LTGB youth understand and deal with what their lives might be like as openly gay adults. Inspirational videos from people from all over the world like first transgender American prom queen, Hilary Clinton and Barrack Obama are available on their website (itgetsbetter.org) for support.
However, in India, how much has changed since section 377, and what is still to change? If talks at Kunzum Travel Café are anything to go by, more than early euphoria, in India there are still many battles to be won.
The event was an opportunity to share stories, discuss issues, and talk about anything and everything, from whether Kerala weather affected promiscuity to transsexual marginalization, from rural support groups to anecdotes about absurd “preventive measures” against “becoming a gay”. Judging by the packed crowd, the evening seemed to be a success.
So what’s the take on 2nd July? Oddly, New York barely featured in the conversation. What people seemed more concerned about were larger social issues, and the differences between India and the West soon came out as well.
Widening the spectrum
After much laughter and sharing of coming out stories, talk shifted to pressing issues, such as the difference in pressure and expectations on lesbians and gays, and the support groups in rural areas, small towns, and amongst lower economic groups.
Shruti, a filmmaker, shared that while she was working a student film that dealt with transsexuality, she came across the Milan Project of the Naz Foundation.
Milan works as a support group for Men Having Sex with Men (MSM) & Transgender (TG) groups, largely from lower economic backgrounds. These men also volunteered as ‘field workers’, who spread awareness amongst their communities about homosexuality. However, a large part of these men are married, with families of their own.
Another issue that came up was the question of gender differences; and whether it was different for a lesbian to come out than it was for a gay man. It was pointed out that socially, it is more acceptable to be a lesbian; the effeminate connotations that attach to gays are not translated in the same degree to lesbians. However, there is far more pressure on women to be ‘sexually appropriate’ than there is on men.
‘What about the T in LGBT?’
Transgender was another issue that came up. Most people agreed that the T of LGBT was a community that was always marginalized, despite them playing such an integral part in the earliest LGBT movements.
India’s transsexual community has a long history and an extremely intricate social structure, making the community’s dynamics more complicated than its western counterparts.
While the concept of a ‘third gender’ has been dismissed by most Western LGBT movements, India is gradually embracing the category. Tamil Nadu was the first state to legally recognize the third gender, and the rest of India is not far behind.
A representative from the LGBT community who did not wish to be named brought up the issue of stereotyping within the gay community. “Some gay men do not want to associate themselves with transgender individuals and issues,” he said.
Transgender movements were amongst the first LGBT movements in India as well as the West, but today, drag queens and hijras are less than welcome and are gradually being dissociated from parts of the movement.
377 and beyond
So has it got better in India? What has really changed after the landmark section 377 judgment? Homosexuality has come into prominence in media and popular culture, from Dostana to I Am, and whether all of the attention is positive or not, awareness certainly is growing, along with confidence.
Vivek, another representative form the LGBT community, spoke of the shift in mindset in recent years. "The new urban generation in particular, is far more comfortable with their sexual identity," he said. With less ambiguity and secrecy about the LGBT issue, more young people are finding it easier to be open about their sexual preferences.
Many feel that the prominence that the gay movement is receiving has only come about in recent times. Until a few years ago, there was a dearth of information available to young people who were confused about their sexual identity.
Rohan*, spoke about how when he was growing up, the only information available to him was on the internet, and it was through the internet that he understood and came to terms with what he was going through.
July 2, Jantar Mantar- What to expect
There will be singing, demonstrating, stage shows, poetry and a referendum of gay rights and demands will be distributed to people present. People are hoping not just for legal action but a change in mindset and discrimination.
In New York, it has got better and hopefully India will follow suit. At least that’s what the LGBT community is hoping for, as they assemble in full form on the July to celebrate the anniversary of a landmark step in the right direction and agitate for the legalization of same-sex marriage in India as well.