Need to Change Perceptions around Homosexualityby Opinion Express September 6, 2019 0 comments
The ruling on Section 377 was a watershed moment in Indian history. But a law alone cannot lead to acceptance from society. The challenge is to change perceptions
Great wars are won by conquering small battles. While victory in these encounters needs to be cherished, it should never make one lose focus of the ultimate goal. After all, victory is not achieved overnight and a revolution isn’t triggered out of nothing. Having said that, it does give me immense pleasure to ring in a year of dispelling the criminality tag around homosexuality in India. I am equally aware that it is but a drop in the ocean.
It was September 6, 2018, when the Supreme Court scrapped Section 377, decriminalising homosexuality in the country. Celebrations lasted for months, including back at our base in New Delhi. But it was time for us to get out of the festive mode to charter a course for the future. The apex court’s verdict could resemble a notification on the phone — sometimes you read it and follow through and on other occasions you ignore it. But this alert could not be ignored. The road ahead for LGBTQIA+ rights in India is more personal and complicated. It is about acceptance and the fight for equal rights. The challenge now is to change individual perceptions. A law or Government ruling cannot force the society into acceptance.
Over the years, in my struggle, I have tried to be a conversation-starter. I have tried to skim a stone on the water in the hope that it will create a ripple effect. My quest is simple: I am not aiming for the stars when I say we all want basic civil liberties. The rights and duties that citizens of this country enjoy should be imparted to one and all.
I want to be a responsible citizen fulfilling my duties and I want the freedom to enjoy my rights. The great Nelson Mandela had said, “To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” I am waiting for that day when our liberties are not curtailed. When an inclusive and equal opportunity society is not a dream but a given. When respect is not a by-product of sexual orientation. If I sound like a pessimist to some, then I hope to change the perception of the readers by the time he/she reaches the end of this piece.
Take the basic institution of marriage for instance. Gay couples may no longer be prosecuted by law but they still don’t have the legal standing to marry in the country. I am happily married today but I could neither go through the ceremony here nor does the country recognise my nuptials. Let’s say a couple decides to forego the notion of marriage, they still can’t plan a family in our country as it does not permit adoption when it comes to gay couples. Marriage is a beautiful institution and for me, modernity is the freedom to choose the right life partner, irrespective of gender.
If family life for gay couples is still a far-fetched dream, then basic personal security is not guaranteed either. We take matters of insurance for granted but the same can’t be said for the LGBTQIA+ community. When I decided to provide health insurance to my queer employees, I was faced with an uphill task. After intense negotiations, ICICI Lombard came on board for a landmark insurance policy. As part of an all-inclusive drive, we were able to make additions to our employees’ health insurance cover. We now provide insurance cover for LGBTQIA+ people and their families, adopted children or those born through surrogacy to heterosexual, same sex couples, single parents and also for sexual reassignment surgeries up to Rs 3.5 lakh since May 2018.
I consider the above very important basic civil liberties. But it is shocking that they aren’t the only rights being denied to us. The fight for the LGBTQIA+ community is still about survival. Education and ultimately employment are still a pipe dream for most. The lack of these basic rights led us to launch our foundation, whose motto is to embrace, empower and mainstream the LGBTQ community. We have been working tirelessly to impart skills that can aid job search. Towards this cause, we provided scholarships to trans-students for a diploma programme in food production and bakery. Companies and institutions need to open their door and truly become equal opportunity workspaces.
In a private capacity, we have provided a platform to the community to express their concerns as we work towards finding solutions. We also organised RISE, India’s first job fair for the LGBTQIA+ community, in Bengaluru, which saw healthy participation from corporates and community members seeking jobs. Our organisation is home to over 100 queer employees and we are working everyday to increase this number.
What concerned players can do is hold regular workshops for gender sensitisation and hold therapy sessions to help families and individuals come to terms with their true selves. In fact, to spread the message on a macro level, we have put our weight behind short films like Intezaar, Queen, U for Usha and Sheer Khurma.
As a group, we have worked hard to mobilise various platforms to spread the message of inclusivity and equality. We utilised the powerful written medium and collaborated with several content creators to spread the message. I am particularly proud of our book series for children, Elphie. It is an attempt to mould the minds of the younger generation towards the ideas of respect, equality and inclusivity. And when it comes to inclusivity, how can I not mention about our night club that has been the epicentre of the revolution? It popularised drag culture, broke stigmas in many ways and helped people embrace their art and emerge from the closet. Today we have more than 35 drag kings and queens, who perform regularly at our club.
For the record, I am an eternal optimist. I am happy that we are no longer criminals in our country. I don’t consider acceptance among society, friends and family a challenge to be ignored. I don’t want education, financial freedom, marriage equality to be dreams. We needed allies, now we need accomplices. I believe in this country and that’s why I continue to raise my voice for a just and equal society. Because I am waiting to celebrate again as we conquer frontier after frontier.
(The writer is a hotelier and a prominent LGBTQ+ activist and one among those who filed the petition against Section 377)
Writer: Keshav suri
Courtesy: The Pioneer