India’s LGBTQIA community has been on the radar for some time. But only now, fortunately, the country is witnessing a rising acceptance of LGBTQIA individuals and their presence in everyday lives. It’s all thanks to well-known personalities from this very community, who stepped up on behalf of everyone.
Their efforts have borne fruit in India becoming a more LGBTQIA-friendly nation and looking at the community differently.
Who are these famous personalities?
We start with Laxmi Narayan Tripathi, a transgender rights activist, film actress and Bharatanatyam dancer. She had the esteemed honour of representing Asia Pacific at the UN.
Then there’s Manvendra Singh Gohil, founder of the Lakshya Trust for sexual minorities and the world’s first openly gay Indian prince. After years of being subjected to conversion therapy, he’s now fighting to make the practice illegal.
And how can anyone forget India’s first gay rights activist, Ashok Row Kavi? He’s also the founder of Bombay Dost, India’s first LGBT magazine, and a partner in Humsafar Trust, assisting sexual minorities in addressing their concerns.
The big question, though, is: has India really progressed regarding inclusivity, acceptance, media display, and laws for the LBGTQIA community?
It’s only wise to dive deep into this topic before we say the final word because the journey until now has been no less than a bumpy ride. But, unfortunately, the ride will continue; there’s a long way to go.
History of LGBTQIA in India
India is known for its rich culture and history. We have ancestry that dates back centuries. But do we also know that our very own history has prominent mentions of the LGBTQIA community?
Historical literature of India shows the presence of queer individuals and homosexuality at different times. Not only this, but our religious stories depict gender fluidity, transgender individuals, gay relationships, and sexual intercourse. Perhaps the most popular of these stories is that of King Bhagiratha, which portrays lesbian relationships and sexual intercourse. Another instance in religious history is that of Shikhandini, who later transforms into Shikhandi to fulfil her revenge on Bhishma.
The LGBTQIA community (particularly males) enjoyed broad public exposure and approval among notable monarchs and Sufi saints through the Sultanate and Mughal eras. This Indian ancestry may still be apparent in literature and temple sculptures like those at Khajuraho.
As for the law, under British rule, Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code made it illegal to engage in sexual practices against the order of nature; this includes all homosexual conduct.
Later, in 1977, Shakuntala Devi published The World of Homosexuals. What followed these instances are all-India conferences and petitions challenging section 377 of IPC.
Current Status of LGBTQIA in India
Be it the Supreme Court’s verdict of April 2014, directing the treatment of transgender people as the third category of gender, or the 2018 September verdict striking down section 377 have led our nation to a more progressive one . The recent advancements in the community, especially after the verdict, have been commendable.
Acceptance of the LGBTQIA community in India has risen by 22% from 2013 to 2019. The community is spreading its wings and gaining recognition across different spheres like beauty pageants, business, sports, filmmaking, and more. The result: we get to meet talented individuals with notable achievements.
Take Dutee Chand, the first Indian professional sprinter to win a gold in 100m race in a global competition. She’s also the third Indian to qualify for the Summer Olympic Women’s 100 metres event.
Then there’s Harish Iyer, India’s first openly gay individual to join a political party. With his influential position in politics, he’s standing up for equal rights for all, including the LGBTQIA community, women and children.
Anwesh Sahoo is the youngest winner of Mr Gay World India, which he clinched in 2016. But Anwesh wears several other hats. He’s also an artist, blogger, writer, model, actor and a TEDx speaker.
Anjali Ameer, an actress, is the first transgender person to play a lead role in Indian Cinema. She didn’t have it easy, growing up with stigma at home and having to run away from home at age ten. However, Anjali recently, and proudly, completed her transition from a man to a woman.
The entrepreneurship sector brought us Keshav Suri, Executive Director of The Lalit Suri Hospitality Group, creating opportunities for the LGBTQIA+ community in India. His petition resulted in the 2018 Supreme Court judgement decriminalising homosexuality.
Atri Kar, the first transgender to appear for civil service exams, battled the law to include the third gender even before the landmark 2014 judgement.
These achievements are a testimony to the progress of this community in the last few years. But not everything is sunshine and rainbows, and the community has its fair share of challenges.
Challenges Faced by the Community
Change isn’t easy for anyone. However, implementing changes that expand across an entire nation is a different challenge altogether. Even as India progresses, the LGBTQIA community continuously faces discrimination and disgrace.
Rural areas mainly show little mercy. Members of the community, who are ousted unwittingly by someone else or come out voluntarily, are condemned by society. Sex workers face harsh conditions, harassment and rape, and honour killings aren’t just affecting caste and creed. They’re also taking the lives of those in the LGBTQIA group. Threats, bullying, assault, violence and criminalisation are frighteningly common. So is discrimination and harassment in public places, workplaces and gatherings.
Even then, members don’t receive immediate medical attention with the lack of medical facilities for the community and inclusivity in the health sector. So maintaining mental health in India is already a growing challenge. But for the LGBTQIA community, it’s doubly challenging because there aren’t enough queer-friendly counsellors.
The community also faces limited career and employment opportunities since not all workplaces are welcoming and progressive.
And despite popular proclamations of ‘love is love’, the community faces resistance to love, marriage and child adoption. Also, it doesn’t help that they don’t have enough LGBTQIA-friendly dating apps that support them truly and wholly with security, anonymity and privacy.
Wearing makeup and cross-dressing is being normalised, specifically for men, globally. But India is far behind, and doing any of this is frowned upon rather vehemently. Moreover, when such gender expression is drawing flak, access to intimate wear for bi and trans people is almost non-existent. Add to that the difficulty in accessing sexual wellness or hygiene products.
Then there’s the ultimate blasphemy of conversion therapy (which is currently banned in India by the National Medical Council). There have been ample cases of members committing suicide when forcefully subjected to it by their family or peers.
And if all of this wasn’t enough, the LGBTQIA community faces misrepresentation in a widespread medium of communication — films and television — which influences a massive chunk of the Indian populace. As a result, prejudice and ignorance bleed through unfairly on screen.
Judgement is a thorn that still pricks the community hard. Moreover, social media, entertainment and content are not good either. Very few streaming platforms outside of India curates good, unbiased content for LGBTQIA+ members. Social sharing platforms are still not safe enough for the community to feel included, raise their voice or have fun — be what they want to be.
Even when it comes to rudimentary necessities such as clothing, gender-inclusive, sustainable clothing is still uncommon. They have to compromise where only ‘male’ or ‘female’ exclusives are still dominating the market.
Many companies oversimplify the issues mentioned above by changing their brand logos to rainbow-coloured ones to show their solidarity with the community. Unfortunately, concrete action is yet to be taken by several firms.
Possible Solutions to Alleviate Problems Faced by LGBTQIA+ in India
The country must attempt to resolve the issues the LGBTQIA+ community faces at micro and macro levels. Only then shall we be able to bring about a total change.
But what can we do? We could start with introducing sexual and gender-based education as a compulsory part of school curriculums to sensitise them about various sexual orientations and address people with proper pronouns.
Providing equal work opportunities through inclusivity in workplace policies and government laws is essential. This practice would help the community find jobs on a larger scale to achieve financial independence.
As a society, we can create safe spaces or groups where community members can freely express themselves while ensuring proper representation in media, films, and television. We can also extend unfailing support to NGOs in creating social awareness and organise more movements, marches, and activities to break stereotypes.
More importantly, we can help build community centres and shelter homes for members who are unsupported by their families. This intervention is crucial in a country where people haven’t yet come to terms with homosexuality and gender representation.
Despite conversion therapies being medically banned, there aren’t strict laws to punish those who will still push LGBTQIA+ individuals through it. It’s time to strengthen legal fall backs for the community with more stringent punishments.
And finally, mental health is essential for members who face challenging social, political and cultural issues. On that account, we need to equip mental health practitioners with the necessary skills to help members of the LGBTQIA+ community effectively.
Authored by Ravi Gupta and Ayesha Tari
Conceptualised and strategised by Deepa Sai (founder of ecoHQ)
Ravi is an evangelist for sustainability and an agent for change who thrives on creating an impact with his words. Professionally, with his expertise in end-to-end marketing, he helps to grow businesses (that are conscious of the ecosystem).
Ayesha comes with 5+ years of experience in the online marketing industry. She’s a freelance writer & editor, working with B2B clients in SaaS, Sustainability & Education sectors. Previously a social media manager for notable brands, now she loves writing long-form and website content. When she’s not being a wordsmith, she’s reading thrillers, watching MCU films, and cooking up new dishes. Connect with her on LinkedIn to keep up with her.