Last year, gay ‘friends’ of Anil Kohli informed his parents about his queer sexuality. Anil, just 23 then, had wanted to become financially independent before he could tell his parents that he wasn’t straight. What followed was months of torture at the hands of his family and the society, with forced visits to doctors, including psychiatrists, becoming his routine nightmare.
“I was forced to undress in front of physicians and was given fake treatments by psychiatrists for my ‘mental illness’. I was given shock therapy, which, I feel, is physical assault of another kind. Thanks to truer friends, I was able to break out of it all and am living a proud gay life today,” Anil tells us.
Both he and his partner Sandi are noted gay rights activists in the city, and are employed with MNCs where their sexuality is accepted.
Senior transgender rights activist Vyjayanti Vasanta Mogli was among the first and most prominent to help Anil out of the vicious tangle. She says there is no greater force than generations of patriarchy that the community called LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer) is fighting.
Beyond public discrimination is the idea of patriarchy, which, say activists, is causing harm to the Indian society in general and the LGBTQ community in particular. “The makers of the laws, both criminal and societal, are all men who feel they need to uphold the status quo of suppressing women’s sexuality, and hence queer sexuality too,” explains Vyjayanti.
While there have been positive developments such as inclusion in PAN card and driving licence recently, the path ahead is long and laborious.
President of the NGO Telangana Hijra Intersex Transgender Samithi, the largest group of hijra and transgender activists in the two Telugu States, Rachana Mudraboyina calls for unity within the community, and compassion by the larger society.
While the activists feel that the government can and should do more for the sexual minorities, they are more vary of the public behaviour and acceptance. Cases of violence were always common, but the lynching of people based on their appearance as transgender or hijra has spread shockwaves and fear among the community.
“Videos are still going viral, showing cases where hijra, transgender and cross-dressing persons were forced to undress in public to reveal their biological sex. It is disillusioning for us,” says Rachana.
On the part of the community, Rachana believes that a major impediment to sustained dialogue is the increasing lack of unity between transgender and hijra groups.
“As English-speaking, well-employed transgender persons become a common sight, hijra women feel they have nothing in common with them. The feeling is mutual, sometimes, but it must be checked now. Unless the transgender and hijra groups unite and fight for common rights together, there can be no major change in the status quo,” she says.
June: month of gay pride
June is celebrated globally as the month of pride by the LGBTQ community, and it has a certain historical reason for that. All pride parades in the US are held in June, to commemorate the Stonewall riots that shook New York City in 1969.
In the aftermath of a police raid at a gay pub there, the riots saw violent backlash from the gay community in particular and the LGBTQ community in general. The demonstrations led to sustained activism by the community, and, subsequently, June was labelled the month of pride – a term used to denote the liberation of the community by ‘coming out’ and taking to the streets about their sexuality.
In India, though, pride events are held in June as well as the rest of the year.
On the one hand is the increasing need for fighting public and institutionalised discrimination, which can be done through activism only, and on the other is the matter of privacy, safety and family relations.
“I personally do not believe in laying too much emphasis on coming out. Some people cannot do that for reasons personal to them, and that is fine. What is not okay is to pretend to be straight and marry somebody from the opposite sex only to have them disappointed and heartbroken later,” says Sandi, born K Sandipan, Anil’s partner and founder of the city-based gay rights group Mobbera.
Vyjayanti, on the other hand, calls for more work by activists from the community.
“We all show great solidarity in June, but after June, kaun kiska?” she says bluntly.
The role of feminism
Transgender and gay rights activists say feminism has a major role to play in the LGBTQ movement.
“Feminism today has made a difference, it has become visible and political, and its challenge to patriarchy is shifting sands. Our fight is also against patriarchy, and hence the support of strong feminist collectives to LGBTQ rights movements can be a major boon for us. However, not all feminists care about us,” says Vyjayanti.
While Rachana believes that feminist activists show sympathy but are unable to understand the way forward for LGBTQ rights, Sandi says the community-based organisation Hyderabad for Feminism has been of great help, especially when it comes to legal issues.