Looking Back: 2015 For India's LGBTQ Community In Important Moments For Their Fight

Looking Back: 2015 For India's LGBTQ Community In Important Moments For Their Fight

2015 has been a year of ups and downs for India’s LGBTQ community. And though we’re ending the year on a sad note with parliament voting against Shashi Tharoor’s private bill to amend Section 377, it’s unfair to say that there haven’t been great advances too, especially for the transgender community.  And while we have no idea what 2016 will bring, here’s hoping it’ll be good news. Starting with the scrapping of 377.
In the meantime, here are some of the key events and happenings of the past year:

January, 2015: India Appoints World’s First Transgender Mayor

Madhu Kinnar, India's first transgender mayor.

Madhu Kinnar (formerly Naresh Chauhan) became the mayor of Raigargh in Chattisgarh. Having only studied till the eighth standard, Kinnar followed in the footsteps of many fellow transgenders and began earning by singing and dancing for entertainment in trains before standing for election and ultimately winning—beating her opponent, the BJP’s Mahaveer Guruji by 4,537 votes. The election catapulted a small city into national news and formed a major milestone in the fight for equality in India, depicting a broadening of the mainstream mindset.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on her here 

March, 2015: When India Opposed Benefits For The UN’s Same-Sex Employees

India opposes UN2

In Jun 2014, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon announced that the world body would recognise its staff’s same-sex marriages and extend the same benefits to same-sex partners that it did to heterosexual married couples—a move that if passed, would have affected nearly 40,000 people.
However, in March 2015, India along with 43 other countries including China, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE opposed the motion—initially proposed by Russia, a permanent member of the UN Security Council. In India, the fight for equality has yo-yoed in the last few years. In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, deeming it unconstitutional. However, in 2012, the Supreme Court overruled the HC decision and reinstated the colonial law. Leaving aside the fact that an individual’s personal, sexual life is nobody else’s business, India’s move was greeted with shock and dismay across the globe and seemed to be a portentous warning of things to come as the country began to slip into a further state of intolerance.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on it here

May, 2015: Delhi Doctors Continue To Use Conversion Therapy

A website of one of the clinics claiming to be able to cure homosexuality

An expose by Mail Today detailed how doctors in the country’s capital still considered homosexuality to be a mental disorder—and were using conversion therapy to treat numerous cases. Mail Today even managed to get some of the sexologists, homoepaths and ayurvedic doctors on tape, claiming that they could cure homosexuality. One sexologist in Safdarjung claimed it would cost Rs. 1.1 lakh and take between six to nine months for a person to be cured. Conversion therapy includes the use of various methods such as electric shocks and nausea-inducing drugs to create a sense of aversion towards homosexuality. Homosexuality is not a disease and cannot be cured. If anything, countless studies have shown that conversion therapy is extremely harmful and can lead to loss of sexual feelings, anxiety, depression and suicidal tendencies. The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in the 70s, but unfortunately, this practice seems to be continuing in pockets around the world
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on it here

June, 2015: Manabi Bandopadhyay Becomes India’s First Transgender Principal

Manabi Bandhopadhyay. Image source: Indian Express

While the government may have granted India’s transgenders the official third gender status back in 2014, for a while, it seemed as though that’s all it would be—status on a piece of paper. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. Earlier, we talked about Madhu Kinnar, India’s first transgender mayor who was elected in January this year. Now, we’re telling you about Manabi Bandhopadhyay who made the leap from associate professor of Bengali at Vivekanand Satobarshiki Mahavidyala, to principal. Born Somnath Bannerjee in 1966, Bandhopadhyay overcame physical intimidation and even torture, throwing herself into academia and working hard to earn her doctorate and take up teaching. Finally, in 2003, she had saved up enough to undergo gender reassignment surgery and was finally at peace with her gender identity and physical self. “The world wanted me to be in a circus but I have defied them all,” she said.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on her here

July 2015: Indian Government Mulls Decision To Fund Gender Reassignment Surgeries For Transgenders

Image source: The Better India

The central government mulls over a proposal to fund gender reassignment surgeries for transgenders in public hospitals. While the proposal was meant to be heard during the monsoon session of parliament along with a decision on whether it should be made part of transgender welfare policy, we’re still waiting to hear what’s happened.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on it here

August 2015: Young LGBTQ Indians Share Their Coming Out Stories

In the first installment of a series we’re extremely proud of, 15 young LGBTQ Indians from various backgrounds and professions shared their coming out stories with us in the hopes of convincing others who are struggling with their sexuality that it really does get better. While India still sadly remains one of 72 countries that criminalises same-sex love, it’s essential to keep dialog open and sustain the conversation about LGBTQ rights and equality. In this feature, a gender-fluid art student talks of how coming out made him understand more about himself, about how he is forced to represent himself a certain way due to societal standards, and a transsexual talks about his transition from female to male—and how he found support in the unlikeliest of places.
Read the amazing stories here

 September 2015: India’s Only Openly Gay Royal, Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil Of Rajpipla Opens Up To Us In An Interview

Manvendra Singh Gohil. Image source: Huffington Post

The story of Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla has made headlines around the world. Sadly, Gohil’s family disinherited him when he came out as gay, but that didn’t stop him. He has been a long-time advocate for LGBTQ rights in India and runs two charitable trusts, The Lakshya Trust and Free Gay India. The work he does is incomparable and he is one of the most vocal activists for equal rights in India. He is so dedicated to the cause that he refuses to celebrate Independence Day. “India may be free,” he says. “But gay India is not. And I will only celebrate Independence Day once it is.”
Read our full, in-depth interview with him here

September 2015: Supreme Court Stops Film On India’s Gay Prince In Its Tracks


The Supreme Court of India stalled the film Meghdhanyshya – The Colour of Life based on Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of Rajpipla, India’s only openly-gay royal, justifying the move by saying that certain sections of society may perceive homosexuality as a social evil—even though the film was cleared by the Censor Board. Further, the Gujarat state government, which has been granting complete entertainment tax exemption to all Gujarati colour films made after April 1997, denied the exemption to Meghdhanyshya. The state’s tax commissioner stated that this relief is not meant for movies that depict evil customs, blind faith, Sati, dowry, ‘social evils’ and ‘those against national unity’. However, the film still remains stalled in another classic case of infringement upon an individual’s right to freedom of expression as enshrined in our constitution.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on it here

October 2015: “Nothing Wrong With Being Gay,” Say Delhi IIT Students

delhi IIT lgbtq-flag-e1434971801614

The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Delhi’s gender sensitisation group Stree ran an online survey through which they hoped to gauge the mood of the institution’s youth towards the LGBTQ community. 300 students participated and 72 percent of them agreed that homosexuality was as normal as heterosexuality. 62.5 percent of respondents said that their friendships wouldn’t suffer if any of their friends came out as homosexual, and 60 percent said they’d be perfectly happy to bunk with a gay roommate. While India’s IIT’s seem to be leading the way in the fight for acceptance in educational institutions (IIT Bombay is home to Saathi, and IITs in Roorkee, Kharagpur and Gandhinagar have either set up—or are in the process of setting up—LGBTQ support groups, while IIT Guwahati and IIM Ahmedabad are considering starting support groups), it’s time for other institutions to follow suit.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece on it here

October 2015: Archbishop Of Bombay Openly Declares Support For The LGBTQ Community

Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias. Image source: Archdiocese of Bombay

We know what usually happens when religion and sexuality collide. However, this time, it took us by surprise. Archbishop Cardinal Oswald Gracias openly declared support for India’s LGBTQ community while he was attending the synod at Vatican City. Though Gracias was the only religious leader in the country to openly oppose the Supreme Court’s reinstatement of Section 377 in December 2013, the fact that he now not only merely opposes discrimination against the community but also welcomes them with open arms into his church is incredible. While we don’t often hear of religion and sexuality going hand-in-hand, there’s no doubt that there are plenty of those with alternative sexualities who rely on God and religion to get them through tough times—just like heterosexuals do. To see it finally being acknowledged is a major victory for equality.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece here

October 2015: More young LGBTQ Indians Share Their Coming Out Stories

LGBT Indians Part II Feature Image

Part two of the series delves deeper into the issues faced by LGBTQ youth as they found themselves and their identity. A submitter recalls the sexual abuse he faced as a child and the role it played in his self-discovery, a young school girl from Delhi becomes a hero for trans youth as she talks about her journey from male to female, and a woman who identifies as gender-fluid talks of how she hopes that one day there will be no closet to come out of.
Read all their stories here

October 2015: Kolkata Plays Host To India’s First Transgender Durga Idol


Durga Puja is the single most important festival in West Bengal. And this past year, Kolkata showed the rest of the country the way when its Pratyay Gender Trust along with Uddyami Yuvak Brinda created a one-of-a-kind idol of Durga modelled after Ardhanarishvara, an androgynous form of Shiva and Parvati. The idol was visualised by 55-year-old transgender Bhanu Naskar and was created by China Pal, the only woman potter in the city’s traditional potters’ residential area of Kumortoli.
Read our earlier piece on it here

November 2015: Top Politicians Advocate Scrapping Section 377

BJP's Arun Jaitley and Congress' P. Chidambaram at the Times LitFest

At the Times LitFest, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and his predecessor P. Chidambaram both spoke up for gay rights, and in a personal capacity, suggested that the Supreme Court scrap Section 377. Jaitley lamented that the Supreme Court’s view is not in sync with the rest of the world when it comes to alternative sexualities and that the view of the Delhi High Court (who first struck down Section 377 in 2009) was more acceptable. While he wasn’t speaking in his official capacity as a union minister, the fact that a BJP politician has come out in support of LGBTQ Indians is a huge step.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece here

November 2015: Tamil Nadu Appoints India’s First Transgender Police Officer

Image source: Mashable

Tamil Nadu is one of the few Indian states that has made efforts to integrate the transgender community—it was the first state to introduce a policy for the welfare of transgenders and has recently become the first state in the country to appoint a transgender named K Prithika Yashini to the rank of sub-inspector.
Read our earlier piece on her here

December 2015: Shashi Tharoor Introduces A Bill In Parliament To Amend Section 377

shashi tharoor's bill

Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor submitted a bill to parliament on November 20 in a bid to amend Section 377—and the bill will be discussed in the house on December 18. While India’s struggle for equality has been a long fight, and it is essential that society’s mindset towards the LGBTQ community changes too, the repealing of Section 377 will go a long way in hastening the march towards equality. When the Delhi High Court repealed it earlier, the country erupted in a rainbow display of pride. Both, the community and its straight allies celebrated. When the Supreme Court overruled the High Court’s decision, things took a turn for the worse: the danger of threats and extortion once again became a very real possibility, parents feared for their children’s safety, and couples who began living together after the HC decision no longer felt safe co-habiting. If the bill is passed (and this time for good) it will be the single most galvanising moment in the history of the fight for equality.
Read our earlier, in-depth piece here 

December 2015: Parliament Kills Tharoor’s Bill To Amend Section 377

parliament votes no to amend 377

The final entry in the list is a gloomy note to end the year on. India’s parliament voted 71 to 24 against Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s private bill to amend Section 377, killing the bill at the very onset and ensuring that it will not come up for discussion later. By killing the bill on the floor and preventing it from even being discussed, the government shows itself to be not only openly intolerant but homophobic too. What next, is the question. Like with most other policies, there seems to be a great difference between what the people want and what the government thinks they want. As far as saying India is not ready for gay rights, it’s more like the government is not ready for gay rights.
Read our piece on it here

Words: Neville Bhandara

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