Annual Gay Rights Parade Addresses Discrimination, Ambiguous Legality Throughout India

Published: December 8, 2011

NEW DELHI, INDIA -Madan, 21, who declined to give his last name, journeys more than 500 miles from the small town of Jabalpur to New Delhi, India’s capital, every year to participate in the gay pride parade, which is held annually in November. The trip is 800 kilometers, but he says that this is a once-in-a-year occasion that allows him to be his true self and be open about his sexuality.

Madan is gay. Dancing and waving his rainbow flag, he says that the congregation of Indians who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex, LGBTI, at the parade gives him the courage to express himself. But he says he wishes he could feel free to be himself year-round.

"I want the celebrations to continue for the entire year," he says with moist eyes. "I am tired of living as someone else."

Madan says that even though the High Court of Delhi decriminalized homosexuality in the capital in 2009, his family and friends still don’t accept his sexual orientation. He says his parents were shocked and ashamed when they learned he was gay and even threatened to commit suicide.

"I want my parents and friends to accept me for who I am, not for who I pretend to be," he says.

Blowing air kisses to other young men at the parade, he says he maintains hope that his friends and family will accept him one day.

"It seems there is still time for such a thing to happen," he says.

Indians flocked to the capital from around the country to participate in the fourth annual gay rights parade last week. They say that despite legal advances in recent years, stigma against homosexuality in India remains strong, even among police and high-ranking officials. Advocates have taken it upon themselves to set up and work with organizations to promote LGBTI rights. They say the next step is nationwide legalization and policies to back it up.

The current attitude toward homosexuality dates back to 1860, when India was under British rule, says Rajiv Dua, a gay rights activist. Great Britain introduced Section 377, which criminalized "carnal intercourse against the order of nature," into its colonies’ penal codes.

The High Court of Delhi decriminalized homosexuality in 2009, ruling that the section violated basic human rights. But the ruling applies only in the capital city. The Supreme Court has yet to follow suit to decriminalize homosexuality nationwide.

Despite the legal advances, many Indians who identify as LGBTI say they are still discriminated against for their sexual orientation.

Dev Singh, 22, who goes by "Divya," a feminine name, travels 250 kilometers from the town of Jaipur every year to participate in the city’s gay pride parade. He says that his boss fired him from his job after finding out that he was gay.

"There was no problem [when] I went to work like a man, but my ordeal started the day they got to know I’m gay," he says with tears in his eyes.

Singh says he has been fighting to get his job back for the past three years. Meanwhile, he’s been working as a peer educator with a nongovernmental organization that advocates for LGBTI rights.

Manvendra Singh Gohil, former prince of Rajpipla, is the first openly gay royal to talk publicly about his sexuality. Gohil, whose family disowned him for being gay, says that discrimination in the workplace against people who identify as LGBTI is prevalent here.

"Unfortunately, homophobia still exists, in spite of the fact that homosexual acts have been recorded in ancient Indian writing, including the Kama Sutra," Gohil says.

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