pride 2020 Society

Pride Month parades cancelled? India’s LGBTQ+ communities have taken the celebrations online

Life out loud Virtual events for the LGBTQ+ community, like those hosted by Kalki (top left) and Patruni (top right) can reach more people

Life out loud Virtual events for the LGBTQ+ community, like those hosted by Kalki (top left) and Patruni (top right) can reach more people   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

We speak to some of the LGBTQ+ heroes — drag artistes, musicians, artists, activists — who have kept Pride Month 2020 going strong alive despite the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns and physical distancing

For Patruni Sastry, drag has helped him tap into a part of himself that had been hidden for too long. That is why he wanted to create Drag Vanti, an online hub for India’s drag community that went live on June 9.

For many years, LGBTQ+ events have been hosting informative conversations through offline events, but with COVID-19 pandemic the community has shifted their events to online verticals. Drag Vanti is one of these adaptations.

According to Patruni, it is a channel to give information about cultural and ethnic drag art form practices within India, with a focus on how Indian drag is different from what the rest of the world may infer. Drag Vanti also hosts a wide range of interactive spaces where fellow drag queens can join and have discussions and debates. The platform has a directory of all drag performers, artists, make-up artistes, drag clubs and spaces listed to encourage more collaboration, curation, partnership and presentation within the community.

Patruni Sastry in drag

Patruni Sastry in drag  

A safe space?

However, Patruni has his concerns with the online space. “There’s always the safety issue when it’s an offline event. You know who is attending and that they are aware of the event itself. Online events tend to have uninvited guests. We always make sure the space is not one of judgement and enables human connection. We avoided online virtual spaces because we had this fear of not being safe. I did an Instagram Live the other day, and a viewer left a ridiculous comment. It did not affect me but the risk is there,” he says.

To help the community address the risks of online harassment, The Queer Muslim Project is making the most of a digital Pride Month.

The Delhi-based organisation has partnered with Instagram for ‘Safe and Strong: An LGBTQIA+ guide to Facebook and Instagram’. The guide outlines helpful tools such as muting certain words, emojis, characters and users, unfollowing haters or removing trolls, and even using profanity filters.

Upcoming events with Kalki
  • ‘Coffee with Kalki’ is an Instagram Live series in which Kalki (@kalkionline) will be chat with global activists and artistes from the US and The Netherlands. They will discuss the concerns of their community in their respective countries. Some of the names include activists like Celia Sandhya Daniels and Laura Sherwood.
  • An online session on success stories: Of Lynn Ann Conway, a successful scientist, engineer and trangender activist based in the US who works for IBM; Lana Wachowski, and Lilly Wachowski, the directors, writers and producers of the hugely successful The Matrix franchise; Shabnam ‘Mausi’ Bano, the first transgender MLA of the country.

Says Rafiul Alom Rahman, founder, The Queer Muslim Project, “With most countries opting for partial or complete lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, many LGBTQIA+ youth now risk being in isolation within hostile environments with unsupportive family members or co-habitants, leading to a rise in mental health concerns, such as anxiety, emotional stress, and depression. In times like these, many from the LGBTQIA+ community have turned to social media for relevant information, safe spaces, and opportunities for creative self-expression and community building.”

The Queer Muslim Project has also linked up with British Council for Digital Pride Festival, which will feature virtual theatre production No Spring Chicken by Theatre Jil Jil Ramamani on June 27, an international virtual roundtable the next day, film screenings, musical performances and more.

Media experimentation

Leveraging of technology can assume an artistic form too, as transgender activist and artiste Kalki Subramaniam, founder of Tamil Nadu-based Sahodari Foundation, wants to showcase the talent of these marginalised and “socially-bullied” communities.

She has lined up virtual events, including an online exhibition (hosted on sahodari.org). She will also exhibit her collection of pop art, cubism, digital work and fluorescent paintings along with other line drawings, acrylic, and charcoal paintings contributed by artists in India, USA and Europe. “Most of the works are expressions of gender, sexualities and then there are ones inspired by Nature. I specialise in portraits of humans and animals. I use cubism to express my gender identity and to portray my translife,” says Kalki.

Kalki painting in a forest

Kalki painting in a forest  

Kalki’s digital collection that she dedicated to actor Sridevi is one of the attractions. “As a trans child I used to be in awe of her beauty, dance, sense of comedy, style and grace. I cannot ignore her in my paintings,” she says.

Sahodari embraced technology way back in 2009, says Kalki. “We trained our community members to use video cameras to record their stories and put it out on YouTube. I started using whatsapp to teach English. Social media gives us power. It is a great platform for us to showcase talent in dance, music, art or acting. Many of our members tackle depression through social media by making entertaining videos.”

Instagram Story-fy your Pride
  • Instagram has partnered with GLAAD to identify prominent, popular, and important hashtags used throughout the LGBTQ+ community. When used in a post, these hashtags will be displayed in a rainbow gradient. Some examples include #LGBTQ, #BornPerfect, #EqualityMatters, #AccelerateAcceptance, or #Pride2020.When used in an Insta Story, the GLAAD-identified hashtags will turn your Story ring rainbow gradient while it is live.

During the online events, Kalki will talk about Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality as a tool for activism, especially those driven by art. Sahodari Foundation already has several programmes structured around art. Transhearts is one of them that conducts free art and crafts workshops. It allows transgender artists to express themselves and sell their artwork. The Red Wall Project is a travelling exhibition that has been to Tamil Nadu and Kerala and the plan is to take it to the rest of the country too. “We interview trans-people and document their stories. The handwritten stories of violence and abuse are put up, accompanied by a red right-hand imprint of the person whose story is narrated; more than 600 trans people from across South India and also from West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra have shared their stories,” she says. It is the lack of funding that is coming in the way of implementing technology into many such art projects of Sahodari, rues Kalki.

Kalki wants to create something on the lines of Augmented Reality app Artivive, which “allows me to browse an art collection virtually and scan the QR code (that accompanies every art work),” she explains, “It is interactive, there is audio, video, and the artist pops up to take me on the journey to tell the story behind that artwork. It brings an emotional connection. It is not just about seeing and interpreting art, but going beyond and understanding the story of the artist.”

This is ‘protest art’, says Kalki, where performing artists use Augmented Reality to express their concerns about issues of social injustice be it the plight of the migrants or the discrimination against blacks. “We want to use technology to have our voices heard. Art is one of the ways of moving towards activism and community development.” She adds, “Once the COVID-19 situation is over, we will conduct sessions with social activists. We want to give hope in the difficult times and also to say that trans lives matter.”

Taking it to the telly

Musician and artiste Ma Faiza

Musician and artiste Ma Faiza  

Traditional media channels too have stepped up. Having kicked off on June 1, and now airing every Monday at 8 pm, Vh1 Parade is a digital campaign where viewers can share their Pride avatars on an international platform.

One of the featured guests, Ma Faiza, shares her excitement: “It is incredible to see the change in our visibility over the last year-and-a-half, and it’s so important that we shine brightly on the queer world map. We have an incredibly diverse creative community that deserves inclusivity and success,” she says, adding, “Our unity and our success which hasn’t necessarily depended on just the queer community. Many of us are successful and accepted regardless of our sexual orientation or the labels that define us. Many of us unite many different cultures and communities within the queer spectrum and our expressions in our art reflects that.”

Maya the Drag Queen agrees. “I am quite excited that Vh1 and Kitty Su have collaborated and open to showcase more stories from the Indian LGBTQIA community. This is a diverse vibrant community that needs a voice. It started with Kitty Su, when it gave drag performers a big platform and made it a movement. Living in these unprecedented times, the community has been greatly affected and it is important to bring their voices to the fore. I am glad that our voices are amplified and recognised through this campaign.

Maya the Drag Queen

Maya the Drag Queen  

Maya adds, “[The LGBTQ+ community] are artistes like any other and we want our voices to be heard — be it through music or stories. Our voices are powerful, our stories honest. I believe our stories can help others who are closeted to be brave and realise their talents or find a queer family. It also helps educate the masses about different forms of sexualities and the queer community. Also, India has a history of queer music that wasn’t mainstreamed at all. I hope, with this campaign, it will open more avenues.”

Driving a digital presence for Pride 2020 would also help reach people outside metro cities who had long been missing out on attending offline events. Then there are the global events; according to European Pride Organisers Association, Pride organisations around the world have come together to organise a ‘Global Pride’ event on Saturday 27 June, in response to the 500-plus Pride celebrations — including the much-anticipated Chandigarh Pride — that have been cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic. That said, Ma Faiza, Maya the Drag Queen, Patruni, Rafiul and many others in support of the LGBTQ+ community are keen to grow their networks, get new conversations on the table, and lend mental and emotional support in an already trying time.

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Printable version | Jul 5, 2020 6:17:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/how-indias-lgbtq-communities-have-taken-pride-month-2020-online/article31827685.ece

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