Rainbow crusaders

A year since the Supreme Court decriminalised Section 377, meet the people who are making the queer community a part of the mainstream

Updated - September 07, 2019 11:41 am IST

Published - September 06, 2019 06:08 pm IST

Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community take part in a pride parade in New Delhi on November 27, 2016

Indian members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community take part in a pride parade in New Delhi on November 27, 2016

Popular bookstagrammer (and now cultural editor at Verve magazine) Vivek Tejuja knew he was different when he was just eight years old. For starters, he found a lot more in common with Madhuri Dixit’s character in Saajan (1991), than Sanjay Dutt’s. And when his friends were beginning to show interest in the opposite sex, he says, “I was feeling the same things, but for boys.”

Nearly three decades later, his tribulations of growing up gay in a South Bombay household has been condensed into the autobiographical book, So Now You Know . Published by HarperCollins, it hits stands today, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of Section 377 being struck down by the Indian Supreme Court.

But the battle hasn’t ended. While he agrees that conversations have visibly increased, Tejuja believes a lot more can be done. “Schools and colleges should be safe spaces for children who are only just beginning to realise they are queer.

Their classmates have to understand they are also part of the social fabric and culture. Sensitisation has to start young,” says the author, who was bullied as a teenager for his orientation. Tejuja is the latest to join the growing tribe of openly-gay people who are publicly documenting their experiences. We check in with a few others.

Keeping it real

Stand-up comedian Navin Noronha came out at his first-ever open mic in 2014, in Mumbai. Two years later, he launched Keeping it Queer , a podcast on IVM, where he and co-host Farhad Karkaria discuss the LGBT movement with guests from the community. Its reception has been tremendous, sometimes even overwhelming, with over 5,000 listeners tuning in every month, the comedian says.

But he has also earlier admitted to the financial setbacks of being upfront about his sexuality, since corporate shows are hard to come by, reducing him to a “token gay comic”. “I’m a comedian first and that is what most people don’t understand”. This culture of tokenism over actual representation is what he is trying to move past with his podcast. “When queer people across the spectrum get widespread acceptance through jobs that pay them well, we can agree we’re all there,” he says.

Calling India’s brands

To Sakshi Juneja , being a queer woman is a double whammy. Co-founder of Gaysi (that’s Gay + desi ), an online space dedicated to the community, she launched the website with Priya Gangwani in 2008. A decade on, it has close to 1,500 hits every day — 60% of which are from queer women. Gaysi also publishes a zine and organises regular offline events like Drag King nights, Zine Bazaar and more.

While the online space does not pose much of a challenge, the monetary aspect of conducting offline events has been a hurdle, says Juneja. This is because many Indian brands are reluctant to partner with the community. “International brands like Tinder, Uber, and more recently, adidas, have come on board to support us since they are LGBT initiators worldwide. That is yet to happen with Indian brands”, she says.

One for the parents

When filmmaker Sridhar Rangayan came out to his mother in 1995, she had no one to share her thoughts and anxieties with. Years later, in 2016, he started Sweekar, a support group for parents whose children identified as queer. Today, the 50-member group facilitates acceptance through workshops on gender and sexuality, with the Humsafar Trust.

“It is a three-step process: personal, interpersonal and societal. While the first two are easy, it is the third rung that is difficult,” says Arundhati Sanyal , a member of the group. Adding that the LGBT community needs to be educationally empowered, she highlights the need for job fairs specifically for minority communities.“There may be no Section 377 anymore, but till the time they are not visibly represented in companies and big corporations, how will they ever be part of society?”

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