India has just voted against gay rights at the UN. Here is a sober logical plan of action for LGBT rights in our country.
I often wish to publish my writing about LGBT issues in India in mainstream publications. Unfortunately, the window for those pieces is very limited. Such writing can be published only when
– There has been an update from the courts on Section 377
– A politician or two has mouthed off unfavourably about the LGBT community
– An LGBT individual has been harassed brutally
Thankfully, now the government has taken a stance at the UN that can be perceived as homophobic. So this piece will probably be read.
I have actually been told by a reporter for a daily that opinion pieces about LGBT rights won’t be published unless there’s an ‘angle’, which I take to mean some current issue that involves the community. This is required apparently because ‘everything that needs to be written has already been written’.
Even then, the sort of writing that will get put out will be on the lines of:
– The history of why 377 came to be, and why our politicians don’t want to repeal it.
– Homophobic statements by politicians
– A brief history of individuals who have been harassed using Section 377
– Pictures of weddings of LGBT individuals
– If the coverage involves Pride parades, it will involve some representatives from the community being cocky about the ‘stupid questions they get asked’
– Columns by individuals talking about how they came out of the closet.
Notice how there never is an involved discussion about organizing ourselves politically. Notice how non-LGBT individuals who write about this do so with a patronizing oh-you-poor-suffering-children tone, and how the LGBT individuals who write will write from a position of anger, distrust and/or fear.
I find this very simple-minded at best, and sinister at worst.
There isn’t any attempt in the community to look at ourselves as anything more than discriminated individuals. There is no attempt to view the government, especially the NDA-led government, as anything other than an evil monolith that wants to keep us down. Any organization and/or action is limited to Pride parades and AIDS awareness meets. Any discourse restricts itself to hating the establishment and wallowing in self-pity. The sense of helplessness that pervades the LGBT community is devastating.
And surprisingly, no one seems to have tried to break out of it.
There is a lot that the community can be talking about though. For instance:
– The country may at some point of time reform personal laws and bring in the Uniform Civil Code. Why not have a stake in making marriage, adoption and inheritance gender-neutral? It would spare future generations the trouble of having to challenge and fight those definitions.
– After a lengthy public debate, workplaces have to implement the Vishakha guidelines to protect their employees from harassment. The LGBT community needs to be vocal about adding protections to prevent harassment on grounds of sexual orientation and ensure prosecution of those proven guilty of it. This would help because then employers won’t be able to cite Section 377 as a reason to discriminate against LGBT employees anymore.
– The NDA is not a monolith. It operates on consensus and has members with varied opinions. There are several BJP ministers who have been pro-LGBT rights, like Piyush Goyal and Arun Jaitley, as well as other members like Vanathi Srinivasan and Shania NC. The community needs to leverage the support of these members in order to find ways to get rid of Section 377.
– Since the RSS has also come out in favour of decriminalizing 377, and is the foremost example of reach and organization in India, it would do well to utilize its grassroots network to spread awareness and obtain ground support for decriminalizing 377.
Unfortunately, discourse is focused heavily on using LGBT rights as a weapon to discredit the right wing. It is very erroneous to consider LGBT rights a left-liberal issue, instead of considering it a human rights issue. There are several problems with pigeonholing this important issue into one political side:
– It prevents finding holistic, integrated solutions to an issue that affects all sections of society. Rich, poor, men, women, Hindu, Muslim, urban, rural—gay and transgender people are found in all walks of life. A good solution cannot be arrived at without people from all these walks of life on board and weighing in.
– It turns LGBT rights into an urban, western-influenced lifestyle issue. This creates a mental gap that alienates most of the country against understanding the issue and supporting the community. Popular support is essential to bring political will on board.
– A lot of gay individuals find themselves confused at having to choose between their family and traditional support structure, and living life on their own terms. Ideally, people shouldn’t have to choose, and families shouldn’t have to be presented with a take-it-or-leave-it choice when it comes to their gay children. Homosexuality should not be seen as something alien, but as something that is part of the human condition.
– It polarises people on grounds of political leaning and escalates the stakes involved. This leads to an arms race of who can have the most extreme position and does not solve the problem. Before the Supreme Court judgement close to the elections, do you remember a time people were so vocally homophobic?
– It increases feelings of isolation and helplessness among gay Indians. If nothing gets done politically, it adds to the feeling that nothing will get done politically. This makes people less inclined to actually think or act politically—a self-fulfilling prophecy. In reality, fights for any sort of human rights tend to be prolonged, exhausting and end up having shifting goalposts. It requires a lot of patience and willingness to compromise to be able to fight the good fight.
– If the only avenues for support for LGBT individuals are private NGOs, it brings forth another problem. NGOs are increasingly being shown to be cat’s paws of foreign powers, used to mobilize people against the government. The government would do well to neutralize this threat by appearing to listen to the community. And the community should be open to governmental help as well.
I notice an increasing proclivity to ape the West in the quest for better LGBT rights in India. This is problematic. Activists expect us to go from 377 to gay marriage in an unrealistic period of time. It would do well for them to be educated in the history of the LGBT movement in the West. There has been a long struggle in the West, starting with repealing anti-sodomy laws, Stonewall riots, the AIDS epidemic and the discrimination that came along with it, to Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
Even today, gay people in the USA suffer regular discrimination in housing, adoption, surrogacy and employment. Discrimination is not going to go away overnight, and it is important to create a sustainable culture of fighting for one’s rights through social, cultural, scientific and political means.
It is also not quite right to adopt some other country’s solutions blindly. The USA has had much more difficulty in accepting transgender individuals than we do in India. There are also more taboos with regard to sex in India, and not factoring that in is a sureshot recipe for failure.
The absence of strong support institutions and social safety nets in India make it harder for people to rebel against their families due to their sexuality. Thus, we need different solutions in India that include families, religious heads, and educational institutions.
The LGBT community and its allies need to snap out of their self-imposed victim mentality and start speaking from a position of strength instead of a position of anger or fear. We need to organize ourselves as a potent, forward-thinking political force that works with the system instead of against it.
And lest we forget, we must always remember LGBT rights are a human rights issue, not a left-wing or right-wing or eastern or western issue.