It was only a little less than two years ago that every queer person in India – some eagerly refreshing their Twitter feeds or looking to the TV; others, like me, waiting to hear from their school teacher as the day went by – was given the opportunity to breath a sigh of relief and smile, with the decriminalisation of sex between consenting adults, irrespective of gender. The rumours had made it clear that this would happen: after a decades-long legal and political struggle, the Supreme Court would finally strike down the law known as Section 377. Hearing it for sure was a great relief, but perhaps what kept the queer community in anticipation the most that day, was the question of how everyone else would react: our parents, extended families, friends and leaders.
For decades, Indian Pride was focused on proving that we exist. This meant that only the bravest and the most visible among us were out there, fighting for the recognition of an invisibilized community of people. The last two years have brought a massive change, and today, we see an incredibly vibrant community that is growing by the day. Since decriminalisation, it has become much more common for news media and companies, especially those catering to urban markets, to pick up on LGBTQ+ history and experiences by highlighting events like Stonewall, publishing statements of solidarity, or turning their display pictures colourful. Recently, Bollywood has chimed in with movies like ‘Ek Ladki Ko Dekha Toh Aisa Laga’ (How It Felt When I Saw A Girl) and ‘Shubh Mangal Zyada Savdhan’ (Be Extra Careful About Marriage). With their characteristically long titles and dramatic bent, they are a positive portrayal of the LGBTQ+ community in the mainstream: a long way from the mocking portrayals of the past. There’s a new safe haven for the community to exist.
But the LGBTQ+ experience in India is by no means a rose-tinted dream. When we hear stories about large concerts at Pride like in Manchester last year, or about thriving LGBTQ+ friendly nightclubs and bars, we look with envy, because that is not the reality of Pride in India. Even today, so many young people – myself included – find it difficult to make it to Pride and celebrate being ourselves. Instead, for us, it is the online world that has often become the safe space. It is there that we vicariously live off the happiness and joy of a march, or of the little private party nights held by people who are able to go out and be themselves. It is there that we connect with each other: on Instagram pages or Twitter feeds, on dating apps and closed groups where we laugh and learn about each other.
Pride in India is still very much about learning to be proud and showing others we can be proud. It is still about telling our closest friends and relatives that using certain words is not okay, let alone our society’s most popular figures who advocate for ‘cures’ and silence. Which is why, as much as we enjoy every moment in the company of community, that enjoyment is coupled with anger, raging for people to listen to us. Every moment we are together, we are not just proud, but pissed, talking about the violation of trans liberties in the latest Transgender ‘Rights’ Act, the constant stories of suicide from bullying and conversion therapy, the lack of role models in the mainstream or in the media, or the need for marriage equality and anti-discrimination protections.
To end on that note would be accurate but not in the spirit of what Pride brings. Pride is not just simultaneous celebration and protest: the two combine to also produce hope. To me, that’s what Pride is about: hope. Seeing everyone together, out in the ‘open’, brings me hope that things will get better, for myself and everyone else.