The real battle starts now for LGBT equality

[ Inti Pertin ]

Bangalore, Sept 29: There is only one statement that I would like to say about Section 377,” says Minakshi, a woman who identifies as a bisexual; “on September 6th, they abolished the law that made being gay illegal and that was Day Zero of when we start to fight for civil rights for the LGBT community in this country.”
What most LGBT+ members seem to worry about right now – after the recent decriminalization of Section 377 – is the amount of social acceptance and civil rights that they will receive. And this worry comes from a place of experiences and history.
E, a transgender man, recalls an incident that occurred recently in a Delhi metro. Though he is undergoing transition and currently taking testosterone, he is still – biologically speaking – a female. When he got on the metro in the female side – under the persuasion of his female friend- he says that a female police yelled at him, saying, “This is the girl’s compartment!”
This created quite the ruckus and the police then came forward and they were asked to exit the metro. E had to show his driving licence – which still says ‘Female’ – to get the police off his back. After the police looked at the gender, she commented on how E should “Dress like a girl” and how to carry himself.
Ik, a proud lesbian currently living with her girlfriend, says, “The recent SC verdict of decriminalizing consensual gay sex is a historic landmark in Indian history, and I feel a sense of triumph and celebrate such a victory after decades long of prejudice.”
But she also sees this verdict as a minuscule step towards a more equal society, and she is not the only member to share this view.
Minakshi too feels that it will take a long time to get equal rights for the LGBT in India.
“Look at the US – with marriage equality for the LGBT community, there is still stigma, with some even feeling that it is wrong even though it is legal.”
She adds: “When I speak, I speak from a place of privilege because if you go to the legal section of Section 377, it is about gay people and gay sex. I am a bisexual and, under that law, I was doing no wrong.
But with this, I saw how the other members of my own community were being held back, and you cannot make progress if some of you are still oppressed.”
J, another transman, says, “Maybe it was a lucky day for us where that those five judges who passed the verdict understood and had respect for human rights and the rights of every individual to live their right with the respect that they deserve.”
Anirudh, an individual who identifies himself a queer, says that all this recent verdict has done is stated that they are no longer criminals in their own lives, and calls this a huge ”symbolic victory.”
There have been various cases over the years of the police arresting gay sex workers and raping and sodomizing them with their canes or hot light bulbs. With this issue in mind, Anirudh says, “But for a lot of working class and lower caste community, it is also a legal victory where now the police cannot simply take you to jail and harass you.
“All of us, who are queer activists, have been working towards this moment, not so that this is our ultimate victory but because this is where our work begins for social acceptance,” he says.
Silk, a transgender woman, says that when she was in school, she was bullied a lot and the principal was not a help because he would say to her parents, “The government has not placed any rules about bathrooms issued for him, and if you don’t want to be bullied, don’t wear bangles or paint your nails.”
This sort of thinking is widespread and the main reason why most LGBT+ activists are currently fighting for basic rights, reservation, and acceptance. Silk states that because of this kind of discrimination, she has lost out on her education, which ultimately was the reason why she never went on to study to become a doctor as she had hoped.
Anirudh is very optimistic and pumped up about the future, and says that he does fear a repeat of history where Section 377 would be criminalized again because “It is ironclad, where the judges stated that if they were to speak about themselves as a progressive society, a seven judgment cannot overrule this five judgment rule and it has been put in the legislature.”
“Until now, we were all fighting under the same unified banner of the LGBT; now the lesbians wants some rights and the transgender another. For me and a lot of other LGBT activists, marriage equality is the last thing on our minds, because we do not want to get tied down into heterosexual marriage structures. If people want it, we will fight for it, but social acceptance and civil liberties are what we really want.”