I was only seven years old when the Stonewall Riots broke out in New York City in June 1969, which rippled into the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States. One year later, in 1970 the first ever Pride March was held in Chicago followed by pride marches in Los Angeles and New York. Of course I was totally unaware of any of them as I was too young. I was also very young when in 1973, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) voted to remove homosexuality as a mental disorder.
In my conservative household in a small town in Southern India, I continued to think that I was ‘sick’ and ‘perverted’ to feel those desires inside me for another person of the same sex. Till I came to Mumbai and came out finally in 1990 when the first gay magazine Bombay Dost was published. I joined the board from the second edition onwards and very soon became one of the founders of the first ever gay organisation, The Humsafar Trust along with Ashok Row Kavi and Suhail Abbasi. The personal had become political by then.
The first ever Pride March, then called the Friendship Walk was held in Kolkata on July 2, 1999 with just 15 people who dared to walk the streets wearing bright yellow T-shirts with the caption "Walk on the Rainbow". They walked to various newspaper offices and NGOs and distributed leaflets. Unfortunately I couldn’t be part of it.
However, I was very much part of the first ever Pride March in Mumbai held on August 16, 2008, with around 500 people participating. It was a proud moment for me as I marched with my friends on the streets of Mumbai shouting slogans, demanding reading down of Sec 377. It was very liberating, to say the least.
Since then I have been part of every pride march in Mumbai, along with my life partner Saagar Gupta, with whom I celebrated 25 years of togetherness recently. We feel proud marching together to the beats of dhols, surrounded by people in colourful costumes, carrying banners and placards.
I have also been part of many pride parades around the world – in San Francisco, Madrid, Sydney, etc. I have had the huge honour of being one of the Grand Marshals on Montreal Pride in 2016, and leading the parade along with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was a huge honour, but I was jittery as hell addressing a crowd of almost 200,000 people, and also shaking a leg with the Bollywood Blast troupe of dancers!
Being the Grand Marshal also allowed me to place the agenda of Sec 377 on an international stage, calling attention of all Canadians and everyone around the world to support us in India to repeal Sec 377.
Pride Marches serve two purposes – one is a celebration of the LGBTQIA+ identities, a reaffirmation of themselves by marching proudly in public, along with allies who are supportive. Secondly, these marches have also been a site to protest against victimisation and stigmatisation of LGBTQ individuals, and showing solidarity with the community. While pride rallies or pride parades (not anymore called marches) have celebrated queerness with much pomp, splendour and fanfare, they have also protested against trans exclusion and racism.
India now has a pride march in almost every city – in all the metros and even several Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Especially after the reading down of Sec 377 in September 2018, so many more pride events have mushroomed across the country.
In Mumbai over the years, several events are organised leading to the pride march, making it a month of activities celebrating LGBTQ lives through dance, films, performances, discussions, concerts, parties, etc. A collective of organisations and individuals come under the banner of Queer Azaadi Mumbai and celebrate the pride month leading to almost a 15,000 strong pride march.
Sadly this year the organisers of Queer Azaadi Mumbai were denied permission by the Mumbai police and we all had to gather together for a Solidarity event at Azad Maidan. So this year it was a mix of both – celebration of who we are, and also a protest against the rights denied to us.
All of us – both the LGBTQ community and allies – hope that the coming years will bring in a new ray of hope, and that we are all able to celebrate together our existence in a peaceful, joyous manner. Viva Pride!