Ask any member of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer) community, and their responses about how accommodating the society’s been, will seldom differ.
Shunned, shamed, threatened, and excluded —emotions that have almost been internalised by people with LGBTQ+ identities. In 2018, in a landmark judgment for India, the Supreme Court struck down parts of the draconian Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, thus decriminalising homosexuality. Lawfully, homosexuality is no more a crime, but this does not mean there has been an integration of the group with the society.
Though the legal sanction has come in, the degree of socio-cultural acceptance remains questionable.
Meet Pune-based Shyam Konnur. An out and proud gay individual, he is the founder of Mist, an LGBTQ collective, and he also holds the title of Mr Gay India 2020. For more than five years, Konnur has been living with his partner and says not much has changed since the Supreme Court’s verdict.
“Homosexuality has been accepted in letter, but the acceptance and awareness need to be incorporated in spirit, and that is still lacking. The lawmakers and jurists will annul laws, but what will they do about the attitude of people? Right from finding a rented apartment to live in, to attending a couple’s event at a restaurant, or declaring our sexual identities at work—the hostility is overt and disheartening,” says Konnur.
He also feels that mainstream media, shows on OTT platforms, and films need to evolve in terms of representing the LGBTQ+ segment. Portraying them as oddballs, and characters bringing in comic relief needs to be stopped.
It is not unusual to hear terms such as trans and gay, or queer and lesbian, and many more, being used interchangeably. “It has a sabotaging effect on our identities. There’s lack of awareness, and the problematic part is that people are simply not interested to understand the LGBTQ+ community and their issues. They don’t care if they wrongly address a trans person as queer, or a gay man as ‘hijra’. For them, it’s all the same, and this ignorance is heartbreaking,” says Puja Shukla, an analyst at a corporate firm and is in a same-sex live-in relationship.
She reaffirms that little has changed following the much-celebrated milestone judgment of 2018. “I ride a Royal Enfield Bullet. I bear a masculine demeanour, which I am unapologetic about. That’s who and how I am. Nonetheless, I am always subjected to looks that scan me, checking if I have breasts, confirming if I am a woman. We live in such a regressive society that two lesbians cannot even hold hands or hug each other in public,” she says.
According to Shukla, the situation cannot change in a short span of three years. A lot needs to change, ranging from raising children, who are accepting of identities other than heterosexual, implementing awareness initiatives in schools and colleges, having more inclusive work environments and governments and fostering a sense of oneness among the LGBTQs and others.
When homosexuality got lawful recognition in the country, the decision was lauded as the victory of love, and the face of a progressive India.
But Sameer Samudra, who originally hails from Pune, and now lives in Apex, North Carolina (USA), begs to differ.
Samudra and his partner Amit Gokhale have been in a relationship for the past 18 years. In 2014, they legally tied the knot in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Back home in Pune, we never received acceptance as a married couple. In India, the institution of marriage still does not take cognisance of LGBTQ+ couples. Acceptance is not just about coming to terms with the fact that we are gay and married, it also has a lot to do with equal marriage rights and matters pertaining to inheritance, adoption and other benefits that married couples can avail of. A simple thing like a joint membership at a gym, that a heterosexual couple can easily access becomes unavailable to same-sex couples,” he says, stressing that this prejudice has a tremendous damaging impact on the mental health and self-worth of people like him.
“What has the SC verdict done? It has only confirmed that we are not criminals; nothing else. We are still far from getting legal recognition and acceptance as a married couple,” he says.
Most voices from the LGBTQ+ circles feel unheard and unacknowledged. But some seem to have found a comfort zone amid the chaos.
Mumbai-bred and Pune-based Shackya Nanda is the owner of a chain of salons, and is engaged to his partner Ajinkya Mhetre. “I live with my mother, and I must admit, she’s been surprisingly supportive about my sexual orientation. I feel things around are changing for the better, and the legal backing has absolutely helped. The youth today is accommodating of the LGBTQ+ community, and I think nowadays, people don’t get shocked on learning that I am gay. Slowly, the normalisation of our identities has started to happen,” he says.
However, he realises that his experiences are limited to an urbane, modern and upwardly mobile segment of the society.