~ BY SHOBHITA GULATI
It is never easy for a person to belong to the LGBTQ community in our country.
Even though there is an increasing acceptance of the LGBTQ community in society and greater visibility in the media and public life today, many people from the LGBTQ community yet experience discrimination, harassment, and violence at workplaces and in various other fields.
Discrimination can take the form of prominent acts of prejudice and discrimination (e.g. someone who is open about being transgender is refused employment or promotion) and also more subtle, but no less harmful, discrimination that reinforces negative stereotypes and feelings of difference (e.g. use of the word gay or lesbian as something derogatory).
This discrimination has been ongoing for decades and a lot of people have suffered so much loss due to this discrimination and harassment but some have managed to bear this pain and emerge as someone strong as stone and have shone brightly in the world. Here are some of the well-known figures from the LGBTQ community in India who have chosen to break the barriers and stand up for themselves and their rights:
Dutee Chand (she/her), a professional sprinter, came out publicly as a lesbian in 2019 and is recorded as one of the country’s first LGBTQ+ sportspeople. Chand is India’s current women’s 100m champion and competed at the 2016 and 2020 Olympic Games. When she first came out in 2019, she had to face a lot of backlash from people, they started criticizing her about her gender and relationship. Even her family objected to the relationship and her older sister even threatened to disown her, she was made to feel like she did not deserve to live. However, Dutee was adamant, expressing her desire to settle down with the woman.
PRINCE MAVENDRA SINGH GOHIL
Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil of India’s Gohil Rajput dynasty knew he was gay at the age of 12. But he could only tell his truth to the world three decades later. Gohil publicly came out in an interview with a local newspaper in 2006, becoming the first openly gay royal in the country. Until 2018, homosexuality was illegal in India, Gohil’s public unmasking triggered a nationwide scandal. The entire town of Rajpipla, a formerly princely state, turned on him. There were a lot of protests, people took to the streets and shouted slogans saying that he brought shame and humiliation to the royal family and the culture of India. There were death threats and demands that he be stripped of his title. His parents, the Maharaja and Maharani, responded with similar anger. They publicly disowned him as their son and cut him off from the family.
Even today, at 55, Gohil’s stance remains the same. Much of his advocacy for LGBTQ+ rights continues to revolve around decimating the stigma around homosexuality. With this thought in mind, he founded Lakshya Trust, a charitable organization to improve the rights of the LGBTQ community in Gujarat. In 2018, Gohil opened up a 15-acre palace grounds to build a shelter for vulnerable members of the community after Supreme Court decriminalized homosexuality.
LAXMI NARAYAN TRIPATHI
Laxmi is a transgender rights activist, Hindi film actress, and a Bharatanatyam dancer based in Mumbai, she recognizes herself as a part of the hijra community. The eldest one amidst a family of seven from Uttar Pradesh, she suffered from poor health all her childhood. For her feminine ways, she was taunted and harassed at school and sexually abused by relatives.
In 2002, Laxmi went on to become one of the founding members of the Dai Welfare Society, an organization that works for the transgender community and represented Asia Pacific in the UN in 2008, where she spoke of the miseries of sexual minorities in the society. Her long fight to get transgender rights recognized came to an end in 2014, when the Supreme Court of India recognized them as the third gender.
The transgenders were provided with government benefits and quotas in various fields so that the transgender community can have a better standard of life. She was also an important part of the petition in the Supreme Court to repeal Article 377 of the Indian Penal Code which regarded homosexuality as a crime. It was finally annulled in 2018. She also launched the Indian Super Queen beauty pageant in 2010, which is going strong. Laxmi continues her work for the betterment of the transgender and LGBTQ community in the country.
An openly bisexual woman, Sonal Giani is an advocate for LGBTQIA+ rights. She is a public speaker, activist, diversity and inclusion trainer, and filmmaker. She has become one of the leading voices of Lesbian and Bisexual women’s issues. She co-founded India’s largest youth initiatives for the LGBTQ community, Yaariyan, and Umang. She also received the Diversity Leadership Award from the World HRD Congress in 2016. Throughout her journey, Sonal has faced a lot of discrimination. Be it at her workplace or within the queer community itself. She faced several difficulties before accepting herself as a bisexual woman because of the many negative stereotypes associated with bisexuality and polyamory.
Gauri Sawant is a transgender activist living in Mumbai. She is the director of Sakhi Char Chowghi which helps transgender people and people with HIV/AIDS. She was made the goodwill ambassador of the Election Commission Maharashtra. In 2014 she became the first transgender to file a petition in the Supreme Court of India for the adoption rights of transgender people. Later she had adopted a girl child after the baby’s mother, who was a sex worker, passed away. She was also a petitioner in the National Legal Services Authority case in which the Supreme Court recognized transgender as the third gender.
The laws may have changed to some extent, but the Indian mindset remains stubborn and orthodox. Many LGBTQ people are not given the acceptance and dignity that other members of the community get. This is just a very small list of people who have inspired all the people from the LGBTQ community to work hard and believe in themselves.