Here's something to be thankful for: Hot on the heels of the LGBT community's first ever gay pride parade in India's western state of Gujara last month, gay rights activists paraded through New Delhi Sunday, carrying rainbow-flags and demanding an end to the harassment and discrimination faced by many in the country's gay community. The march culminated in a public gathering at Jantar Mantar, the region's main protest area, where speeches were given by activists and musical shows were performed.
Four years ago, the Delhi High Court made a historic ruling that decriminalized homosexuality by striking down Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) — the article, which was drafted back in 1860, basically held that anyone who has voluntary sex "against the order of nature" with a man, woman, or, uh, animal, should be punished with imprisonment. So until 2009, homosexuality in India could land you up to 10 years in jail. Since then, however, gay rights in India have been growing.
Only two months ago, the first-ever gay candidate for a position at one of India's top colleges called attention to the university's prejudice against the LGBT community, saying: “The JNU campus is extremely homophobic and completely silent on the matter of LGBT issues. None of the elected representatives have ever bothered to find out what issues we face.” Also in September, the Archbishop of Mumbai made the small but important decision to tell priests not to refer to the LGBT community with derision — "to say those with other sexual orientations are sinners is wrong,” the Archbishop wrote to gay activist groups in India. And that same month, India opened its first radio station to be aimed specifically at the country’s lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Still, the attitude towards homosexuality in India is far from comfortable. Earlier this month, as many as 14 people were arrested — in the middle of the night — by the police, under the archaic and defunct Section 377. And as Nish Gera writes for The Huffington Post:
The misconceptions about homosexuality in India are as diverse and various as any. Some of them are simply banal: "You're gay? But you're Indian!" Others range from the bizarrely xenophobic ("Homosexuality is a Western disease that started with Stonewall") to the mildly hilarious ("Is your 'plumbing' OK? I mean, you do have a working penis?"). What most people don't know is that India is one of the few countries in the world where the third gender (the "hijra" or eunuch) is both feared and revered. They are also ostracized for being a sexual minority, the only visible sexual minority in India. The distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity is often not understood or acknowledged.
The protestors on Sunday demanded an end to the discrimination against gay men, lesbians and transgender people, also calling for the possibility to put down the sex of their choosing on voter identity cards and other government documents.