Newsletter Sep – Dec 2008

On the 29th of June 2008, Delhi had its first queer pride March, along with similar marches in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Rio, New York, Sydney and many other places around the world. It was during the preparatory process of the National Convention of Voices Against 377 in Delhi a few months earlier that the idea first came up. While the struggle against Section 377 continues on many fronts, everyone agreed that it was time to come together and organise a large scale event to celebrate and visibilise sexual diversity. Individuals and groups from Bengaluru, Kolkata and Delhi decided to put together a joint statement and do a pride event on the same day. Mumbai joined in with its own 'queer azadi' the day after Independence Day.

The organising of the march in Delhi was to be taken on entirely by the community and by individuals who were willing to give their time and energy to it, and not spearheaded or taken over by anyone group. The idea was for it to be an entirely independent initiative, in addition to it being sustainable enough for Pride to be made an annual event.

Queer Media Collective press release on Bengaluru, Kolkata and Delhi Pride

For the first time this year Bengaluru and Delhi are joining Kolkata in marching to celebrate Queer Pride in India. This is a chance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people and supporters to celebrate being part of India, but also to protest how the Indian government continues to treat us as criminals.

In doing so we are connecting with the origins of Pride Marches. Around the world these take place in June and are treated as colourful occasions for the LGBT people to celebrate. But Pride has a serious origin. It dates back to the early morning of 29th June, 1969 when police in New York raided a gay bar called the Stonewall Inn. They started questioning and humiliating the people in the bar, and even made arrests.

This sort of harassment had been going on for years, but for the first time that night the people in the bar fought back. Lead by the drag queens (men dressed in women's clothes) the people at Stonewall refused to get bullied in silence. The police beat people savagely, but the crowd refused to go away. More people from the LGBT community came to their support and it became a riot that lasted five days. For the first time the police learned that LGBT people could defend their rights.

The Stonewall riot became a symbol of LGBT people standing up for their basic human rights. The next year, in June 1970, a march was held in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles to commemorate what happened that night. Over the years, as LGBT people won increasing amounts of recognition of their basic human rights the Pride marches became more about celebration. In many countries today Pride is a way of showing how LGBT people live openly and happily in society.

In India today we are closer to where Pride was when it started in 1970. LGBT people face a lot of harassment from the police. Lesbians are subjected to violence and even forced to commit suicide by their families. Gay men are blackmailed by organised rackets that involve members of the police. Bisexuals are denied the chance to express same sex love and forced into opposite sex marriages. Transgender are routinely arrested and raped by the police. Same sex couples who have lived together for years cannot buy a house together, have a joint bank account or will their property to each other without being challenged by their families.

All this is possible because Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code treats LGBT people as criminals. A case now being heard in the Delhi High Court calls for this law, which was imposed on us by the British, to be amended so it no longer applies to consenting adults. This very small change will not remove all problems for LGBT people, but it will be a vital step towards affirming that we are equal and accepted citizens of India.

On June 29, LGBT people and their friends, family and supporters in Bengaluru, Delhi and Kolkata will march in the hope that this change will come soon. Kolkata first did this in 1999, and every year since 2003. Today in 2008, Queer Pride goes national as a sign that the time for national change has come.