A year to doing away with Section 377. What’s changed and what’s not?

“The only thing that looks good in a closet is clothing. Step out and embrace your being”

September 6 marked a full year to the landmark ruling of the Supreme Court of India scrapping Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code — which criminalised specific sexual acts between adults, a law dating back to British colonial rule that has targeted in particular lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer (LGBTIQ) individuals and communities, in India.

Terming criminalising homosexuality “unconstitutional”, Justice Chandrachud had said that the LGBTQ community possesses “full range of constitutional rights” including sexual orientation and partner choice. “LGBTQ has equal citizenship and equal protection of laws,” he had said.

What has changed in this one year?

To mark the first anniversary of the historic judgement, hotelier Keshav Suri’s LGBTQI club Kitty Su in New Delhi organised a conference to discuss what has changed in our society so far. Founder and director of Suhani dream catchers and Miss Transqueen India, Reena Rai said, “When I started Transqueen India, my main focus was the inclusion and empowerment of trans women in our society. I had seen how people discriminated against transgender persons. When I first started the pageant, I was asked if I was a lesbian or a transwoman — as to why I was doing this. I believe many people like me understand and are mentally ready to work towards the betterment of the LGBT community, but most of them do not take a step forward fearing social stigma, or being labelled in a certain way.”

“Change is only possible when we sensitise and educate our family members. If I can take a small step in sensitising my 10-year-old daughter, why can’t other people do so too? In terms of inclusion and empowerment, when I did my first beauty pageant show in 2017, transgenders were not welcome in restaurants in Hauz Khas Village – from then to now, my girl has walked the ramp for Wendell Rodricks. Now, the community members are accepted and respected more than before. But when it comes to financial support or sponsorships, transgender models are often asked to walk the ramp for free,” said Reena Rai, whose friendship with Vippi, a transwoman, led her to take a step of working towards the inclusion and empowerment of the LGBTQI community. Transgender persons should be given more work opportunities and paid equally, believes Reena.

Gay rights activist Mohnish Malhotra said, “While the fear of coming out is gone now, it’s about re-calibration in the entire family to accept and recognize one’s identity.”

Are men as welcoming as women in acknowledging an LGBTQI member?

Several people shook their heads in disapproval. “Although it’s mostly a personal view, depending on one’s upbringing, one’s city, etc… Probably, a lot of straight men are afraid to acknowledge homosexuality fearing that people might mistake them for homosexuals,” expressed Mohnish Malhotra, who is about to release a web series called UFF, which will look at the “unfamiliar family” lives of the LGBTQI community.

While the community is working for their betterment and spreading awareness among the general mass like never before, it is people like Reena Rai who pitch in to fight for the fundamental rights for LGBTQI members. Like you and I, they just need an opportunity and a platform to prove their abilities and live a regular life in the security of their nation. The sooner families and friends of queers accept and appreciate them for who they are, our society will develop as a whole being.

What do you think has changed over this one year? Is life easier than before for LGBTQI community members?

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