BY Dan Allen
October 30 2009 11:40 AM ET
Big, bold and beguiling, India rarely fails to transform visitors with its sheer onslaught of sensory stimuli. Yet while an ever-growing number of American queers are making the long trek to immerse themselves in the South Asian behemoth’s many wonders, until recently a great many have left “gay” entirely out of their Indian trip mix, convinced that if there is such a thing as a queer India, it’s likely buried too deeply for the short-term tourist to uncover.
That’s all changing, as gay India continues to undergo a major transformation, one in which its previously below-ground LGBT scene is, albeit with baby steps, venturing evermore out in the open. Case in point: Mumbai's Queer Azadi (or Freedom) March, which in August drew an estimated 1,500 to 3,000 gay Indians to its second annual incarnation, doubling last year’s attendance numbers in spite of Summer 2009’s swine flu worries.
The most seismic shift yet toward queer Indian visibility had come a month earlier, when on July 2 the country’s High Court repealed Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, the British-era statute that for 150 years had criminalized sexual activity “against the order of nature.” Though no convictions for homosexuality had actually been handed down in India for decades, the law had served, as similar laws do in so many other places, as a way to quietly sanction homophobia and mistreatment of the country’s gay citizens.
While several conservative groups have opposed Section 377’s overturn and are actively fighting the High Court’s decision, India’s Union Cabinet (comprised of its top ministers) has opted not to weigh in on the matter, leaving the ultimate decision with the country’s Supreme Court. A ruling is expected in October.