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A place to call

A place to call


Homosexuality has been illegal in India since 1860.

The law, Section 377, covers "unnatural offences," and it's very difficult to strike down because it includes childhood sexual abuse. Many cops use the law to blackmail men into giving them sex or money, but they don't seem to target women as much.

Even though I'd been attracted to other women since I was 8 or 9, I didn't even call myself a lesbian before I met my ex-girlfriend Cath. She's from the U.K. and was the first open lesbian I'd ever met. Before that I'd only dated straight women.

Through Cath I met many lesbians from abroad and within India. I knew there must be more Indian women who didn't have support, or help, or places they could go. I mean, here in Delhi we have only one gay bar, and it's usually about 100 men for every three women! I just didn't want women to face what I did, where I thought I was the only one.

In 1997, after we'd been together about two years, I decided to start India's first hotline for women attracted to other women. We quickly realized there needed to be face-to-face contact, so we started a support group. We've had over 4,000 calls to our hotline and over 450 women in our support group since we started. Similar services are now in Calcutta, Bombay, and Bangalore.

Cath and I run a guesthouse for Western women in Delhi's upper-middle-class Vasant Kunj neighborhood. It pays for the hotline and support group when grants run out, but it's also a safe place for women attracted to other women to meet and hang out.

The biggest difficulty for women in India is facing family pressure to get married. One woman who comes here a lot has had her past two girlfriends cave in to family pressure, and now it looks like her present girlfriend is going to do the same thing. It helps her to have a place to talk about her feelings openly.

If a woman can support herself, independent of her family, it's much easier to be open about her attraction to other women. But a lot of well-educated women in Delhi find that even with jobs they can't afford to live on their own.

I just don't want anyone to get married against their will or, worse, commit suicide. Yesterday we rescued a woman from her parents' house. When they found out about her feelings for other women, they locked her in the house and cut off the phone lines. She hadn't left the house for two months. It was a big family drama, but we finally got her out of there, and now she's sitting with her partner in our house.

So much has happened in the past 10 years, and there's still so much more that we need to do. But I have a plan. Right now, though gay and lesbian people in India are starting to feel comfortable in social spaces, they aren't making a political issue out of it. So I'm going to invite all the gay people from Asian countries to join us for a march. There will be thousands of people--hundreds of thousands--marching in the streets. We will get there, but it will take time.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

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Betu Singh